Beyond “Happy Women’s Month”: how Basotho men can be allies all year long

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First things first, we need to address the elephant in the room. August is officially National Women’s month in South Africa, and the commemoration is deeply rooted in the nation’s ongoing struggle for racial equality and justice.

In 1956, more than 20 000 South African women marched to Pretoria’s Union Buildings to protest the extension of Pass Laws to women. Over the years, the month has been used to remember women’s contribution to the struggle and to bring attention to issues such as the country’s chilling femicide rates and the prevalence of other violence against women.

Like many elements of South African culture, Women’s Month has become a staple in Lesotho’s national calendar as well. So, like clockwork, we start to see the Facebook posts rolling in about how strong and great women are.

Some of these are addressed to the women in the authors’ lives and others are just addressed to all Basotho women. We almost expect government officials to give speeches on the topic, hailing the beauty and strength of Mosali oa MoAfrika. 

I just wonder how much meaning we would attach to this month if we had a deeper, more meaningful connection to its origin. Don’t get me wrong, we need more spaces to celebrate women and pay attention to the issues that affect them. And yes, in many ways it is enough that we’ve appropriated it to our own culture but it is still productive for us to question why we do this.

Now, onto the matter at hand. This post is directed to Basotho men specifically, especially those who aren’t allies in the long-standing fight for gender equity and equality. Allyship is when a person in a position of privilege and power seeks to operate in solidarity with a marginalized group. It is a lifelong process of listening, learning and unlearning.

As you read, resist the urge to immediately get defensive. This isn’t an attack on your character as an individual. This is an active invitation to Basotho men to participate in the fight for true equality. 

Men, gender equality benefits all of us. In the words of bell hooks, “men are not exploited or oppressed by sexism, but there are ways in which they suffer as a result of it.”

For example, the same systems that dictate that “women can’t lead because they’re too emotional” deny men the opportunity to feel, honor and process their emotions. Think “monna ke nku ha a lle.” 

Women’s Month is important because it  allows us to reflect and take stock of where we are and collectively reaffirm our commitment for a different, better future. But the work shouldn’t  end there. 

Here are three ways Basotho men can show solidarity beyond #HappyWomensMonth, 

1. Commit to learning about women’s issues from women and their allies

This means you’re responsible for educating yourself about what it is that women are actually fighting for and against. So much has been done already to make information readily accessible so really, we can’t hold “I didn’t know” as a valid excuse for the most basic ideas about women’s worth and place in the world. 

Take responsibility for your learning. We were all raised to believe problematic ideas about the value and place of women in Basotho society, and we all have the responsibility to unlearn them.  

Learn about how income inequality keeps women stuck in abusive relationships. Listen to Christians who argue that the way Jesus esteemed and honoured women during his life on earth shows how faith can be the very foundation of justice for women today. Read about how Lesotho’s land laws are discriminatory to women. 

Listen to women. Truly listen. You don’t have to agree with everything every woman says but to truly listen you need to value what women say about their own experiences. Not all women are experts in gender theory or articulate in how oppression works. But every woman is an expert of her own experience, and that’s valuable in it’s own right. 

2. Speak up with women

Women don’t necessarily need men to speak for them. Instead, we need men to speak with us. The distinction is an important one, it really isn’t just semantics. Recognise that women have in fact been fighting for a very long time for rights and resist the temptation to “save” them.  Instead of being the voice for the voiceless, find ways to join in and amplify these voices that have long been speaking truth to power.

Understand the power you have as a man and use it in ways that serve the empowerment and enfranchisement of women. Be vocal about where you stand. Quite ironically, women are often punished for speaking out against sexism and misogyny. An all too-common example is women being labelled “angry” for speaking out, or being told to “use a nicer tone” to get their point across. 

At a time when rape and  femicide rates are increasing because of COVID-related lockdowns, women are rightfully angry. We went from #JusticeForManyai to #AmInext within a few weeks, but we’re still expected to frame our anger, hurt and fear around the fragile male ego. As if oppression isn’t actively violent. 

Men, acknowledge sexism and misogyny in your circles. Then call it out.  Using your voice to challenge problematic behaviour among those with whom you share identity and privilege is a powerful way to be an ally. When your male friends make crude jokes about rape, don’t say  “boys will be boys,” tell them.  Tell them that their humour is not harmless, that it perpetuates rape culture. 

3. Join the effort in practical ways within your circles of influence

Keep the same energy when August ends. What opportunities do you have to make space for women empowerment within your circles? Pay attention to how women would like to be helped, beyond just your own ideas about what we need.

For example, if you’re a manager, audit your hiring processes to see how gender affects who your team works with and who can thrive there (women are often hired based on accomplishment, and men based on potential).  

In a country where eighty-six percent of women experienced some form of gender-based violence at least once in their lifetime, there’s a lot more we all need to do. Go to marches. Write to your constituency’s representative. Teach your sons about consent. 

Banana, basali le bo-mme, ketekang khoeli ena hamonate. Pele ea pele!


Works cited:

Bell hooks, Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center 

Mamello Makhele, Challenging Cultural Norms and Removing Stigma is Key to Confronting Lesotho’s Rape Culture

 Linda Musariri Chipatiso, Mercilene Machisa, Violet Nyambo and Kevin Chiramba, The Gender-based Violence Indicators Study Lesotho

Matšeliso Mapetla, Gendered Access to Land and Housing in Lesotho. Agenda: Empowering Women for Gender Equity No. 42, Land and Housing: Women Speak Out (1999), pp. 70-77 (8 pages)

Rebecca McLaughlin, Confronting Christianity: 12 Hard Questions for the World’s Largest Religio

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Matlhabeli Molaoli
Matlhabeli is a reader, an Afro-feminist and a firm believer in the power of human-centered design to create lasting social-economic impact. She is a rising junior at Smith College where she majors in both Biochemistry and Anthropology and also dabbles in venture consulting for the local start-up ecosystem. Matlhabeli also enjoys dialogue so she has spent much of her time attending, speaking at and organising TEDx conferences in both Lesotho and South Africa during her time as a student at the African Leadership Academy.