The Covid-19 pandemic has exposed and given rise to a new, deeply concerning wave of rape culture in Lesotho. Although the true extent is not known yet, we have noticed concerning reports that the onset of the pandemic has worsened sexual violence with more women and girls being confined to small living places whilst social tensions are exacerbated.
According to Senior Inspector ‘Malebohang Nepo from the Child and Gender Protection Unit under the Lesotho Mobile Police Service (LMPS), two weeks into the lockdown she said 18 cases of sexual assault had been reported, which was unusually high.
This new wave includes distressing reports of many Basotho women who, when the lockdown restrictions came into place, had to leave their roles as domestic workers in South Africa entrenching them back into a system of poverty that forced them to return to Lesotho.
However, after having to illegally return to the country, the majority were raped and tortured by security and border officials.
Most of these distressing accounts have not been officially reported due to fear, prejudice and societal stigma – the same reasons why many rapes in our country go unseen. In the few cases where reports have been made, no action has been taken against the perpetrators. These are the same men entrusted by the government to provide security to our nation.
But let’s be clear, this is not a new issue or phenomenon. Even prior to the pandemic, the prevalence of rape in Lesotho was extremely high. Last year, Gender Minister Dr Mahali Phamotse noted that 90% of male prison inmates had been imprisoned for sexual offence charges (a survey conducted whilst she was Justice Minister) and a report by NGO Gender Links in 2014 found that 62% of women surveyed had experience intimate partner violence, with 8% reporting that they had been raped by a non-partner in their lifetime.
Whilst the pandemic has served to expose and exacerbate this problem, rape culture has existed throughout generations and societies. It is a culture that typically permits men to exercise power and masculinity over women to ultimately deny their basic right to bodily autonomy. It is language and behaviours that encourages men to justify sexual violence. For decades, rape has been viewed as a weapon of oppression to silence and degrade women.
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