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Key findings
  • Basotho see gender-based violence (GBV) as the most important women’s-rights issue that the government and society must address.
  • A majority (53%) of citizens say violence against women is a “somewhat common” (28%) or “very common” (25%) occurrence in their community.
  • More than eight in 10 (85%) Basotho say it is “never” justified for a man to physically discipline his wife. About two in 10 think it is “sometimes” (11%) or “always” (4%) justified.
  • Almost six in 10 respondents (56%) consider it “somewhat likely” (29%) or “very likely” (27%) that a woman will be criticised or harassed if she reports gender-based violence to the authorities.
  • A slim majority (53%) of Basotho say domestic violence should be treated as a criminal matter rather than as a private matter to be resolved within the family.

Gender-based violence (GBV) is a reality for many women in Lesotho. The Police Child and Gender Protection Unit reports that from January through July 2022, there have been 184 sexual offences and 45 assault cases perpetrated against women. In 2021, at least 47% of women murdered in Lesotho were killed by their intimate partners (Mongoshi, 2021). GBV is a serious threat to the nation both developmentally and economically, recognised as one of the drivers of HIV in a country that has the third-highest prevalence rate in the world at 23.2% (UNAIDS, 2021).

The Gender-Based Violence Indicators Study by Gender Links (2015) reported that 86% of women and 40% of men in Lesotho experienced some form of violence in their lifetime, and that a majority of victims do not report the violence to the police or seek medical attention or legal recourse. Among barriers to reporting, the study identified survivor stigmatisation by the community, feelings of shame, inadequate police response to victims, and the belief that domestic violence is a private matter not to be discussed with strangers. A study by the Commonwealth (2020) reported that about one-third of women in Lesotho suffer sexual or physical violence in their lifetime and that GBV costs the country 5.5% of its gross domestic product in lost income and expenses associated with medical, legal, and police support.

Activists blame patriarchy for fuelling GBV in the country (Sello, 2021). Despite the Sexual Offences Act (2003) and the Married Persons Act (2006) providing for equal rights for men and women in marriage, the Customary Law subordinating women to men is still very much part of society in Lesotho. In June 2022, the Upper House passed the Counter Domestic Violence Bill 2021, but critics say policing and judicial responses will also need to be strengthened to reduce the country’s GBV problem (Chikowore, 2022).

This dispatch reports on a special survey module included in the Afrobarometer Round 9 (2021/2022) questionnaire to explore Africans’ experiences and perceptions of GBV.

In Lesotho, most citizens say physical force is never justified to discipline women. But they say that gender-based violence is a common occurrence and constitutes the most important women’s-rights issue that the government and the country must address.

A majority of Basotho believe that the police are likely to take GBV cases seriously and that GBV should be treated as a criminal rather than a private matter.

Libuseng Malephane

Libuseng Malephane is the national investigator for Lesotho.