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COVID-19 Lock down exacerbates Gender Based Violence cases in Lesotho

While Lesotho has not as yet reported any case of COVID-19 yet, concerns are raised about the Gender Based Violence (GBV), particularly domestic violence that could be exacerbated by the current 21-day lock down due to the outbreak of COVID-19.

In support of the Ministry of Gender as the lead Ministry in gender related issues and GBV Prevention, UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund is working with Gender Links, the Lesotho Mobile Police Service (LMPS) and other stakeholders to support efforts to prevent and respond to incidences of gender based violence during the lockdown. The main aim of UNFPA’s interventions is ensuring that women and girls in particular get the relevant support they need to be free from any form of violence.

According to Senior Inspector ‘Malebohang Nepo from the Child and Gender Protection Unit under the LMPS, there has been an increase in sexual assaults, including rape, since the lock down. Two weeks into the lock down, she said, 18 cases of sexual assaults had been reported in the country, which was unusually high, even though she could not immediately provide statistics for the same period prior the lock down. It is suspected that the actual number of cases could be higher and that other forms of gender based violence could also be on the increase, but are not being reported. LMPS has heightened its efforts to encourage communities to report incidences of violence. There has been incorrect statements that Police Stations are also on lockdown, and perpetrators assume that they will get away with their crimes. 

Also expressing concern on gender based violence during the lockdown period, the Minister of Gender and Youth, Sports and Recreation Dr Mahali Phamotse highlighted in a statement the importance of ensuring that women and girls are receiving the much-needed support they would need at this time.

She mentioned that gender based violence is rife in everyday life outside of the context of emergency, but that in the time of the current lock down where people and their families are confined to small living places, social tension and conflicts are exacerbated. She has therefore encouraged women to report violence and to use available resources to be informed of how they can better protect themselves.

Outlining some of the response mechanisms undertaken by Gender Links through the support of UNFPA, the Country Director Mrs ‘Manthabeleng Mabetha has said, “through support from UNFPA, we are ensuring that a “Helpline” where people experiencing gender based violence can call is in place and is working and we are also providing relevant information through various platforms for people to access all the information they need on gender based violence.”

Meanwhile, it is estimated that food insecurity will increase from 74,000 to 179,000 households in urban areas and from 433,000 to 720, 000 in rural areas due to COVID-19, over and above the food insecurity situation that had already been caused by the 2019 drought. This also renders women and girls more susceptible to gender based violence. Recognising this, UNFPA has also supported Gender Links to respond to the drought affected communities in five districts in the country through protection efforts focusing especially on women and girls. This assistance is continuing to the extent possible with the present lock down.

Lesotho is one of two African countries that have not yet recorded any cases of the novel coronavirus, the second being the island nation of Comoros.

Despite the country being virus free, the government has been moving swiftly ever since the pandemic emerged and implemented a three-week lockdown from March 30 that will run until April 21.

The government has also announced a series of economic interventions to safeguard the country from the consequences of the pandemic. Particular recognition goes to the support of street vendors who make the bulk of women in the informal sector. The support also of factory workers also goes a long way on support of women who make 51 percent of the population with around 38 % being head of households.