MASERU – At a celebration honoring the work of national volunteers at the Ministry of Health on Friday, the United Nations cast a light on the “double jeopardy” of gender-based violence and the prevalence of HIV in Lesotho.
Lesotho Minister of Health Ms. Pinkie Manamolela appealed to Basotho to get engaged in the development of their communities through volunteerism.
“The Ministry of Health is quite delighted to form a part of this special day, set aside by the United Nations, to celebrate volunteerism and highlight the contributions volunteers make in communities and around the world.”
The 2014 celebration of International Volunteer Day was a part of the 16 Days of Activism, which began on November 25 and concludes on December 10. Under the umbrella of the UNiTE Campaign to End Violence Against Women, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged national and international partners to galvanize action to end violence against women and girls around the world.
“Today, we pay tribute to the selfless act of volunteerism and recognize the contribution of volunteers in engaging people from the grass-roots in decision-making processes,” said Karla Robin Hershey, UN Resident Coordinator in Lesotho.
Hershey also urged action to address two pervasive national development challenges.
“We also recognize the need to speak out against gender-based violence. Violence against women takes many forms – physical, sexual, psychological and economic. The damage to women is unspeakable and crosses the boundaries of age, race, economic status, or nationality.”
While women are the most affected by poverty, conflict, and disaster, they are also active actors in recovery, peacebuilding, and development processes. Volunteerism is an enabler of gender equality and women’s empowerment.
The United Nations held a panel discussion on the “double jeopardy” of gender-based violence and HIV in Lesotho, facilitated by UNAIDS Resource Mobilization and Networking Advisor Ms. Puleng Letsie.
“Not only is women’s vulnerability is reflected in high levels of GBV, the high prevalence of HIV/AIDS among women and girls is also a major concern and a big obstacle for women to realize their fundamental human rights,” said Johan Bogh, UNV Human Rights Advisor.
Bogh said that the fear of violence prevents women from accessing HIV/AIDS nformation, being tested, disclosing their HIV status, receiving treatment, and more.
Lesotho ranks second worldwide in HIV prevalence.
While many laws are in place that protect women and girls from discrimination and Lesotho’s ratification of CEDAW, Bogh noted that there is no specific law in place on gender-based violence.
“The Domestic Violence Bill hasn’t been enacted. In the absence of a domestic violence Law, a lot of issues are not properly prosecuted, with perpetrators are serving very little time if at all,” Bogh said.
Addressing the role of the media in responding to gender-based violence, Mark Cogan, Communications Specialist for the United Nations in Lesotho said that training of journalists is critical to both changing behavior and challenging cultural norms and stereotypes.
“The media has a role to play in fighting gender-based violence because they have the power to change public opinion.”
Cogan said that journalists need to understand the language they use in covering traumatic acts and how they view the victim.
“Statements like ‘She asked for it’ or what a woman was wearing have nothing to do with the fact that she was raped. These statements only reinforce conventional thinking,“ Cogan said.
Several line ministries joined volunteer involving organizations, including the National Volunteer Corps and the Lesotho Work Camp for the 2014 celebration of International Volunteer Day. The annual event is an opportunity for volunteers and organizations to celebrate their efforts, to share their values, and to promote their work among their communities, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and UN agencies, government authorities, and the private sector.
The event began with a morning walk from the Sesotho Stadium to the Ministry of Health.