Lesotho is unique on the African continent in several respects; it is one of the few countries totally surrounded by only one country and it has one of the higher literacy rates on the continent at 81.02%. Female literacy rates stand at 88.29% as compared to 70.07% of their male counterparts, which is also an anomaly among African states where male literacy is normally higher than female. Despite this indicator being favorable to women, this has not led to women’s economic and political empowerment. Women’s representation in the parliament sits at 28% and only 20% of cabinet posts are occupied by women. This scenario is replicated in private and corporate sphere where the overwhelming majority and heads of major private sector entities are male. Women do, however occupy a strong percentage of the technical positions in the public and private service and own a significant amount of informal, small and medium sized businesses.
But there are opportunities to halt the regression and re-engineer to leverage women’s empowerment. The ongoing national reforms process provides an ideal opportunity to transform the socio-economic and political spheres and integrate gender sensitive mechanisms that will enhance women empowerment and equality across the seven thematic areas of the reforms; namely a) Constitutional review, b) Public service reform; c) Parliamentary strengthening; d) Media reforms; e) Justice sector reforms; f) Security Sector reform and g) Economic reforms.
UNDP has ensured mainstreaming of gender interventions across its programmes by undertaking the following activities:
Policy and Regulatory Frameworks: At least 30% of national development policies have mainstreamed gender and women’s empowerment. This includes policies for promoting employment and inclusive growth. A gender audit of 4 Ministries was undertaken and from it recommendations were made under the review of the Labour Regulations to include Sexual Harassment, Sexual Exploitation and Abuse of Authority within the Ministry of Public Service. For the ongoing audit of other ministries the results are expected to be a primary tool for policy advocacy and implementation of Programmes for promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment in the public service. The pilot ministries include the Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Development Planning, and the Ministry of Gender and Youth, Sports and Recreation.
Gender was mainstreamed into the DFA, using the UN-Women guidance note for mainstreaming gender into the INFF. As a result, 28% of the INFF recommendations are targeted at promoting women empowerment and gender equality in mechanisms and decision for financing development. The use of the UN Women guide was effective in generating debates on the status and development of policy considerations for development finance. It also enabled the identification of non-traditional development sectors for gender-sensitive applications such as in the collection of domestic taxes. The virtual training sessions on SDGs were also attended by 20 members of parliament, including the leader of the women’s parliamentary caucus and members of the social cluster. This is expected to enrich oversight and parliamentary debates on SDGs and gender equality.
Economic Empowerment: UNDP supported policy dialogues on the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) with a specific focus on Informal Cross Border Traders (ICBT). The policy dialogues for the AfCFTA and ICBT were deliberately structured to integrate the perspectives of women traders, opportunities, and challenges with respect to regional trade. The women’s associations and business networks were targeted for participation in the dialogues with coordination of the Ministry of Youth, Gender, Sports and Recreation.
UNDP also supported the empowerment of female-led enterprises to capacitate the SMEs to be able to compete in the business market. The initiative was also aimed at getting the women registered as suppliers on UNDP’s procurement database, which was mostly populated by male-led businesses. The women also received business mentorship.
As part of the plastic waste management project, fifty (50) female inmates and correctional service employees were reached through the innovation grants. In addition, a women’s religious organization in Lesotho was awarded a grant for advocacy and capacity building on women waste collection, repurposing and recycling for twenty-three (23) female members.
Other support included grants for five (5) female-led organizations to continue the work on plastic transformation. Additionally, sixty-seven (67) people living with disabilities and one hundred and twenty-nine (129) women, benefited from plastic recycling initiatives.
Through the project, forty-nine (49) girls of seventy-five (75) students participated in the Lesotho Science and Mathematics competitions on good plastic waste management practices.
Through the Green Value Chains (GVC) Project, capacities in production and marketing practices were enhanced in twenty (20) female and thirteen (13) male youth, eighty-five (85) male and one hundred and nine (109) female smallholder farmers.
Three hundred (300) youth and women were targeted with technical skills and seed-funding to recapitalize their businesses to ensure their capacities to take-off smoothly and contribute towards the establishment of profitable small businesses.
With support to OBFC for disaggregation of the business register and development of register for the informal businesses, Lesotho will be able to account for the contribution of women as entrepreneurs and determine their most prevalent sectors for development. This includes prevalence of women-led enterprises development and creation of job opportunities.
Governance Reforms and Peacebuilding: Through technical support and policy advise, UNDP Lesotho facilitated the National Reforms Authority to steer bi-partisan consultations among its members and stakeholders to agree on constitutional amendments and sixteen (16) bills that have had direct impact on Gender Equality and Empowerment of Women. Among these are the increased age of majority and consent from sixteen (16) to eighteen (18) years; revision of proportional representation to increase the proportion of women elected to parliament; revision of the security sector recruitments and promotion to include affirmative action for women; inclusion of the gender criterion in selection to public service as well as higher penalties and sentences for sexual offenders. The Support to Implementation of Lesotho National Reforms Programmewas operationalized with 38% of the resources allocated to activities that promote Gender Equality and Women Empowerment. A new project that seeks to enhance women’s access to justice was initiated in 2022.
Key to the Needs Assessment Mission Report (NAM) was a recommendation to specifically consider Gender, Youth and Persons with Disabilities (PWDs). UNDP Lesotho supported the IEC to craft a policy framework that guides an inclusive electoral process catering to the needs of vulnerable or traditionally marginalized groups including facilitating access for women, youth and PWDs. In particular, the IEC will need assistance to adequately address gender issues as it relates to female candidates and voters, with special consideration to reforms that may help to increase female participation in the electoral process as well as the possible adoption of temporary special measures appropriate to the national context. In partnership with Women in Law Southern Africa, training of political parties, including female politicians was undertaken to reinforce the role of political parties in maintaining peace.
With the rise in femicide and increasing levels of Gender Based Violence (GBV), UNDP Lesotho as part of 16 Days of Activism, supported ‘Men up against GBV’, A He for She forum to discuss GBV and femicide in Lesotho and formulate and share new and effective strategies to end GBV and enhance positive masculinity in the country.
The Mafeteng District Peace Dialogue, that was conducted at the community level pilot for local peace-building initiative, built on the local concept of ‘Khotla’ - a traditional gathering facilitated by an appointed leader or authority, such as the Chief or elders entrusted with overseeing dialogue discussions on topics of concern - piloted integrating youth and women participation. A special training for women police who lead community policing forums was undertaken to enable the platform to adequately respond to issues of GBV and femicide which are on the rise in Lesotho. A community policing application, A community policing application, Lehokela, was also developed to respond to issues relating to crime and violence, which significantly impact women.
As a means of assessing how to improve gender participation in the Judiciary and ensure gender mainstreaming of issues within the framework of the Judiciary, UNDP Lesotho in concert with BPPS Africa Regional Service Centre undertook an assessment on the barriers and challenges of female judges in Lesotho. Identification of key barriers to assess justice for women in the country was also undertaken. The findings of the report informed the Judiciary Strategic Plan.
Environment and Resilience: UNDP Lesotho provided capacity building and complementary teaching aids to eighty-eight (88) female farmers who accounted for 50% of the one hundred and three (173) farmers who were targeted in 2021 to adopt good agricultural practices and food safety standards, livestock, horticulture, agribusiness, and marketing principles.
As part of national institutional capacity development, UNDP Lesotho provided capacity building to nineteen (19) female leader farmers and technical staff and provided support on good agricultural practices and food safety standards to 38% livestock and horticulture experts with representation from government ministries, private sector, local farmers and academia in order to strengthen extension services.
UNDP Lesotho has intentionally targeted twenty-one (21) women and thirty-three (33) youth (20 females and 13 males) to build their capacities on business management, improve production practices, processing, marketing and integration of green and digital technologies in successful agri-value chain development. This group of women and youth were enrolled in a six-months training program that was intended to enhance gender transformation and equitable participation of vulnerable groups across all the project activities.
Among the sixteen (16) newly awarded SGP project grants, one project was implemented by a youth cooperative society and by a one women-led CBO. The most progressive aspect was that women are holding positions in the executive committees of the grantees, thereby contributing towards improving the decision-making powers of women in land and water resources management.
Opportunities for networking and the establishment of new market avenues, as well as access to finance were established, and we saw female participation in regional trade fairs; and a financing model being established, with a start-up fund of US$ 200,000, which was operationalized to facilitate access to finance by women entrepreneurs.
UNDP Lesotho through the Green Value Chains (GVC) Project intentionally targeted twenty-one (21) women and thirty-three (33) youth (20 females and 13 males) to build their capacities on business management, improve production practices, processing, marketing and integration of green and digital technologies in successful agri-value chain development.
This group of women and youth were enrolled in a six-months training program that is intended to enhance gender transformation and equitable participation of vulnerable groups across all the project activities.