Staff Writer Maseru-Advocate Mamosa Mohlabula-Nokana is a happy and optimistic person. Employed as the Programmes Manager at Women and Law in Southern Africa in Lesotho (WLSA) Mohlabula-Nokana is one of many people who have thrown their weight behind Lesotho lawmakers as they scramble to implement a SADC PF Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights Project in Lesotho and six other SADC Member States. A lawyer by training and practice, Mohlabula-Nokana also counts herself among SRHR specialists having read for her Master’s degree in Human Rights with specialization in Sexual & Reproductive Health & Rights. “That is where my passion lies. I have worked in an area or institution where it was very possible for me to actually deal with those kind of issues starting through strategic litigation, research and advocacy,” she said during an exclusive interview. Late entrants Lesotho’s lawmakers are relatively new in the National Assembly and have only just begun implementing the SADC PF-led Project which began in 2014 and is designed to build the capacity of Women MPs in particular and that of National Parliaments in general to advocate for universal access to SRHR, HIV and AIDS Governance services and commodities. With a few months before the Project ends as scheduled, Lesotho MPs and Senators who were unable to actively participate in it due to political challenges that have besieged the Mountain country, a lot of catching up to do. While many people were waiting for the political dust to settle so that Parliament could function normally, staff of the National Assembly and organizations working on SRHR, HIV and AIDS Governance were not sitting on their laurels. They organized activities to familiarise themselves with the Project and planned on how best to support the country’s MPs. “Our engagement with the SADC PF Project dates back to 2014 when it started in the country. WLSA was identified as one of the key stakeholders because we were already working with Parliament on issues of policy reforms; advising them on their opinions and of course all issues surrounding women in general,” Adv. Mohlabula-Nokana recalls. Involvement When a Technical Working Group was formed to support the Project, WLSA was one of the first institutions that were consulted to be part of the advisory group. “Our work became much easier. We used to work directly with the clusters in the different mandates, but now with the SADC PF Project being within the Parliament; it is a lot easier to actually push our agenda as Women and Law.” Promising signs She recalls that a motion to eradicate child marriages was spearheaded by then MP Ntabiseng Phohleli, who is now the Deputy Minister of Health while another one which was advocated for by the current Deputy Minister of Gender, Youth, Sports and Recreation Hon. Rethabile Marumo. “As far as the legal framework is concerned, not much was done due to political instability but in advocacy, as independent organisations, we kind of re-tuned to target specifically on the approach which we should actually use regardless of the challenges we had as a nation at the time. We managed to push through some of the key activities that were part of the mandate or objectives of the SADC PF Project.” Plea for more time She says Lesotho has been associated with the Project for less time than Member States who joined it at its inception. “Since there were no key players, most activities and indicators were dependent upon the involvement of a functioning Parliament. There were so many disruptions. Some of the key indicators were not achieved as a result. Lately we have seen the kick-starting of the Project and we believe if we could continue a little bit, or if there was provision for an extension, it would actually help us achieve in some areas.” She says Lesotho has new MPs, some of whom are unaware of what is prevailing or what their predecessors achieved in the areas of SRHR, HIV and AIDS Governance. “We have to start again to sensitise, to re-initiate them so they appreciate what the Project is all about. It is going to take quite a few months to make sure they own the Project which we want them to actually spearhead. For them to own it they need to appreciate and understand what it is all about,” she says. Legal landscape During the workshop, Mohlabula-Nokana made a presentation that was basically a legal assessment of Lesotho in as far as SRHR and HIV are concerned and how MPs could address gaps. Pressed on the thrust of that presentation, which was made in Sesotho, she said child Marriage was a key issue. “We have what we call the latest law which is the Children’s Protection and Welfare Act of 2011. It should be noted that irregardless of this law, Lesotho is governed by two systems of law, which is Customary Law, and the Common Law. These systems conflict so much that sometimes it is even difficult to determine which law can be applied in a given situation.” In Lesotho, customary law is silent on minimum age of entering into a valid marriage. That makes it difficult for anyone to eradicate child marriage. Common Law says a girl can marry at the age of 16, and a boy at the age of 18. She would like to see harmonization of laws. The Children’s Protection and Welfare Act defines a child as somebody who is 18 and below. On the other hand, there is the Sexual Offences Act, which sees rape or statutory rape only when a girl or a boy 16 and below is concerned. Under the Inheritance Law of Lesotho, a girl does not have the right to inherit her parent’s estate unless there is a written will to that effect. A recent study by WLSA shows that only 5% of people in Lesotho bother about wills. Mohlabula-Nokana says this makes girls very vulnerable as they may start looking for other means to earn a living. The role of MPs Mohlabula-Nokana says there has been an over emphasis on treatment in SRHR, HIV and AIDS issues with less done in prevention. MPs can influence behaviour change and invest more on prevention. Noting that traditional leaders hold sway in Customary law, she says MPs should engage traditional leaders, some of whom appreciate SRHR, HIV and AIDS challenges. Leaving no one behind Mohlabula-Nokana’s view is that there is still reluctance on the part part of many people including MPs and Senators to openly talk about key populations, especially sex workers and the LGBTI community. “There is still a very huge reluctance on our Parliamentarians and our Senators (to discuss these issues) because they are still wondering what their standpoint should be. They have to understand it from the human rights point of view, from the fact that each person is an individual and such person is entitled to each and every right regardless of the status.
2018-01-09 09:36:15 8 months ago