Women in Lesotho

Women in Lesotho

By Miriam Fotho, Pastor
Lesotho is a small, mountainous country and it is completely surrounded by the Republic of South Africa. It has three distinct parts: a large part is mountainous; one part is at the foot of the mountains and a small part which is the lowland.

By Miriam Fotho, Pastor

Lesotho is a small, mountainous country and it is completely surrounded by the Republic of South Africa. It has three distinct parts: a large part is mountainous; one part is at the foot of the mountains and a small part which is the lowland.

The economy of the country depends mainly on that of the Republic of South Africa, so much so that hundreds of men who used to work as coal miners, gold and diamond miners are back home due to the economic constraints in the Republic.

The religion of the country is ninety percent Christian out of the population of 2.5 million people, while ten percent comprise other religions, including Islam which seems to be increasing because its members come to Lesotho as traders so they economically attract people to join their religion with a promise of giving them jobs.

In Christian churches there are more women than men. Therefore, women have engaged themselves in many church and social activities. Because they are devoted to our Lord Jesus Christ, they try to walk what they talk about Him. And they also try to do as He did. Jesus preached the gospel to the poor, healed the broken hearted, proclaimed liberty to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind and set at liberty those who are oppressed (Luke 4:18-19).

Women in Lesotho, in order to fulfill Jesus’ ministry, do the following: (1) They have organized themselves as Christians from different denominations whereby they come together, pray and do some Bible studies. At these gatherings they identify problems facing the people who are poor and have no one to help them and no means to have daily bread. They contribute whatever food they have and they distribute it to the very needy.

Poverty has tremendously increased due to deaths caused by HIV pandemic. There is a problem of child-headed households and these are worst affected by poverty which is manifested through serious lack of basic needs such as food, clothing and housing. Christian women take care of the orphans by dividing themselves in groups whereby one looks after a certain household headed by a child, so that she monitors food given to them, clothes and services like education and health. They give reports monthly to their different areas so that where help is needed most, the group can arrange help. Some women do adopt children who are still too young to be headed by other children. Although women do their best to help, at some point they are unable to provide significant assistance because they are also struggling to feed and cloth their own families.

In the mountains young boys of 8 to 18 years live by themselves and herd the cattle of their parents, relatives or owners. Some women in the nearby villages have organized themselves to teach these herd boys how to read and write because these boys have never had the opportunity to go to school. These women get donations of teaching materials like pencils, pens, paper, books and the like. For example, Scripture Union in Lesotho donated small New Testament Bibles for them to learn some Bible verses. One time these boys were being interviewed in the media about their program and they thanked God that those women have brought change into their lives. As they learn to read and write they are taught God’s Word and they will be able to communicate with their families this knowledge. During the interview they explained to the audience that they lack shoes for the winter times when the snow takes a long time to melt. They lack warm blankets to keep themselves warm during cold winters. In summer they go barefooted and for clothing they have a long cloth they wrap around their groin tied to a string around their waist.

They said they are thankful to the women who are taking the trouble of walking a long distance to come and teach them, in order to bring light to them – the light of knowing God the Creator of the whole world. God who through His love for all gave us Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior to redeem us. They said they love stories from the Bible like the message of the birth of Jesus that was first sent to the shepherds and the story of Jesus as the Good Shepherd. These stories and many others inspire them.

It is the women who see to it that even the herd boys/shepherds – who for a long time have not been given the opportunity to know how to read and write – now have this knowledge. And they can live a life they deserve – a life of mingling with other people.

One of the Lesotho Evangelical Church pastors (male) gathers these herd boys together with their teachers once in three months to confirm those who have done well in their scripture lessons that are those who are old enough to be confirmed. They love these services very much for they can sing and praise the Lord, recite Bible verses, and tell their stories as new converts.

The HIV pandemic has brought a lot of problems into the country. People are dying, orphans are increasing in the hundred thousands, young girls, due to poverty, leave their homes for the lowlands in search of jobs. These poor girls end up as prostitutes. Prostitution was now known in this country before, but nowadays it is one of the problems that both the church and the government have to fight against.

Women have taken steps to bring some of these girls to work in the factories, at homes as housekeepers; some are being helped to go back to school. Some of these young women who sell their bodies are HIV positive; they transmit the virus to many. This is one of the hardest jobs that Christian women are faced with. Through prayer and commitment women will help. God will help them succeed. The main problem in this is stigmatization and verbal abuse that has emerged as the most common forms of abuse. They counsel both the infected and the affected. This is helping because we now have people who are HIV positive who are able to say publicly that they are HIV positive and they are encouraged and advised to take their medication well, eat well and work hard to always have green, fresh vegetables in their gardens. This will help them live longer.

One of our women pastors in the L.E. Church has a group of people who are HIV positive and who are willing to be invited to any gathering to speak to people about this pandemic problem to educate and encourage many to test so that they know their status and they can take care of themselves. They also teach/education families that are affected by the HIV pandemic of how to take care of the members of their families who are also HIV positive.

Church women have started some activities and small projects in order to alleviate poverty. They do some handicrafts such as small floor mats with used plastic bags, which can be used in bathrooms. They knit and sew. Some do tie-die and make table cloths and table napkins. In their gardens some have plants that can be sold, though drought does affect their gardens. The problem with handicrafts is that sometimes they do not have a market to sell them, but they try all the means to do something especially with people who are not able to find jobs.

In the Lesotho Evangelical Church, as I said before, there are more women than men in the churches; women are the leaders and elders in local churches and at the parish level. For a long time the same women would not elect other women at the presbytery level. That has changed. Women are beginning to understand that they can do as men can or even more at all levels of the church. We as women pastors are happy now that there are now at least thirty percent of women in the presbytery level and at the Synod. For the first time in the history of the church, in the twelve presbyteries, there are three women moderators. In the Executive Committee of ten members, there are now two women – a pastor and a laywoman. This is an encouraging step that the church is showing for the Apostle Paul said: “There is no difference between Jews and Gentiles, between slaves and free men, between men and women; you are all one in union with Christ (Galatians 3:28).