Liapeng Raliengoane

LESOTHO, Maseru – As this year marks 30 years since the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) Programme of Action, Lesotho reflects on the progress it has made in advancing Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR).

Lesotho now has the Law that addresses issues of Sexual, Gender-Based Violence. The Counter Domestic Violence Act of 2022 was enacted into law in December 2022. This law also criminalizes Child Marriage which has been the biggest challenge in Lesotho for years.

ICPD in 1994 marked a turning a point in how signatory countries including Lesotho, approach sexual and reproductive health and rights.
Simplified, this programme of action promised that women and girls must have the power to make decisions about their own lives, their bodies and their future.

According to Census 2016, Lesotho is on Stage 4 (Very High Maternal Mortality Ratio) at 618/100 000 live births based on the Classification by East and Southern Africa (ESA) countries stages of obstetric transition.

A two-day training on ICPD facilitated by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Lesotho for health reporters in Lesotho revealed that ICPD Programme of Action remains relevant for Lesotho and its people.

Through various presentations, it was revealed that accelerated action is needed to prevent needless maternal deaths and high levels of gender-based violence and femicide to reduce the unmet need for family planning. Factors such as the impacts of climate change have seen women, girls and young people bear the brunt.

According to a Gender-Based Violence Study by Gender Links (2015), 86% of Basotho women have experienced gender-based violence in their lifetime.

On the issue of gender-based violence, UNFPA Lesotho Gender Officer, Advocate Matšeliso Mokone disclosed that Chapter IV of the ICPD gender equality, equity and empowerment of women focuses on three key issues: empowerment and status of women, the girl child and male responsibilities and participation.

The Lesotho HIV and AIDS fact sheet 2022 by National AIDS Commission states that there are 5000 estimated new HIV infections annually in Lesotho. 80% of these new infections are found within the age group 15-34 years. 84% of estimated people living with HIV and AIDS are on treatment. Lesotho is the second highest country in the world with adult HIV prevalence.

A panel discussion on factors contributing to HIV infections revealed that: lack of information on sexuality, fear of parents for their children to access family planning services and attitudes of service providers are challenges as stated by ‘Mathato Nkuatsana from the Ministry of Health.
On what can be done, Lethola Mafisa from UNAIDS said providing parents with skills to address the above-mentioned challenges is key.

‘Mats’epang Mosae from the Ministry of Education added that the ministry has introduced life skills subject in schools to address the challenge of high Early and Unintended Pregnancy.

The International Conference on Population and Development transformed global thinking on population and development issues and defined a bold agenda, placing people’s dignity and rights at the heart of sustainable development.