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Halting sexual violence in rural Lesotho by transforming herd boys into change makers

29 September 2017
Tihoare Makere, a herd boy in Thaba Tseka district of Lesotho, has changed his behaviour towards women as a result of a UNFPA-supported intervention. © UNFPA

THABA TSEKA, Lesotho – A life of herding sheep, goats and cattle in the mountains of Lesotho is almost all Tihoare Makere, 21, has ever known. Like many herd boys in his community, Tihoare never attended school. Marginalized, isolated and with little access to information and guidance, he adopted a careless attitude towards himself and began to exhibit violent behaviour towards others. 

However, this has now changed thanks to a UNFPA-supported programme that is reaching herd boys, including Tihoare, with life skills information and health services. The programme also teaches anger management and how to communicate and negotiate respectfully with others.

I have learned to stop the violence. I want to teach and inspire others to do the same.

“I have learned to stop the violence. I want to teach and inspire others to do the same,” Tihoare says.

Before joining the programme, Tihoare admits he abused girls. He used to confront them on their way home from school and force them to have sex with him.

“I felt strong in those moments because I had learned that this is how women should be treated,” he says. 

Before, I never used a condom, and I would force myself violently onto girls and young women. Now I communicate respectfully with my partner to negotiate the use of a condom.

Herd boy Poloko Tuke, 22, has also changed his behaviour after participating in the UNFPA-supported training: “Before, I never used a condom, and I would force myself violently onto girls and young women. Even if I had heard of HIV transmission, I didn't know that it could happen through sexual relations,” he says. “Now I communicate respectfully with my partner to negotiate the use of a condom. I always use a condom now.”

Shifting deep-rooted perceptions on gender-based violence

In Basotho, there is a saying that ‘fighting is the only solution to conflict’. In the highlands, most herd boys learn to fight against each other and over territory. 

“Fighting became a means of communication and [a] demonstration of power,” says Sello Matsoso, Officer for Out-of-School Youth at Help Lesotho.

I feel like a real man now, with respect for girls and women.

Having learned more about women’s rights and approaches to communication and negotiation, Tihoare has stopped abusing girls – but his new-found knowledge hasn’t stopped with him. He continues to share what he learns in the programme with fellow herd boys, friends and family in the hope of preventing further violence in his own community.

“I now know violence is wrong. Communicating and agreeing is my new approach to the opposite sex. I feel like a real man now, with respect for girls and women,” says Tihoare with a grin.

One day, he hopes to have his own family and provide his children with the opportunity for schooling, which he never had.