Photo © Meri Hyöky / Text by Leila Hall
In 2004, Libakiso Matlho began volunteering with Women and Law in Southern Africa (WLSA), a regional organisation that works to promote women’s legal rights through research, advocacy, lobbying and litigation.
At the time, Matlho had completed her law degrees at the National University of Lesotho (NUL) and the University of Warwick, and was working as a Lecturer of Law at NUL. She already had a strong interest in women’s rights and, having been raised by a single mother, was filled with unresolved questions about her own family and upbringing.
“The former National Coordinator of WLSA said to me: even if you cannot resolve all of your own issues, work to educate other women about the importance of speaking out. From that moment, I knew that I was on the right path. I started to ensure that women speak up and know the truth.”
Eleven years later, Matlho is the National Coordinator of WLSA Lesotho. Over the years, the organisation has successfully pressed for major changes in laws that affect women in the country, and continues to promote knowledge and awareness of these.
“A lot of progressive legislation has been passed in the time that I’ve worked with WLSA,” recalls Matlho. “This includes the Sexual Offenses Act, which now treats issues of sexual violence from a broader perspective, and the Legal Capacity of Married Persons Act, which has done away with the common law principle of marital power.”
“We have also lobbied for anti-human trafficking legislation. In 2010, we worked with UNDP and the Ministry of Home Affairs to conduct research on the extent of human trafficking in Lesotho. Our results confirmed that this is a major issue in the country. In 2011, the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act was passed. Since then, we have worked with the European Union (EU) to educate communities about the law, and have also worked with government institutions to ensure that it is implemented.”
“In 2013, we began to offer legal services, to ensure that we meet the demands that we create through our advocacy, training and education work. Most of the beneficiaries of our projects and activities cannot afford legal fees. We now take cases to court. We don’t charge any fees, we only pay for the cost of the case. A lot of women need help, and they know they can come to us to take action.”
“Currently, we are lobbying for parliamentarians to pass comprehensive domestic violence legislation. Our laws don’t do enough to protect victims of domestic violence. As a result, women do not report cases of violence in the home, because the victim has to go back to the perpetrator. We want issues of domestic violence to be treated immediately, and we want to see homes and shelters where women can go and stay while their case is being processed.”
“I believe that Lesotho should be a country where everybody’s rights are protected. Nobody should feel inferior in the society in which they were born. Women in Lesotho should have the same freedom and autonomy that is granted to men. We need to remove any limitations that stand in the way of this.”