Photo © Meri Hyöky / Text by Leila Hall
For the past five years, ‘Makatleho Pitso has worked with Kick4Life, a Lesotho-based NGO, to educate young people on a range of life-skills and issues related to HIV/AIDS and gender equality.
“I’ve worked with young people of all ages, both in-school and out-of-school,” she says. “As much as possible, I try to share my story with others. I use examples from my own life to show other young people that everything is possible, and everything can change.”
Five years ago, Pitso was raped. For a long time, she spoke to nobody about the incident.
“It ate me up inside. When I finally spoke out, it helped me to become a better person. When I work with young people, I always want them to understand the importance of speaking out about rape. If you’ve been raped, or if you’ve seen or heard about somebody else being raped, you must speak out about it.”
“There is a lot of gender-based violence in Lesotho, and this contributes to the spread of HIV. If a woman is raped and doesn’t speak out, it means that she will be too afraid to go to the clinic to get tested or to get medication. People see rape happening in their communities again and again, and they keep quiet. If this continues, there will never be an end to gender-based violence.”
“I also try to make young people understand that the person who has been raped should never be blamed. If people understood this, I think more people would speak out. A lot of women don’t speak out simply because they think to themselves: I’m going to be blamed, so I’d better shut up.”
In March 2012, Pitso was selected to represent Lesotho in an expedition to Mount Kilimanjaro, as part of the UN Secretary-General’s UNiTE to End Violence against Women campaign. The expedition ‘Climb up! Speak Out!’ brought together climbers from countries around Africa in a show of solidarity and commitment to ending gender-based violence.
“While climbing, I thought to myself: ‘I can’t take this anymore’. Then I realised that somewhere out there, there is a woman who is being abused and is thinking the same thing, and yet she is continuing. That thought helped me to persevere with the climb. When I came down, I felt I had the power and strength to work on the fight against gender-based violence.”
“After my trip to Kilimanjaro, I went to a lot of rural areas in Lesotho and spoke to different women. Many women don’t realise that they are being abused. Women don’t understand that rape can happen even in a marriage. They believe that they should do whatever men ask them to do. There is a lot of work to be done.”
“I want other women to understand that men are not superior to women. We should be able to say ‘no’ to men. We, as women, need to learn to stand up for ourselves and for one another.”