Photo © Meri Hyöky / Text by Leila Hall
‘Mankhatho Selepe is a fierce advocate of a simple but powerful principle: people should be involved in the political, legislative and budgetary processes that affect them.
Since 2008, Selepe has worked with Development for Peace Education (DPE), an organisation that aims to empower rural communities in hard-to-reach areas of Lesotho. As the leader of DPE’s Public Participation programme, a central focus of her work is the Community Parliament, which facilitates direct interaction between policy makers and members of rural communities. Now in its 8th year, the Community Parliament provides a unique platform for ordinary people to dialogue with their government, bring questions to the table and inform budgetary processes.
“In our Community Parliament, we ensure that 60% of the representatives from rural communities are women. This is because most of the challenges that communities face are double-challenges for women. For instance, some communities will point to the fact that they are struggling to get water. For women, this is a double-challenge because women who have to travel long distances for water are at extra risk of getting raped or of experiencing complications in their pregnancy.”
“We involve men and women in all of our activities, even those that are specifically targeted at women’s empowerment. We believe that talking to women without bringing men on board is ineffective. For instance, domestic violence cannot be discussed without men, because they are perceived to be the perpetrators of such issues.”
As a young woman working with a diverse range of people, Selepe occasionally encounters negative or resistant attitudes.
“Some people look at me and say: look at this woman, who does she think she is? She’s a woman after all, why is she saying this?”
Despite such challenges, Selepe has achieved a lot in her career. In 2014, she was elected Vice President of the Lesotho Council of NGOs (LCN). She has also travelled to several countries in the region as the Leader of the Lesotho Delegation to the SADC People’s Summits.
“I am humbled that civil society organisations recognise my work, and I appreciate the responsibility that I’ve been given. To me, this says that I have to work harder.”
“I feel proud that DPE’s advocacy work is informed by grassroots needs and aspirations. The most rewarding aspect of my job is when I see the results of our work. Our Community Parliament has brought tremendous changes to communities, as various ministries have responded positively and taken action. For example, one community spoke about a clinic that had not been functioning for years, and a few weeks after the Community Parliament, the clinic was up and running again.”
“In the future, I want to see a Lesotho that involves the public in policy making, reforms, or budgetary processes, so that our politicians are accountable to the people. People know what they want; you don’t have to think for them. They just need to be given a platform to express their needs.”