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Dialogues on masculinity and coming of age in Lesotho

Reconsidering traditional attitudes towards ‘making boys tough’

In Lesotho, raising boys to be tough is a longstanding tradition. Today, people have begun to recognise that male violence may have its origins in this tradition – and that the time may have come to reassess the approach to raising boys. Supported by German development cooperation, the local organisation Help Lesotho is implementing Generation Dialogues to take this social change process forward.

Herding animals is a core economic activity in Lesotho – and one largely performed by boys and young men. Boys as young as 10 years of age are required to herd their family’s goats, sheep and cows, sometimes staying for long periods of time at remote posts high in the mountains in the company of other herdboys.

In order to prepare them for the dangers and isolation they face while herding, families raise boys to be strong and ‘tough’. From an early age they are taught not to show pain, to manage feelings of hurt and frustration, and to learn how to fight in order to be able to defend themselves, their families and their households. Reflecting back upon their youth, Basotho men report being hurt, and instigated to hurt one another, by older boys as part of their preparation to become herdboys and their initiation rites into manhood.

Violence begets violence

Herdboys, especially those under the age of 18, experience clear violations of their rights – to education, to play, to participation and to security, among others – and in turn are often implicated in violating the rights of others, including women and girls. The widespread cultural attitude of ‘making boys tough’ contributes to an insensitive masculinity with numerous harmful effects for men and boys themselves, as well as for women and girls who experience (sexual) violence at their hands. This recognition has been the starting point for the first Generation Dialogue that focusses specifically on traditional practices harming boys and young men – and how these, in turn, affect others.

Piloting the Dialogue in Thaba Tseka District

Dialogue training
Dialogue training

With the support of the Sector Programme ‘Promoting Gender Equality and Women’s Rights’, the GIZ project ‘Addressing herdboys in Lesotho as victims and perpetrators of human rights abuses’ (SEANAMARENA) is adapting and piloting the Generation Dialogue method to address the harmful effects of practices related to the coming of age of adolescents in Lesotho. This adaptation of the Dialogue pays particular attention to violations of rights and the physical and psychological violence suffered and perpetrated by herdboys.

Since April 2019 SEANAMARENA has been working with the NGO Help Lesotho to pilot the Generation Dialogue in a village of Thaba Tseka district. The intention is to learn from the first experience, adapt the method further, and then implement the approach more widely in additional areas.

The Dialogue is part of a larger package of activities implemented with support from SEANAMARENA, including photo exhibits and community meetings, which seek to raise awareness of the situation of herdboys in Lesotho and to promote gender-responsive measures involving herdboys, their family members and duty bearers such as traditional authorities and elected officials.

June 2019

© GIZ/Julius Makatsela
© GIZ/Anna von Roenne
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