Amid all the brouhaha about sexual harassment in the United States, don't forget that it's much, much worse in the Third World. A recent article in the Los Angeles Times, about women in Lesotho (where I lived for most of a year), highlights the problem.
The epidemic of sexual violence against women in Lesotho, a nation of 2.2 million people, is arguably the worst in the world. But it is rarely reported.
I spent three weeks in the country, dodging unwanted advances and hearing stories of frequent, unpunished sexual assaults. It was the most threatening environment for women that I had ever navigated. If somehow you still don’t recognize the sweeping scale of sexual assault, if you think women across the world don’t need to fight for each other with everything we have, try visiting Lesotho, where holding a man accountable for sexual violence is almost impossible.
. . .
The epidemic of sexual violence against women in this nation of 2.2 million people is arguably the worst in the world, but it is rarely reported. The problem, women’s rights advocates say, begins in childhood. Girls are taught to be compliant, to quietly endure suffering and to serve men.
The director of a local aid organization told me grown men regularly flirt with her 8-year-old daughter in the grocery store, capitalizing early on a grossly unequal power dynamic. UNICEF found that 19% of girls under 18 in Lesotho are forced into (illegal) marriages, oftentimes with older men. The rate of new HIV infections is the highest in the world (one in four people have the disease) thanks in no small part to a virtual army of Harvey Weinsteins preying on economically disadvantaged young women.
In response to questionnaires circulated by Catholic Relief Services in Lesotho, women have reported that in school, teachers request sex from female students in return for passing grades. At garment factories, security guards require women seeking jobs to have sex before entering the building. Inside, bosses want sex in exchange for hiring women and offering them overtime (which women need to obtain food for children they raise alone because the fathers are often out committing sexual abuse). Marriage offers little protection, as husbands feel free to demand sex at home whenever they please.
Women rarely discuss or report any of these encounters. The subject of sex is taboo, and aggressors are unlikely to face consequences. Women who do report sexual abuse risk retaliation.
Police are routinely the culprits and even those who are not may be nonchalant about sex crimes. Cases are delayed or dismissed with petty excuses. One aid worker told me police failed to prosecute the rape of a 5-year-old girl because the perpetrator said he was sorry.
There's more at the link.
I'm here to tell you, that article is largely accurate. I saw it during the several months that I lived in Lesotho, and from what I hear, things have gotten worse since then. Add to that the ghastly prevalence of child rape, due to the so-called 'virgin cleansing myth', and you have a recipe for nightmares.
In talks to school classes in various parts of the USA, in the twenty-odd years that I've lived here, I routinely tell girls that they should thank God they live here, rather than in the Third World. I describe to them what life can be (and all too often is) like for women there. Almost uniformly, they don't believe me. They think I'm making it up, or trying to scare them. That's why I keep articles such as this on file, to persuade them that the rest of the world is nothing like America. However, some of them still won't believe me.
If they and their ilk go to the Third World, all too often they learn the hard way that I wasn't joking.