News Analysis

EDUCATED BUT JOBLESS: THE PLIGHT OF LESOTHO WOMEN

By Mpeo Matsipa

When former Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili-administration that was marred by allegations of corruption at all levels was ousted in June 2017, a wave of optimism surged through the country.

Thousands of Basotho took to the streets chanting. They hoped that with Mosisili out of the State House, unemployment, corruption and poor service delivery would be history.

That was exactly what the incoming Prime Minister Thomas Thabane had pledged will happen.

Two years later, the attainment of those demands seems more elusive than ever.

A key aspect of the stunted transition in Lesotho is the problem of unemployment.

Its rate continues to climb and women are increasingly the most affected.

The country continues to experience high rates of unemployment, estimated at 32.8 percent according to the Bureau of Statistics 2017 survey.

Unemployment incidence is higher for females and youth, estimated at 39.7 percent and 32.3 percent respectively, compared to males at 26.2 percent.

These figures are substantiated by The Kingdom of Lesotho Voluntary National Review on the Implementation of the Agenda Report of 2019.

This report suggests that the rate of unemployment is higher among females.

It reads in part: “The rate of unemployment for women increased from 31.2 percent in the second quarter of 2014/15 to 40.7 percent in the second quarter of 2015/16 while the rate of unemployment for men changed slightly from 20.6 to 20.9 percent in the same period.”

In addition to facing higher unemployment rates, women are mostly employed in low-paying jobs such as in textiles and agricultural sectors.

Although trends in female representation in the Cabinet and Parliament is notable, it has declined recently. In 2011, there were nine women out of 25 (40.9 percent) in the Cabinet; eight out of 30 (26.7 percent) in the post-2012 All Basotho Convention party-led coalition government; and eight out of 35 (22.85 percent) in the post-2015 election coalition government.

This trend indicates a steady decline in representation of women in the executive arm of the state, and the percentage remains far below the Southern African Development Community (SADC) quota of 50 percent women in the legislative assembly.

In Parliament, the total number of women has remained around 25 percent of the legislature.

Lesotho’s performance related to representation of women is not impressive. Women in leadership roles in public and private sectors remain relatively low. This is attributed to the patriarchal society, attitudes, and societal perceptions regarding elections.

This is despite the fact that Basotho women are more educated than their male counterparts. Also, compared to men, women constitute 51 percent of the country´s population.

Lesotho has strong literacy rates—97 percent of women and 85 percent of men aged 15-49 are literate.

Half of women and 40 percent of men attended some secondary school, and nine percent of women and eight percent of men have more than secondary education.

One of the main legacies of the Mosisili era was the expansion of education in Lesotho.

The education system was restructured during the early 2000s, with wide ranging changes including the institution of universal primary education, the abolition of primary school fees and an emphasis on girls’ education.

Mosisili-government made a major contribution towards funding vulnerable learners including orphans.

There are three innovative interventions that the government took to make equitable access to education easier. It supported vulnerable children by awarding them bursaries to enable them to participate in secondary education where the demand for fees, books and other supplies is much higher than that of primary schools.

Second, along with bursaries for the vulnerable, the government introduced a book rental scheme policy to reduce heavy burden of expensive books for parents.

Lastly, the government undertook a fees rationalization in all public secondary schools in the country to ensure that all children have access to secondary education.

It also expanded tertiary education.

In 2001, government spent more than 12 times the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita per student at the National University of Lesotho (NUL). In 2005/06, four percent of the ministry of education’s budget went towards subvention to higher education institutions.

Today, the country has one public university and two pri­vate universities.

Enrollments in registered higher institutions were 21,586 students. There were more female learners at 60.5 percent compared with their male counterparts at 39.5 percent. This is according to the Voluntary National Review report.

Despite this expansion, Mosisili regime’s policies lacked a long-term strategy regarding how to absorb the exponentially growing number of graduates into the workforce.

The relevance of curricula, employability of graduates, and skills mismatch are widely cited as major causes of high graduate unemployment.

Now, the regime’s policies are yielding the unintended consequence of a massive surplus of university-educated graduates most of which are women.

There are several factors that explain the higher unemployment rate for educated women.

First is the decreasing employment in the public sector, which has historically been one of the largest employers. The rate of female participation in the workforce is directly correlated with the declining rate of public sector jobs, long a preferred career path for women.

Second, there are significant cultural and practical barriers to entry for females in the private sector. The patri­archal society is putting young women in an impossible position, where they are expected to trade their bodies and sexual favours for employment.

There is no one silver bullet to deal with the problem of women unemployment in Lesotho. There is a range of policy options that need to be implemented in conjunction with each other.

Some will show results at a faster pace, while others, will take years.

Government should implement regulatory reforms, such as quotas and flexible working arrangements, that support increased participation of females.

Recognizing the need to balance between work and home life where women tend to carry a larger part of the burden, more part-time work opportunities, and options to work remotely can go a long way in bringing more women into Lesotho’s workforce. NW

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