Before I moved to my permanent site, I received lots of training about gender roles in Basotho culture.
"This is a very patriarchal society," my bosses told me. "Everything is done for Ntate."
(Ntate [in-tah-tay] means man or father in Sesotho.)
In America, women and men can negotiate tasks like laundry, dishes and babysitting.
The gender roles and societal norms are clearly defined in Lesotho.
Here are some examples:
-When a woman gets married, her first and last names change and she "belongs" to her husband's house. It is her job (not the man's!) to clean, cook and look after the children. There is NO room for negotiating this.
-It is frowned upon for women to visit public bars to drink or even buy alcohol because Basotho believe that bars are no places for women. They're too dangerous, they say. When I lived in my training village, I'd send an abuti (young boy) to the bar to buy me a drink in order to prevent trouble. Now, I just get my joala (beer) from the liquor store in town, or the capital. I drink in the privacy of my own home.
-Young girls are taught how to cook, clean and care for baby at a very, very young age because if they don't learn early on, it is said that they won't be good wives and mothers.
-If you're not married with children by the time you're around 20-ish, you're a loser. Seriously. Very few Basotho wait to marry and have children. You just, like, have to put a ring on it and pop out babies. Or else. Single women can't attend traditional dances and concerts performed in the village.
-Polygamy is legal here because the country's founder, King Moshoeshoe I, had 127 wives. I don't date here. Men are blatant serial daters and it's culturally acceptable for them to be aggressive and abrasive with their dating. For example, a man can be dating (and having sex with) five women at the same time. The women will all know about each other. But the man is trying to figure out which woman will be the best lover, cook and cleaner.
So this is what it is here. This is Basotho culture.
I don't want to come across as an arrogant American but the roles here are so clearly defined that I just can't comprehend some of them.
I'm not man-bashing but I do believe in the equal treatment of the sexes.
It's very difficult to live in an extremely patriarchal society but sometimes you have to respect the way that things are.
I do see glimmers of hope, though.
Lesotho has a high number of women in the Parliament, and also a high number of women who make up the workforce.
And at home, my host mother makes my 10-year-old host brother do housework. He mopes but he mops.
I also teach gender equality in my Life Skills classes.
"Boys, you can cook and clean," I tell my students.
"No we can't," they say.
"Yes you can!" I reply.