Working Across the Gender Divide in the Fight Against Gender-Based Violence
Each year on November 25, 2022, people around the world observe the International Day to End Violence Against Women and the beginning of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence. In 2022, the #16Days campaign continues last year’s 30th-anniversary theme of End Femicide, particularly important considering the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on violence against women.
2019 Fellowship Alumna Makhosi Exinia “Lineo Matlakala” Ntsalong of Lesotho founded the Barali Foundation, which educates women and girls on sexual and reproductive health, human trafficking, domestic and workplace violence, and child marriage. In recent years, Lineo has shifted focus from exclusively educating girls and women to working with men and boys, collaborating with partners from both Sub-Saharan Africa and the United States.
Storytelling as a springboard for advocacy
In rural northern Lesotho, women and girls lack access to information and medical care related to issues of gender-based violence, discussion of which is often taboo. In response, Lineo launched an online campaign called “Hear My Story” that invited women and girls in Lesotho to share their experiences with gender-based violence anonymously. Seeing how powerful this space was, Lineo launched Barali Foundation, which partners with schools and other community institutions to host seminars for teachers and students.
After nearly 10 years of directing Barali Foundation programs, Lineo realized that working exclusively with girls and women was “merely…responding to the problem and not addressing its cause.” To end gender-based violence, men and boys needed to be involved. In July 2022, she published her second book, “I Am Proud to be Ashamed,” which profiles the journey of a close friend struggling with various issues impacting men and boys in Lesotho, such as absent fathers, domestic violence, and drug abuse.
Seeing the positive response to her book, she launched an online campaign inviting men to share their stories, similar to her first campaign. “A lot of men could relate to these experiences – [this space] helped men open up to chat and talk… the platform is open,” Lineo says. This pushed her to design and plan more outreach programming for men and boys.
Leveraging U.S. connections for further opportunities
The most valuable part of the Fellowship for Lineo was the Clifton StrengthsFinder assessment, which catalyzed her personal growth as a leader. “The Fellowship gave me the opportunity to fully understand the work I do and perfectly cemented me in where I am most useful,” she says.
Lineo still maintains close contact with the Institute team and other Fellows that she worked with during the Leadership in Civic Engagement Institute at the University of Delaware and regularly involves them as consultants and advisors for her work. “I have myself a family there,” she says. When Lineo returned to Delaware in May 2022, her U.S. host family helped connect her with other activists and academics familiar with outreach targeting boys, which contributed greatly to shaping her approach.
In 2021, Lineo was selected as one of twelve Obama Foundation Scholars at Columbia University. Upon learning that a fellow Obama Foundation Scholar based at the University of Chicago was working on similar issues, Lineo identified an opportunity for collaboration. Through this partnership, Barali Foundation formally launched Men on the Rise, which seeks to provide adolescent boys with psychological support and mentorship to support them in finding meaningful lives outside of violence.
As of November 2022, Men on the Rise has grown to reach over 500 boys. Going forward, Lineo and her Chicago counterpart hope to grow Men on the Rise to be a truly global initiative, with chapters in every country. In addition, continuing her work in men’s and boys’ issues outside of the Barali Foundation, Lineo is currently writing her third book, a novel telling the story of two very different brothers each navigating the journey to manhood.
As a woman, understanding how to reach boys and men most effectively has been a challenge, but “I am hoping [my work] is a step in the right direction,” she says.
Written by Jordyn Iger.