Traditionally, a Mosotho woman’s day used to be dedicated to household chores and caring for the family. Most of the agriculture and home building was done by women. They would plant, weed, and harvest the crops. They would walk great distances to obtain firewood and carry the load home on their backs, often with an infant wedged between the tree branches. Women would collect water every day from the village pump for cooking, drinking, washing or laundry, and also scrub the clothing before hanging it on bushes to dry.
But with every new generation of young women comes a current of change, challenging the status quo. Mosotho women nowadays feel more empowered to build careers and pursue their professional goals, and they do it with heroic strength while taking care of their families at the same time.
To learn more about this cultural shift, we interviewed three Basotho ladies, each belonging to a different age group. They shared heartening stories of ambition, responsibility, as well as their advice to young girls growing up now in the modern Basotho world.
Interview 1: M’e Aria Ntori, age 76
M’e Aria is a retired teacher. In her late 70s, she is still dedicated to her profession and has formed a society in her community to help orphans and vulnerable children cope through difficult times. She works closely with the kids in teaching them values, independence and emotional strength. When she’s not helping her community, M’e enjoys gardening and listening to the radio.
How would you describe the typical day of a traditional Mosotho woman?
When I was still very young, my day would start at the early hours of dawn, when I would grind maize and sorghum to make sure that the food is ready for the kids, herd boys and men to eat at sunrise. Then, I would brew beer for my husband and the elderly men in the family. At sunrise I would go to the fields to hoe or harvest depending on the season. After, I would go to the forest to gather firewood, or to the well to get the water. Upon returning home my last task was prepare dinner for the whole family.
And you did all this every day?
Mostly all the chores vary according to the season. The Basotho year starts around spring, therefore, during this time, I used to travel to the forest almost every day to gather enough firewood before the summer season, because then I would need more time to go to the fields and farm. Around this time I would also gather cow-dung and sand to smear the house walls inside-out in preparation for next winter. If needed I would also model pots, weave baskets, mats, and design traditional dresses.
But from what I understand, your life has not been very traditional?
Growing up I was groomed into taking care of the family’s needs, but my life changed when I became a career woman. I started my teaching career at the age of 21. Back then people still had a bad attitude towards a working woman. For me it was very challenging to try to take care of my family while also following my profession, but my husband’s support helped me succeed. We lived with an extended family including my nieces and in-laws, and they would look after the children while I was at work.
I imagine it must have been very difficult!
Being a woman comes with so much responsibility, but we were born with the strength to do all that we do and still find the time to look neat and beautiful. I really love the role I play in my family and very proud that I managed to take care of my children, send them to school and teach them how to become responsible adults. Today all my children have careers and beautiful homes.
As a teacher I think life orientation skills should be part of the school curriculum especially in modern days where parents are working long hours. Some come home once in a while and do not find the time to teach their children how to be responsible in life.
How has your life been different from that of your mother or grandmother?
My life has surely been different as compared to that of my mother and other older women. I am a career woman so I did not have enough time to do all the chores like going to the fields. And I believe things keep changing in this dynamic world transformed by technology. Today’s women are scientists, politicians, work in the mines and some are even pilots! In the past such careers were considered to be ‘men careers’.
Who are the women who inspire you?
I got a lot of inspiration from my mother and Queen Mamohato. The queen was a mother to all, she worked very hard, you would see her at the fields, working in the poultry house or taking care of her garden and still find time to visit places to play her duties as the nation Queen.
What advice would you give young Mosotho women?
My advice to all the women out there, retired or not, teenage girl or a new mom. Is to strive for being the most educated woman in your community. Respect the old and spend time with the elderly because that is where wisdom comes from. They should always find a role to play in their community. And most of all believe in their dreams. To women who have a family; always respect your spouse and find time to take care of your family.
Education plays a key role in women empowerment. Women are born teachers, therefore, formal education helps them in personal development in terms of taking care of the family finances and having an opportunity in the industry world. I believe a woman in power can make a better nation.
Interview 2: Masephiwe Machenene, age 26
M’e Machenene is a widow owning a livestock farm with pigs, cows and sheep. In her free time she sews jerseys for orphans.
How would you describe the typical day of a Mosotho woman?
My priority is to work hard every day so that my children get a better education. I have a lot of responsibilities: managing the farm, going to the fields, taking care of my 87 year old mother-in-law and also selling the farm produce. I find it hard sometimes to do all the chores, but a strong woman has got to find time to do it all.
That is a lot! How do you find the time to do it all?
I just have to. Women are born with sort of a super-human strength because regardless of how many chores I have, I still find time to take care of my children. 5 years ago I even took in a homeless girl who was also pregnant at the time and she needed help.
I see women as the mothers of the nation. A woman is a counsellor, a nurse, a doctor and a caretaker. And today women are also successful breadwinners, they go to work, while also finding time to take care of the family.
What advice would you give young Mosotho women?
My message to future women and young girls is that, they have to work hard in everything they do, for “a wise woman can build a home with her bare hands, but a foolish woman destroys it!”
Above all, I think girls should focus on their education and strive to reach the highest level of learning. Make sure to read and keep yourself updated on daily information because learning never ends as long as one is alive. I think education plays a major role in a woman’s life; it expands the mind-set and empowers us.I believe that women in leadership and power will make the world a better place.
Interview 3: Lineo Putsoane, age 13
What is your typical day like, as a young Mosotho woman?
Being the youngest in a family of 8 people, I help my mother a lot. My day starts at 5am when I prepare myself for school. Sometimes my mother wakes me up even earlier to help with preparing the fire for cooking and warming bath water. While waiting for my bath water to boil I sweep the yard and make sure all the drums are filled with water. Then, I can begin preparing myself for school. After school I go to gather firewood in the village forest, wash my school uniform and wash the dishes. After that I do my homework. I love my chores, but sometimes I find it hard to balance them with my school work.
What does being a woman mean to you?
To me being a woman means I having a lot of responsibility and making the best out of everything I do.
Who are the women who inspire you?
My mother and my class teacher are the women who inspire me most. They work very hard and are always smiling. My mother is very strong and it’s like she was born with the skill of being the best in everything she does. She encourages me a lot and the best advice she gave me is about how “nothing of value is found easily”. These words help me work hard in everything I do, even at school.
Do you think your life is different from that of your mother and grandmother?
I think in girls today have a changed life compared to how my mother said her life used to be while growing up. Now girls are given an opportunity to go to school. They have less house chores. They also have a choice to marry whoever they want to marry, unlike in the old days where girls would be given into marriage to a stranger.
What do you hope to accomplish in the future?
My goal is to reach the highest level of education because it will help me be better for my community.
I’m sure you will! I wish you the best of luck!
About the publishers:
African Clean Energy (ACE) is a B-corp certified social enterprise specialised in manufacturing and distributing clean, off-grid energy products in rural, difficult-to-reach areas of the developing world. ACE’s flagship factory is in Lesotho and they distribute direct-to-consumer in Lesotho, Cambodia and Uganda.
ACE is a proud partner of Signify Foundation. With support from Signify Foundation, we were able to grow our capacity on the ground to reach more rural consumers with our products. Signify Foundation collaborated with us on carrying out awareness campaigns, helping us train our staff in Lesotho to provide them with comprehensive knowledge about solar energy and the role that clean energy can play in climate change mitigation. This is very valuable to all our employees, particularly our sales representatives who can now share their learnings with the local communities to which they travel every week. This way, we ensure that renewable energy awareness and knowledge will effectively reach the most isolated corners of Lesotho. Another exciting project we are currently implementing with Signify Foundation is the setup of ‘solar libraries’ in Cambodia and Lesotho, which allow school children to check out solar lamps at the end of the day to take home and study. Having Signify Foundation as a partner enables us to take part in such stakeholder-centric projects. We can assume greater risks, think bigger, and make sure we are maximising the benefits that we bring to the local communities in which we operate.