In a country where 22% of the population are using latrines and where in some rural villages there are no latrines for an entire community, it is perhaps surprising to note that taboos regarding latrines are already present: namely, latrine sharing between certain members of a household.
This taboo is practised in countries including Kenya, Zambia and Uganda. In matrimonial societies like southern Zambia, a man moves to the family home of the wife after marriage and is not allowed to share a latrine with his mother-in-law. However, in patrimonial societies such as Lesotho, the wife will move in to live with the husband and his family, and is prohibited from sharing a latrine with her father-in-law. The taboo is extended furtherin societies like Uganda, where the father and son shouldn’t share a latrine, and in some tribes in Kenya, where the father is not supposed to share a latrine with his grown up daughters.
In order to understand this taboo in remote rural areas where the Lesotho Red Cross is implementing WASH activities, LRCS has been in discussion with members of the community. While few people were able to share details of the old custom from which this stems, Ntate Eric Sebibinyane explained that this complex issue is a continuation of other father and daughter-in-law taboos:
“There are very old customs that are still practiced by Basotho people. One of these customs is practiced when a young man wants to marry and his paternal uncles lead the negotiations, then the father concludes the process. In this process there are tradition practices that are conducted. After marriage close contact between father and daughter-in-law is restricted.”
Furthermore these taboos are seen to be related to respect between certain members of a family and the guarding of family beliefs, as well as protection of the daughter-in-law andwell as other longstanding customs. According to old customs, the daughter-in-law is not supposed to: touch her father-in-law; touch or wash his clothes, especially the blanket; sit in the chair used by the father-in-law; give him food directly nor call him by his name.
Ntate Sebibinyane is curious about how this taboo will affect latrine use: “Years back sharing of a latrine was not part of the customs because no one was using a latrine, so, I do not know how latrine use was included in this taboo.”
As 78% of Basotho people have never constructed or used a latrine, it is not yet known how this taboo will affect latrine construction and use. It is true that to some, latrine use restriction between father and daughter-in-law is seen as a continuation of these old customs. M’e ‘Matuso Serele, who is around 90 years old, does not want this taboo to be abolished, although she does not have a latrine at her home. She says:
“I would never accepted sharing a latrine with my father in-law, this was going to be contrary to our traditions.”
Elderly community members and younger ‘traditionalists’ ensure that customs thrive in rural areas. Traditionally, older women are supposed to guide and teach un-married and newly married ladies about customs.
M’e ‘Mareneng and M’eKarabo are ready for changes. They see the latrine-use taboo as outdated. Some families have reduced the effect of the taboo. Ntate Eric Sebibinyane has persuaded his mother in-law to get rid of some of unusually taboo. He says:
“Now I can shake hand with my mother in law and we have agreed that some of these taboos do not add any value to our lives. When time comes, I am not going to be ashamed of sharing a latrine with my daughter in-law, because I see that these taboos should be removed from our lives”
Ntate Motsoane Michael Lesesa, a retired nurse, is a WASH Committee member and a champion of sanitation activities in Linotsing Village, who believes that the father and daughter in-law taboo should be disregarded. Ntate Motsoane constructed his own latrine and used it for more than 20 years in Mokhotlong district, where in the district more than 78% of people are defecating in open spaces. He has convinced his four relatives to construct latrines using locally available materials, and tried to work with other community members without any success until the LRCS started working in the village.
The effect this cultural taboo will have on latrine construction and use is undetermined, but it is clear that tackling and exploring these issues is crucial in making the most of the results of this programme. Introducing and reinforcing the use of latrines by all family members will indeed be challenging and will require continued discussion and involvement of all community members.