In a few days time, the year 2016 comes to a close and we open yet another chapter as we welcome the year 2017. The end of the year provides an excellent opportunity for us as a nation to reflect on our collective achievements and failures from which we can draw lessons in the pursuit of a more prosperous Zambia for all.
In order for us to forge ahead as a nation, it is imperative that we re-focus and strategize on how to propel an all-inclusive development agenda for the country that allows all women, men, youths and children of this great nation to benefit from the national cake.
Below are some of our reflections of 2016:
1. 2016 General Elections and Politics
In 2016, Zambians witnessed one of the most challenging elections which left the country divided. We call upon those in leadership to take deliberate measures to re-unite the country in the true spirit of One Zambia, One Nation.
NGOCC remains concerned with the increased tribal inclination and electoral violence that the country witnessed before and shortly after the 2016 August 11 elections. The violence led to a death of a woman cadre of the opposition from a gunshot allegedly fired by an antiriot police officer. It is our anticipation, therefore, that the Commission of Inquiry that has been established will make pragmatic recommendations on how to curb the vice and how to prevent these occurrences in future.
Further, NGOCC is deeply concerned with the low numbers of women that were elected in the August 11 Elections. Women were marginalized starting from the adoption process within political parties. In addition, women who were initially adopted by political parties in the ward, constituency, district and provincial nomination processes were left out and replaced by men at national level. This has seen marginal increase in women’s representation in Parliament and Local Government at 17% and 9% respectively from 11% and 7% registered in the 2011 elections. Obviously this is still far below the SADC and African Union gender parity requirement of 50% at all levels of decision making.
The 2016 amended Constitution brought with it new provisions requiring all aspiring candidates at all levels of elections to have a Grade 12 Certificate or its equivalent as the minimum qualification. The interpretation of this provision was left to the Examination Council of Zambia which set the standard at five credits. Though this provision was belatedly re-defined by the Court, the initial position disadvantaged women more than men, who were left with little time to verify or present their equivalent credentials because of extra costs in the verification exercise. The nomination fees were also high and this further disadvantaged a number of women from contesting even with the last minute reduction by the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ).
2. Constitution Making Process
While the Constitution was amended however, the constitution making process remains incomplete. This is more so because of the failed National Referendum that was inappropriately held alongside the 2016 highly politicised partisan general elections. There is need for the country to collectively revisit the Constitution review process in earnest to harmonize some of the contentious and ambiguities that were occasioned by the rushed manner in which the pre-election Parliament-sitting amended the Constitution. Therefore, Government must appoint a lean technical committee to review and harmonise the Constitution and remove the ambiguities and include new Bill of Rights that is expanded to include gender equity and equality, socio-economic, cultural and environmental rights.. The process should be devoid of any partisan interest and should be driven by the Zambian people themselves.
3. Gender Equity and Equality Law
The enacted 2015 Gender Equity and Equality Act (GEEA) is a progressive piece of legislation, which seeks to domesticate some of the women’s rights and gender provisions in regional, continental and international instruments to which Zambia is party to. NGOCC notes however, that in 2016, nothing much was put in place to implement the provisions of the GEEA. This was despite our calls for the operationalisation of the Gender Equity and Equality Commission as already established in the 2016 Amended Constitution.
4. Media and freedom of expression
In 2016, Zambia witnessed a very sad scenario where media houses were intimidated, with some closed in very suspicious circumstances, a situation only reminiscent to autocratic states. We witnessed the suspension of licenses for Muvi Television, Itezhitezhi and Komboni radios, which were later lifted, but The Post newspaper was closed and subsequently liquidated. The media, especially the private media, plays a critical role in the democratic dispensation. It is, therefore, regrettable that the State institutions were used to close up sections of the private media. These media closures without doubt have had a negative effect on the freedom of expression in Zambia as a whole. As a women’s movement, we are concerned that with the narrowing down of civil society space including freedom of expression, the voices of women, youths and children are suppressed and silenced even more.
5. Chaotic distribution of farming inputs
The distribution of farming inputs has remained chaotic over the years and is working against the country’s principle of diversifying into agriculture. In 2016, farming inputs were again distributed to the farmers late given the slow cascading effect to the lower organs at community level. Our concern is that the late distribution of farming inputs negatively impacts the farming output and threatens the country’s food security considering that the women are the main producers of the basic foodstuffs consumed by the majority of Zambians. Also the majority of women, bear the burden of preparing family meals and ensure that their families have adequate nutrition.
6. Gender Based Violence
Cases of Gender Based violence (GBV) have continued to be on the increase. Though the latest statistics suggest some minimal reduction in the last quarter of 2016, but the GBV incidents still remain extremely high for the Zambian population. During the third quarter of 2016, Zambia Police received 4,235 GBV cases countrywide compared to 4,951 cases reported in the third quarter of 2015. This translates to a decrease by 716 cases giving a percentage of 14.5%. However, the reporting rate of GBV related incidents is still minimal due to inadequate judicial system and negative social factors around GBV e.g stigma attached to victims, withdrawals of cases from police and courts, to name a few.
A total of 615 cases of Child defilement were reported this year representing 14.6% compared to the third quarter of 2015 where 688 cases were recorded, representing a percentage decrease of 10.7%. More girl children than boys were defiled (about 98%). Further, the country recorded 62 cases of rape, 17 attempted rape, 8 cases of incest out of which 6 victims were female adults and 2 were female juveniles. 23 cases of unnatural offences were recorded out of which 3 victims were male adults while 19 were male juveniles and 1 female.
The Country further recorded 15 GBV related Murder Cases of which 6 victims were female adults, 4 male adults, 2 female juveniles and 3 male juveniles compared to last year’s third quarter in which 17 cases were recorded out of which 5 victims were male adults, 5 female adults,5 male juveniles and 2 female juveniles. One case of attempted murder and 4 infanticide cases were also recorded Country wide during the period under review.
Sadly, in 2016 Zambia witnessed a growing trend in the country where a number of women killing their husbands and partners increased. However, empirically more women compared to men have lost their lives at the hands of intimate partners. Generally 1 in 4 married women have experienced an incident of GBV in their life time (ZDHS 2014). This further calls for serious collective reflection on this vice that is now ravaging the family unit.
7. Feminised Poverty
While Zambia’s economy is said to be growing, NGOCC notes that the poverty levels and standard of living for most people, especially the women has really gone down given the levels of hunger in most households. In 2016, extreme poverty remain higher in female headed households (60.4 %) compared to male headed households (57.1 %)1. Women lack economic, social and political power, which exclude them from development processes.
7. Expectations for 2017
NGOCC looks forward to a more prosperous and productive 2017. In order to address the challenges faced in 2016 in bettering the lives of Zambians especially the women, we recommend the following:
National Reconciliation: We demand that President Edgar Chagwa Lungu takes deliberate measures to ensure that the country is reunited. The scars left by the August 11 elections have the potential to wipe the good reputation Zambia has enjoyed over the years of being ‘a peaceful country’. Beyond the Commission of Inquiry set up, examine the causes of the electoral violence before and after the general elections. It is our expectation that the President will step in to reinvigorate a true spirit of reconciliation and national building in a pragmatic way.
Expanded Bill of Rights: We maintain that there must be a stand-alone National Referendum that will guarantee its success and that this must happen before 2021 general elections. The need for the expanded Bill of Rights in the national Constitution cannot be overemphasized. The expanded Bill of Rights is critical to all citizens by removing legalized discrimination to women, youths, people with disability, the elderly and the poor. We demand that the Government commences a process of adopting an entirely new Constitution through a National Referendum as opposed to the Parliamentary amendment process in order to avoid political partisan votes as it was done in 2015.
Gender Representation: Political parties must take up affirmative action measures to ensure that more women are incorporated at all levels of political party decision making levels and adopted in various disciplines. We call upon the Government to speedily enact the Political Parties Act that will among other things ensure that women are accorded an equal opportunity to participate in the political leadership of the country. It is totally unacceptable that 52 years after independence, women remain marginalized from meaningfully participating in the governance of the country as per current low numbers in Parliament (17%) and local councils (9%) respectively.
Gender Equity and Equality Act: The Government to immediately operationalise the Gender Equity and Equality Act. Without doubt the establishment of the Gender Equity and Equality Commission will contribute in narrowing down the gender gaps in the country at all levels.
Freedom of Expression: In 2017, we must witness greater freedom of expression. The media must be allowed to operate freely without any form of restraint or interference from any sector. So, we urge the Government to enact the long awaited Access to Information law, which must be holistic by taking into account the views of all stakeholders..
Distribution of Farming Inputs: The Government must review the whole distribution process of farming inputs including taking into account equity aspects. The national food security and sovereignty rests on a timely and proper distribution of inputs to the farmers, of whom the majority are women farmers; There must be a transparent distribution system coupled with sex and gender disaggregated data of the beneficiaries of the Fertiliser Support Programme and all other inputs; Agriculture must be prioritised in 2017 as an economic diversification strategy. Zambia being blessed with abundant land and surface water it has the potential to grow her economy through agriculture. We recommend that government encourages private sector involvement in the maize marketing considering that the Food Reserve Agency (FRA) has had challenges in paying farmers on time for adequate preparation for the next farming season.
Curbing Gender Based Violence: The Government, private sector and civil society must pragmatically collaborate and come up with a collective resolve to curb Gender Based Violence. In addition, the Government and all stakeholders should invest in research in improving the provision of psychosocial counseling services and preventive mechanisms.
Social Protection Measures: The Government must scale up the social protection programmes by expanding the Social Cash Transfer programme to all parts of the country. The Government must also review the programmes in order to meaningfully better the livelihoods of all the beneficiaries.
Health Posts and Services: The Government must prioritise the completion of the construction works and equip the 650 Health posts in order to reduce the distances that people have to walk to access health services. The reproductive health service access still lies in jeopardy due to the limited capacities especially for the rural populations. For instance, an inspection of a number of the health posts in the northern part of Zambia revealed that works were still at slab and window level. These health posts must be completed in 2017.
Education sector: NGOCC observed that a number of primary schools were under construction, which is a good step, however, secondary schools still lag behind. The Government must prioritize the construction of more secondary schools with boarding facilities as a means of addressing the rising numbers of teenage pregnancies and child marriages.
Improving General Economy: We call on the Government to engage citizens on the beneficiaries of government debt and its economic value. The Government should not contract any more debt but seriously invest in local investment and revenue generation with the help of economic experts (Think Tanks). Government should put measures in place to ensure that the huge debt burden, both domestic and external debt, is managed so that our country does not return to being the Highly Indebted Poor Country (HIPC) from which the women benefit nothing but extreme feminized poverty and early deaths of their household members. The ministries of Finance and National Development and Planning should take this as a matter of priority and work collectively in finding sustainable solutions.
The above reflections and indeed NGOCC’s expectations in 2017 are part of our mandate of championing gender equity and equality and the empowerment of women. NGOCC remains committed to contributing to Zambia’s national development through playing our watchdog role in a non-political-partisan manner. We embrace dialogue and indeed stand ready to contribute to the Government’s agreed gender agenda contained in the National Gender Policy of 2014, the SADC Gender Protocol 2030 Agenda, the AU 2063 Agenda and the Sustained Development Goals 2030 Agenda.
It is, therefore, our expectation that Government shall play a more facilitative vanguard role in ensuring that the economy is favorable for all and that national development is being pursued in line with the aspirations of the Zambian people. Given the gloomy economic forecast, there is need for the Government to put policies and measures that will cushion the most vulnerable in our society who are mostly women, youths, the eldery, people with disability and children.
Compliments of the Season.
Sara H. Longwe
NGOCC BOARD CHAIRPERSON