By Ms. Beauty Katebe National Womens’s Lobby Board Chairperson
March 8th is International Women’s Day (IWD) and Zambia, like other countries commemorates this important day annually. The International Women’s Day draws world attention to the status of women across the world and the challenges that they continue to face in realizing their rights.
Commemorating International Women’s Day has helped to bring to light some of the injustices that women face and compelled the recognition of Gender Equality and Equity as a development imperative that is requiring urgent action.
The 2020 International Women’s Day is being commemorated under the theme: I am Generation Equality: Realising Women’s Rights. The theme speaks to the need to fully embrace gender equality in order to make possible the realization of women’s rights.
Women all over the world continue to lag behind their male counterparts in all spheres of national development. Zambia continues to have a higher gender inequality when compared to African medium developed countries. According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Zambia has a Gender Inequality Index (GII) value of 0.540, placing it at 131 out of 162 countries.
While it should be noted that gender gaps have slightly reduced in areas such as access to health and education, the difference between women and men in economic participation and politics is still significant.
It is a known fact that discrimination against women is embodied in cultural norms and practices which inhibit women’s socio-economic and political progression.
25 YEARS AFTER THE BEIJING DECLARATION AND PLATFORM FOR ACTION
As we commemorate the International Women’s Day, we are also reflecting on 25 years of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.
Zambia has attained some commendable milestones especially with regards the legal framework which has contributed to the improvement of the status of women. Zambia is now one of the countries in the region with a strong policy and legal framework for mainstreaming of gender, due to the progressive policies and laws that the country has enacted which include the following:
- The revised Gender Policy of 2014 which provides for equal opportunities for women and men to actively participate and contribute to national development.
- The Re-entry Policy of 1997 has enabled girls who fall pregnant while in school to return to school after giving birth so that they can complete their education. This has resulted in an increase in the number of girls who complete secondary education. This has resulted in more women participating in the social, economic and political affairs of the country.
- The Constitution (Amendment) Act No. 2 of 2016 which confirms the equal worth of women and men and their rights to freely participate in, determine and build a sustainable political, legal, economic and social order. The Constitution further provides for values and national principles which include equity, equality and non-discrimination.
- The enactment of the Gender Equity and Equality Act, No. 22 of 2015 has further strengthened the legal framework for the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women and girls and empowers women to participate fully in the public and private affairs of the country.
- The enactment of the Gender Based Violence law in 2011 which has protected women and girls who are raped and defiled.
In 2017, Zambia had its first female Vice-President when Ms. Inonge Mutukwa Wina was appointed to the second highest position in the country. The country has also seen more women taking up leadership positions in professions that have historically been the preserve of men such as the judiciary where the Chief Justice is now a woman and Ministry of Finance, which has had twice been headed by women. We have also seen law enforcement agencies like the Drug Enforcement Commission, the Zambia Police Service and the Anti Corruption Commission being headed by women.
AREAS WHICH REQUIRE STRENGTHENING FOR WOMEN’S RIGHTS TO BE REALISED IN ZAMBIA
1. Political Participation
Zambia continues to be highly inequitable in political decision-making representation. There are still huge differences in the way men and women assume and share power and authority, as men continue to be more involved in national and higher-level politics, compared to women. Women’s involvement in politics is still fairly low with few women seeking elective political office. Currently, there are only 26 female Members of Parliament while remaining 138 are males. The situation is similar at the lower levels of political leadership with only two female Mayors out of a total of 17 possible positions. There are 16 female Deputy Mayor/ Council Chairpersons from a total of 111 positions and out of a total 1,624 Councillor positions in Zambia, only 125 are taken by women.
The low-level participation of women in decision-making positions in Zambia has contributed to the country’s inability to adequately prioritize women’s issues, resources and empowerment.
2. Social Standing
In Zambia, culture continues to play a big role in perpetuating gender inequalities. There are still differences in the way society perceives women and men with the former being considered as inferior. Roles continue to be differentiated by sex despite many women attaining economic and academic empowerment.
This has had an adverse effect on women’s ability to advance and effectively participate in public life. This has also meant that men continue to be given priority when opportunities for progression arise. It has been noted that failure by some men to assimilate the dynamic role of women in this evolving society has contributed to the up-surge in gender-based violence (GBV) cases.
3. Economic Empowerment
Differences continue to exist between men and women with regards access to high paying careers and control of financial and other productive resources like credit and land ownership. The ZNWL Gender Audit of 2018 highlights glaring disparities between men and women holding high paying jobs in both the formal and informal sectors.
Women still account for the largest number of the poor and vulnerable in Zambia. According to the Living Conditions Monitoring Survey (2015), overall poverty was marginally higher among women in Zambia at 56.7 percent, compared to the male population at 53.8 percent. Poverty amongst women continues to be a hindrance to their empowerment as they are unable to advance academically and often fail to access skills development opportunities.
4. Education Attainment
According to the 2010 Census, males have a higher literacy rate (73.2 percent) than females (67.3 percent). The Gender Policy of 2014 attributes the lower literacy rates among females to the higher dropout rates and lower completion rates for girls compared to boys. Further, access by females to tertiary education in Zambia still remains a challenge due to limited places available in the few institutions and the high cost of tuition.
The situation is compounded by the fact that there are still clear differences in educational expectations of boys and girls.
5. Gender Based Violence
Women continue to account for the largest number of victims of Gender-Based Violence (GBV). The number of GBV cases being recorded by the Zambia Police have continued to increase over the years. According to their third quarter statistics for 2019 released by Victim Support Unit, a total of 6,788 cases of GBV cases were recorded, compared to 6,114 cases recorded in 2018 over the same period. This showed an increase by 674 cases or 9.9%.
Further, trends have indicated that violence perpetrated by intimate partners and close family members, is the most prevalent type of GBV in Zambia. Such abuse contributes to diminishing the potentials of many women and girls as victims often become withdrawn and struggle to be productive.
THE ZAMBIA WE WANT
It is important to acknowledge that closing the gender gap by addressing the areas highlighted above is critical to the attainment and sustenance of inclusive growth and development. This is particularly important to Zambia, where women make up more than half of the population. For this to happen, there is also need for effective enforcement of progressive laws on Gender Equality. This entails ensuring that systems, structures and institutions mandated with effecting regulation on gender equality are adequately resourced and capacitated to effectively undertake this task.
Furthermore, public knowledge about the development benefits associated with gender equality in leadership and decision making also needs to be improved. There is need for continuous sensitization of citizens on various negative social and cultural norms that perpetuate gender inequality.
The Government should consider investing greatly in providing targeted and comprehensive educational opportunities that will promote gender equality by ensuring that no one is left behind.
‘’I am Generation Equality” is about being part of a gender equality conscious generation that is intentional in promoting gender justice. Generation Equality is not only about promoting values of gender equality but also applying these values in daily interactions.
An equality conscious generation considers women, men, the youth and persons with disabilities as being equal and deserving of the enjoyment of all rights and opportunities for advancement. Both men and women can be part of the Generation Equality Movement as they have a role to play in the realization of gender equality. It is possible to have a generation of Zambians who support values of equality and it begins with you and me.
In 2020, ZNWL implores every citizen, especially the young people, to take time to learn more about generation equality and why it is an important aspect of the development process.
As this time of the year, we also celebrate all the women who have contributed to the advancement of the welfare of women both locally and internationally, we applaud the women that continue to challenge the status quo and advocate for the full realization of women’s rights.
We wish you all, the women of Zambia, a happy International Women’s Day.