Ndola — JUST what should be done in Zambia to enhance the participation of women in the social, political and economical spheres of the country?
This has been a running question among the advocates of gender equality who have over the years been campaigning for the increase in the number of women holding influential positions in the country.
Despite having ratified the SADC protocol on gender, which among other things calls for member states to attain 30 per cent women representation in Government, critics say Zambia's progress in implementing gender equality has been rather slow.
"As women, we need to work together in solidarity if we are to attain the 30 per cent representation at decision-making level," said Women for Change executive director, Emily Sikazwe, a renowned gender activist.
Until now, Zambian women have generally been accused of not being supportive of one another, which could be a possible explanation why there are few women in key positions. Society often perceives women as 'being their own worst enemies.'
In the September 2006 general elections, several women ended up standing against each other for parliamentary seats instead of being pitted against the men. In the end, few were elected and immediately, the activists started calling on the president to square up the numbers by nominating only women backbenchers.
"Look at what happened during the last elections, women were being pitted against each other just as a way of lessening women participation. Do we need that? No! As women lobby groups we would expect women to refuse when that happens we also need to educate our constituencies on the independent candidature status and learn to defeat arrogance of numbers as women," added Ms Sikazwe.
According to Ms Sikazwe, there was need to fight the norm that women would not make good leaders saying leadership was a right and not a favour. Women therefore, needed to stand in solidarity even in such issues as the national constitution.
But Zambia is not the only country in the region struggling to meet the required number of women in leadership.
The June 2006 edition of the SADC Gender Monitor reported that, "the average representation of women in parliaments of the region now stands at 20 per cent, with (only) Mozambique and South Africa having reached 30 per cent or above".
There is still considerable unevenness between countries with women representation in Parliament ranging from 5.6 per cent in Mauritius to 36 per cent in Mozambique, while Zambia currently stands at about 12.5 per cent. At the moment, South Africa is leading the way in women participation in cabinet, with 42 per cent women ministers and with a woman deputy president.
On Zambia's political front, President Levy Mwanawasa, as SADC chairperson recently said his Government had registered some success promoting gender equality because the number of women parliamentarians had increased from 6.3 per cent in 1991 to 12.6 per cent in the current Parliament; and out of 21 Cabinet ministers, five are women.
In the mainstream civil service, female representation at permanent secretary level is reportedly 25 per cent, directors 23 per cent, deputy directors, 18 per cent, diplomatic staff, 22 per cent and assistant directors, 25 per cent.
Former Nalolo MP, Inonge Wina, bemoans the rate at which women are fighting for the decision-making posts saying, "We need to join forces, if our friends in other countries are doing it, why can't we? We need to be serious about becoming MPs or just being in decision-making positions."
Gender activist Tafira Lubinda called for more co-operation among the women if the goal of more women representation was to be achieved. "We need to work together to create one voice and share ideas. Politics is not a dirty game, if it is dirty then it needs someone to cleanse that, and I believe a woman can. We just need to be assertive, focused and principled," he commented.
At global level, most European countries especially the Scandinavian states like Norway and Sweden have led the crusade to promote women participation in governance; and most of them are now used as models for gender equality.
A number of personalities have also been deemed as global icons in the fight for gender equality. They include Winnie Madikizela Mandela who played a crucial role in the fight against apartheid, former British Prime Minister, the Baroness Margaret Thatcher, former Philippine president Corazon Aquino and Hillary Clinton as the first New York senator and now in the race for presidency.
Perhaps as is said that experience is the best teacher, Baroness Thatcher of Kesteven, was once quoted in the People Publication of September 1969 as saying, "In politics if you want anything said, ask a man. If you want anything done, ask a woman."
She was nicknamed iron lady and such words coming from her only confirms what entails the stereotypical approaches that have been recognised when it comes to decision-making positions!
"I will personally be there to support each campaign if you women decide to do so. I am ready to criss-cross the world in support of the women cause," said the South African central figure in the fight against apartheid, Winnie, during her recent visit to Zambia to participate in celebrations to mark this year's International Women's Day.
"Women make-up slightly more than 50 per cent of the population of Zambia, in this regard it is imperative that they are fully involved in the policy formulation as well as implementation of various programmes in the country," observed Gender In Development Division (GIDD)-social section director at Cabinet office, Catherine Kalamwina
Back here at home, the history of women emancipation in visible leadership roles has in the recent past witnessed some encouraging strides. Most women seem to concentrate, by and large, on running non-governmental organisations though an insignificant number have taken a shot at other challenges in the corporate world and other walks of life.
Rare brands such as of Zambia State Insurance Corporation (ZSIC) managing director Irene Muyenga, Petronella Chisanga formerly of Zambia National Holdings Limited, Elizabeth Mataka the vice president of the Global Funds on HIV/AIDS and recently appointed United Nations special envoy on HIV/AIDS in Africa and Inonge Mbikusita-Lewanika who is Zambia's representative to the United States and also African Union losing contestant for chairperson, are all discernible examples of women that have made it in top leadership.
The banking world appears one other place where women are proving their mantle. Standard Chartered Bank recently appointed Mrs Mizinga Melu as managing director and Indo Zambia Bank board is headed by another woman, Ms Orlean Moyo and the National Airports Corporation director Ms Chilufya Kapwepwe was succeeded by another woman, Mrs Monde Wood.
Among others are Margaret Mwanakatwe currently the managing director of Barclays Bank in Ghana, Nkandu Luo the first Zambian woman professor, Lombe Chibesakunda the first Zambian woman judge and Charity Lumpa, the former managing director of the Zambia National Tourist Board (ZNTB), now Zambia Tourist Board.
Notable achievements have been recorded, a step worth commending!
Government, too, has deliberately appointed women to key decision making positions that include the Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly, Mutale Nalumango, clerk of the National Assembly Doris Mwinga, all female MPs from the ruling party are also cabinet and deputy ministers.
There are also three Supreme Court and seven High Court female judges.
But examples of dismal failures of women leadership also abound in Zambia. Some studies which focused on the differences in perceived stereotypical expectations of women and men, generally indicated that men were perceived as better suited than women for leadership roles.
Tamara Kambikambi, chairperson of the Women Lobby Group, at a workshop told participants drawn from different political parties to develop a clear understanding of both the international and local instruments.
She challenged the losing candidates in the last national elections to fully understand the role of women in decision-making positions.
"The role of women governance is becoming more emphasised world over, that is why we need to create strategic embracement for women participation in decision-making positions," said Ms Kambikambi.
"As a women's lobby group, we got worried at the low retention of about 14 per cent. So now we have to prepare for the 2011 elections. Our participation is very crucial because we play a role and we should continue, but also political literacy is very cardinal for development," she added.
Despite men seemingly being favoured in taking up leadership positions, "there is no leadership constitution to train women, and that is why we took up training at no fee because we feel women as givers of life make good stewards. Women inclusion is very critical for equal rights and opportunities," remarked Ms Kambikambi.
May be another aspect that needs attention in fighting this women unproportional representation would be education. According to research, higher illiteracy among women, currently over 42 per cent is another major factor in hindering aspiration for higher positions.
"Where the female candidate is less qualified than the male counterpart, but still meets the minimum entry requirements for the training programmes, the female candidate shall be selected," reads part of the GIDD policy statement.
And after all is said and done, and the 30 per cent representation is attained, what will be next, anyway?
But Government, however equally shares its concern at the slow rate of attaining this women representation percentage.
"While considerable progress has been recorded in increasing female representation in decision making positions, this has not been adequate as we have not even attained the target of 30 percent as articulated by the SADC declaration on Gender and Development of 1997. It is therefore, clear that we have a great task ahead of us and we remain resolved that these challenges will be fully overcome if we are to meaningfully contribute to the attainment of equality, development and peace, "said Ms Kalamwina.
However, the good news is, the Zambian women continue refusing to be spectators both at international and local scene. They want to be a part of the developing world events!
Gender in Development minister, Patricia Mulasikwanda equally shares her concerns saying gender inequality is still a major challenge affecting Southern and East African regional integration.
Speaking at a Common Market for Eastern and Southern African (COMESA) gathering in Lusaka for ministers responsible for Gender and women's affairs, Ms Mulasikwanda observed that the reigning situation tended to negatively affect women's participation in regional and international markets.
She said, as a result, women are being confined to informal cross-border trading in the region because of the challenges that inhibited their participation in intra-regional trade, access to the benefits of the free trade areas and other development facilities.
"Yet there is no doubt that the informal trade that takes place between COMESA member states is close to 30 per cent of the informal sector. This figure could be much higher if there were deliberate programmes to facilitate and support that sector in which women dominate," said Ms Mulasikwanda.
The minister also cited article 154 of the COMESA treaty, which states that it is impossible to implement effective programmes for rural transformation without the participation of women because they significantly contribute to socio-economic growth.
She said, "The mechanisms as you already know, include the COMESA gender policy and the Addis Ababa declaration of the COMESA Heads of State on gender."
And as Zambian women joined the rest of the world in celebrating this year's International Women's day under the theme "financing women for gender development', they should bear in mind that their dream and fight will only come to fruition with the support of each other as women.
There are still so many issues concerning women begging for attention, but that does not mean NGOs fighting for this virtuous cause, have been sleeping; they are still soldiering on!
They marched, like years before clad in all sorts of designs and yet again voiced out their concerns to powers that be through their various representatives. But, what next after this day? Should they wait for next year for yet another parade or move in unison in their fight?
In the meantime, the SADC 30 percent needs to be met hopefully sooner than later!