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2015: year of reckoning for gender equality

AFTER a long break from this slot, it’s wise for me to wish our esteemed readers a happy and productive New Year.
Anyway, having been away for the past seven weeks, there is no way I can avoid talking about the New Year, albeit belatedly. Better late than never.
My leave would not have been restful without the support of my colleague and Online Editor Mwazipeza Chanda who was filling in for me during my absence and kept you adequately informed and enlightened on matters of gender and development.
I personally benefited and learned something from Mwazipeza’s insightful thoughts and somehow gained momentum that I will run with this year.
I hope that both men and women will collaborate better in 2015 and make steady progress towards narrowing gender gaps in terms of access to resources, education and social services in general.
We are in the final moments of the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development as well as Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), and before the close of this year, our achievements or lack thereof will be measured.
No doubt, the two international policy instruments have given impetus to the crusade for sustainable development; poverty eradication and gender equality as the trio are intertwined.
I hope our efforts as a country will translate into fewer cases of spouse battering; murder involving intimate partners; sexual violence; child molestation and gender-based violence in general. Perhaps thereafter we can talk of eradicating these social vices.
When efforts of the campaign are measured, I hope there will be some women and men, boys and girls who will have been lifted out of the quagmire of poverty.
Outcomes of such efforts are gradual, but we need to see the evidence of universal primary education, and policies that will promote gender parity in education and retention of both sexes at higher levels of education.
We have done well in promoting universal primary education; attempts at economic empowerment of women; promotion of widows and widowers’ rights as well as family rights.
But we need to improve on many fronts such as education parity at secondary and tertiary level; women’s representation in political and decision-making positions; GBV and protection of children from all forms of discrimination and abuse.
Though we may lag on certain targets, the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development has done a lot for the gender equality campaign and its contributions to sustainable development will outlive this time-bound instrument.
We may not reach the 50/50 target for women and men representation in political and decision-making positions by August this year, but the spirit of this campaign should continue.
In fact, this is one area where Zambia has not done well in its implementation of the SADC protocol, but all players need to double their efforts in building the capacity of women for leadership in political parties, public and private enterprises.
“Regression in women’s representation in political and decision-making positions has been noted with concern especially by member states that have recently conducted elections such as Zambia (2011), Lesotho (2011), Namibia (2009), South Africa (2014) and Malawi (2014),” said Magdeline Mathiba-Madibela, head of the gender unit at the SADC Secretariat.
In fact, 2015 presents the best opportunity for us to build the capacity of potential leaders across gender because of the tripartite elections next year.
Tripartite elections will give women an opportunity to contest elections at local government and parliamentary levels.
Apparently, the January 20 presidential election presents no such opportunity for women because only one female candidate, Forum for Democracy and Development president Edith Nawakwi is standing.
However, there will be a lot of opportunities for women to seek elective office in the tripartite elections.
Political parties should start preparing women who have potential to run for local government and parliamentary elections through training, mentoring and creation of structures that favour their participation in decision-making positions.
This is how countries such as Angola, Mauritius, Mozambique, Seychelles, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Swaziland and Tanzania increased women representation in parliament.
Consequently, there has been an upward trend on women’s representation at cabinet level in Angola, Lesotho, Mozambique, South Africa, Zimbabwe and Tanzania.
However, Ms Mathiba-Madibela said this upward trend of women in parliament and cabinet is due to electoral systems used, such as the proportional representation.
“Countries using the first-past-the-post system have not been able to either maintain or increase the number of women in parliament,” she said at the summit of the SADC heads of state and government in Zimbabwe last August.
This should be food for thought for Zambia, perhaps as a stopgap measure, to consider an electoral system that could increase the numbers of women in parliament.
Meanwhile, political parties should work out their own strategies for increasing women’s participation in decision-making positions.
A New Year brings a new season of opportunities and with it comes the right to dream anew and set goals. With assertiveness, commitment and of course discipline, individuals or institutions could make their dreams come true.
It’s for this reason that I hope that this year, our communities will become safe havens for our girl children who have become targets of sexually-perverted minds.
It’s unfortunate that our region has high prevalence of GBV against women and girls, especially domestic violence, sexual violence, incest and child abuse.
All of us – individuals, families, communities and law enforcers should strive to stop the sexual abuse that has left many children physically and emotionally scared.
Zambia has well legislated against GBV but needs full implementation of the Anti-GBV Act and the provision of support services to victims of violence.
The other approach this year should be about coming up with a comprehensive and integrated prevention system for GBV.
I hope that with the festival mood now fading, you are getting settled into the New Year and working at making the most of this season at individual and family level.
At family level, we could also contribute to the gender agenda by discarding negative cultural practices that promote sex-role stereotypes, domestic violence and discrimination on gender.
For instance, ensure to give equal opportunities to your children, regardless of gender to go to school so that they could make the most of their potential.
Say no to domestic violence and report perpetrators of violence in your neighbourhood or community to law enforcers.
Remember good citizenship requires caring not just for your family but other people around you, including neighbours. A tip to police or social welfare can save lives before it is too late. Phone 0211- 227793/221364.