Gender Focus with EMELDA MWITWA
SOCIAL challenges and policy shortcomings will never cease in life, but from a positive viewpoint, the major achievement in our campaign for gender equality in Zambia is the affirmation of girls’ education.
Today marks exactly the 55th year since Zambia won her political independence from Britain, and along the way, we’ve made notable achievements in our campaign for gender parity in education.
Parity in educational attainment means having an equal number of girls and boys, men and women, successfully completing their education. This could be at primary, secondary or tertiary level.
And this requires that both genders are given equal opportunities to be enrolled in school, retained therein, until they successfully complete school.
Similarly at tertiary level, both men and women should have equal opportunities to go to college, university or trades schools of their choices.
We have not achieved educational parity yet in that sense, but generally major players are taking affirmative action to get girl children in school. The perception that a woman’s place is in the kitchen does not hold true anymore for a lot of people in our country.
Many families appreciate the value of educating their girl children in the like manner that they attach importance to educating boy children.
At the point of enrolment, way up to Grade 7 level, girls and boys seem to have equal access to education. Zambia is actually on record of having attained the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) on universal primary education. This means that we have made tremendous improvement in providing free primary education. Primary education is very important because it is the foundation of all forms of education that one will pursue in future.
And for people who suffer the misfortune of dropping out of school after Grade 7, this is the only form of education they will bank on to earn a living in the informal sector either as salaried workers or entrepreneurs.
The period between 2000 and 2015 when we were implementing the MDG 2 on universal primary education, a lot of girls were enrolled in primary school and went on to complete primary education.
In our region, sub-Saharan Africa, countries made the greatest progress in primary school enrolment from 52 percent in 1990 to 78 percent in 2012, according to United Nations data.
I am sure that there is also a remarkable improvement of adult literacy in Zambia, although there is no readily available data of exactly how we faired from the year 2000 to 2015.
The mushrooming of micro businesses such as mobile money transfers run by people who did not complete secondary education, attests to the improvement of adult literacy in Zambia.
Mobile money transfers have created a lot of employment for young women and men who may not find a place in the formal sector. School-leavers are actually subsisting on that business while raising money for their tertiary education.
The good thing about a country having an adult population that is able to read and write is that people don’t have to depend on the formal sector and the Government to create jobs for them. People can create their own businesses and flourish in agriculture, tourism, hospitality, food and catering and transport sector, among others.
Other adults who have acquired the basic skill of reading and writing have gone into e-commerce, including facilitating the import and export of goods and services through online platforms.
We have seen a lot of small and medium entrepreneurs coming up and doing all sorts of businesses all because there has been a remarkable improvement in adult literacy.
The sticky point remains at secondary school level where more girls than boys tend to drop out due to a lot of factors.
Teenage pregnancies and early marriages rank high on major barriers to the educational attainment of girls, especially in rural areas.
Perhaps due to the high levels of poverty and limited secondary places, girls in rural areas are more likely to opt out of school and opt to marry. Sometimes, the girls are forced into marriage by their parents who see marriage as a quick fix out of poverty.
In rural communities where secondary schools are not within easy reach of learners, girls who drop out of school are likely to marry prematurely or fall pregnant.
Despite that, I think over the years, a lot of secondary schools, including boarding facilities have been built in rural areas.
However, many girls are still dropping out of school in large numbers because of the negative and discriminatory cultural practices that subordinate women to men.
Obviously there are serious disparities in terms of educational attainment between rural and urban areas, as well as between women and men in Zambia. So the challenge before us is to close up these gaps.
The day we will attain 50 percent adult literacy in rural areas, is the day we will begin making significant progress on poverty eradication in those areas.
Well, in urban areas, there is generally a good number of girls who are completing secondary education than in the previous years.
The schools are within easy reach and appreciable numbers of girls are delaying marriage to complete secondary school.
We also have a notable number of women holding decision-making positions in public service as well as corporate bodies who are obviously, motivating girls to work hard in school.
Do not ever under-estimate the power of role models in shaping children’s future; it really does matter to them to want to be in some position of influence when they grow up.
Having role models is the reason why some children work hard in school.
In rural areas children often wish to become nurses, teachers and doctors because these are the usual community workers that they see.
Examples of female role models in Zambia are Vice- President Inonge Wina, Chief Justice Irene Mambilima, First Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly, Catherine Namugala, Director of Public Prosecutions, Lillian Siyuni, Levy Mwanawasa Medical University Vi ce Chancellor Elwyn Chomba and Clerk of National Assembly Cecilia Mbewe, who took over from another woman, Doris Mwinga.
Others are COMESA Secretary General Chileshe Kapwepwe; Mizinga Melu the Barclays Bank Zambia managing director; Copperbelt Commissioner of Police Charity Katanga, another Commissioner of Police in charge of administration Lombe Kamukoshi, National Savings and Credit Bank managing director, Mukwandi Chibesakunda, Drug Enforcement Commission Commissioner Alita Mbahwe and, Irene Muyenga, chief executive Officer and managing director of Savenda General Insurance.
In the political circles, some of the women of influence, are of course, ministers – Information and Broadcasting Services, Dora Siliya; Labour and Social Security, Joyce Simukoko; Lands, Jean Kapata; Gender, Elizabeth Phiri; Community Development and Social Welfare, Kampamba Mulenga; Livestock and Fisheries, Professor Nkandu Luo; National Guidance and Religious Affairs, Godfridah Sumaili; Works and Supply, Sylvia Chalikosa, and Minister in the Office of the Vice-President Olipa Phiri.
Despite women’s contribution in different economic spheres, gender gaps are big in favour of men.
The low uptake of science and mathematics subjects by girls in secondary schools is the major reason why we have such things as male-domains in commerce and the world of work too.
Our education system needs to do a lot to change the mindsets of female learners.
We need to encourage girls to take up sciences and mathematics with confidence and create an enabling environment for them to make it.
I believe we are on the right track of creating equal opportunities for all girls and boys to complete secondary education.
We may not be where we need to be education-wise, but we have achieved a lot in the last 55 years.
It is possible for us by the year 2030 to ‘ensure that all girls and boys complete free primary and secondary schooling’. This is what Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4 requires of us.
SDG 4 also requires us to “provide equal access to affordable vocation training, and to eliminate gender and wealth disparities with the aim of achieving universal access to quality higher education”.
And this is our challenge as we celebrate 55 years of independence – to provide equal access to education, vocational training inclusive, to everyone in need.
This is what will help us eliminate gender inequalities as well as poverty.
Happy 55th independence anniversary to you all.
Email:eshonga@daily-mail. co.zm/emeldashonga@yahoo. com
Gender Focus with EMELDA MWITWA