GENDER FOCUS with EMELDA MWITWA
ITâ€™S that time of the year once again when the world celebrates women. This year the world is celebrating International Day of the Women around the premise of â€œEmpowering women, empowering humanity: Picture itâ€
According to the United Nationsâ€™ this international theme â€œenvisions a world where each woman and girl can exercise her choices, such as participating in politics, getting an education, having an income and living in societies free of violence and discrimination.â€
And the subject of commemoration underscores achievements and gaps in women empowerment as espoused in the 1995 Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, which set pace for the campaign for women empowerment and attainment of their fundamental rights.
While acknowledging that a lot of progress has been made in achieving womenâ€™s rights since the Beijing Conference, there are many worrying gender gaps that remain and deserve serious attention.
Zambia has coined its own theme but I was just captivated by the UN international theme, â€˜Empowering women, empowering humanity: Picture it,â€™ on which I will base my thoughts ahead of Womenâ€™s Day which we are celebrating in the next three days.
My picture of a world with empowered women is one where the burden of poverty among the most adversely affected gender is significantly reduced and women have greater economic decision-making power.
World statistics indicate that there are over 1 billion poor people in the world today and the majority of these are women who live in squalor conditions. And this poverty burden spills over to children and communities in general because women are breadwinners and caregivers in society.
In empowering women and thus humanity, I also envision a world where women and men have equal access to education and training opportunities. Then both genders will be able to exert equal power on economic structures and individuals will make their own choices concerning their lives without being subservient to anyone.
This will give women the clout needed to defend their human rights and basic freedoms. What this means is that there would be a reduction in cases of violence against women when the marginalised gender is empowered to defend their rights.
Society in general stands to benefit, because there will be less avoidable maim and termination of life of mothers, who are breadwinners, caregivers not only to the children, but the sick too among other needy community members.
Gender parity in educational attainment also allows for improved health of humanity because when caregivers are literate, the whole community stands to benefit.
For instance, research indicates that infant/child mortality is lower in children born from literate mothers because it becomes easier to follow critical rules of hygiene and adherence to medical prescriptions.
Education also empowers women to participate in political decision-making with confidence and understanding of the offices that they hold.
Well, for the sake of the less informed, the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, signed by over 189 governments in 1995, is a blueprint for the campaign for women empowerment and equality campaign.
A number of gender protocols around the world such as the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development and country-specific frameworks are inspired by the Beijing Declaration.
Twenty years after world governments committed themselves to the realisation of gender equality and womenâ€™s rights, many notable achievements have been scored. In general I can point to an appreciable number of women accessing education, the changing perception of women leaders, the fading off of humiliating and degrading treatment of women and the sex-role stereotyping of women which is gradually taking a downward trend.
And on the forthcoming Womenâ€™s Day, the spirit around the world is to highlight and uphold the achievements of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.
In doing so, the idea is also to recognise the challenges in the empowerment of women because though achievements may be made, there are serious gender gaps that need to be attended to.
Therefore in celebrating our achievements in realising womenâ€™s rights, we should also ensure that we sustain these attainments and at the same time face challenges in the face.
In other words, we need to devise new strategies or perhaps recommit ourselves to addressing the gender gaps such as disproportionate distribution of economic opportunities across gender, unequal gender access to education and the gender imbalance in decision-making positions.
Notwithstanding the challenges, Zambia like other countries has made notable strides in the empowerment of women and campaign for gender equality.
There is an improvement of educational attainment among women, especially at basic education level. The challenge is for us to increase further the number of women who are completing high school and tertiary education.
Apparently, there is political will to increase the number of women in decision-making positions and there is a glimmer of hope that we would have more women members of Parliament and councillors after the 2016 general elections.
The appointment of Zambiaâ€™s first female Vice President Inonge Wina and is expected to inspire women who are aspiring for elective office to come out of their cocoons.
The 2011 general elections brought down the number of women in Parliament to about 11 percent and this time we hope the womenâ€™s movement and political parties are working at changing this scenario.
The ascendance to the office of Chief Justice of Ireen Mambilima, as the first woman, to occupy that office is also heart-warming and inspiring. Justice Mambilima is the immediate past chairperson of the Electoral Commission of Zambia. Zambia also prides in having a woman, Stella Libongani as Inspector General of Police.
Zambia seems to have been positively inspired by the Beijing Declaration though serious gaps remain in certain categories.
The Beijing Platform for Action has 12 critical areas, which the UN Women Watch summarises as follows:
â€¢ Women and Poverty
This is in recognition that the great majority of women live in unacceptable conditions of poverty and thus challenges governments and the private sector to address the problem of poverty among women.
â€¢ Education and Training of Women
Education is seen as a human right and an essential tool for achieving the goals of equality, development and peace. Therefore this one calls for equal education opportunities for boys and girls, women and men
â€¢ Women and Health
Demands that women should enjoy the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health. This is said to be important to their life and well-being as well as their ability to participate in all areas of public and private life.
â€¢ Violence against Women
Violence against women is, according to the UN Women Watch, seen as an obstacle to the achievement of the objectives of equality, development and peace. This therefore calls for the protection of women from violence so that they could enjoy their human rights and fundamental freedoms.
â€¢ Women and the economy
Calls for economic justice and provides strategies for womenâ€™sÂ Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â economic empowerment through employment creation in both the formal sector, business sectors and through other opportunities.
â€¢ Women in Power and Decision Making-
Calls for the empowerment of women to participate in the economic, political, social and cultural decision-making structures.
The remaining critical areas of the Beijing Declaration focuses on human rights of women, women and armed conflicts, women and the environment, institutional mechanisms for the advancement of women and protection of the girl child from all forms of discrimination.
We cannot deny it, Zambia has made notable achievements towards women empowerment, but gaps remain in terms of the poverty burden on women, disproportionate share of power in political decision-making and violence against women.
But for all those immeasurable achievements, happy Womenâ€™s Day to the people of Zambia and as we match down the streets, singing songs of achievement; letâ€™s also rethink our future approach to the challenges.
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GENDER FOCUS with EMELDA MWITWA