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Genderising Christmas

By Mwazipeza Chanda
TODAY, I reflect on the dark side of Christmas, the invisible gaps between men and women.
We borrowed the Christmas tradition from the West and for them the season is a collection of various holidays to wind up the year and give an opportunity for people to take a break from work and visit family during the cold winter spell. Children are out of school and many companies close or slow down business to allow for the festivities.
In Zambia Christmas used to be the one time of the year that many families got a chance to enjoy extravagant meals and gifts – usually of brand new clothes. In the parastatal days Christmas bonuses were guaranteed and so the phrase “the chickens will meet their death, tonight” was a reality for a good majority.
The rains did not dampen the jovial spirits as out-of-school children counted down to the big day when Father Christmas would gift them with a feast and gifts.
For some children, Christmas was the only occasion that they got to see their fathers, albeit the man would be quite drunk out of his mind, but still it was indeed a special occasion.
Nowadays, depending on levels of discipline, Christmas can be a joyous or painful occasion. If you are a wise person like the three kings that visited our new-born Saviour – then you will have been preparing for this occasion for well over 10 months.
The wise individual would have bought gifts in advance, sent out Christmas cards and have enough cash at hand to ensure a treat for family and loved ones.
And then there are the “some of us” who only realise on December 23 that Christmas is a day away and you have to grapple with the idea of paying school fees in a week’s time or seriously partying to celebrate the birth of Christ.
Usually, partying wins and so starts the post-Christmas blues.
Guilt can be a terrible thing. And not guilt in a good way but the type of guilt that makes you hide in shame.
I think that guilt plays a great role in the perpetuation of defilement and gender-based violence in our communities.
Instead of perpetrators seeking forgiveness or help in ending these heinous acts they instead turn to drinking and conducting themselves in even worse ways.
Family members, out of guilt, choose to hide what is going on instead of confronting people and finding solutions.
I mean, how does a 73-year-old man get away with defiling not one but two of his grandchildren aged under 10 years? And when such a man is asked to testify in court he gives no reason whatsoever for the crime he committed.
In such cases even a death sentence cannot suffice.
Worse still, such men rarely show remorse often blaming alcohol or flat out denying their acts.
These young girls and women are scarred for life, while the men often continue with their wrong behaviour.
It has been shown that most abused women stay with their partner because they lack the resources to provide food and shelter for themselves and children. Many breadwinners take advantage of this power play by torturing women physically and economically.
It is so easy to over-indulge during this festive season leading to wreckless spending. Too often, we as Zambians spend money that we do not have and somehow believe God will gift us with a miracle to take away our debts.
I am pretty sure God sent His son to save us from sin and not debt.
While, some of you may be relaxing at a family home with a full stomach about 2,000 women across the country have been battered by their inebriated partners – if current statistics are to be believed.
Somewhere else, a person driving under the influence of alcohol may have claimed a life or two.
Over the past 40 years of my life, Christmas has gone from being a joyous occasion where I would receive new shoes and eat until I felt my stomach might explode to a time now when I reflect on all the close friends and family members who have been victims to road accidents, illness and violence.
More often than not, women suffer the most from the Christmas excess.
Women are often the ones tasked with buying food and then preparing meals for families. Even in hard times, a mother will go out of her way to ensure her children enjoy Christmas – limited funds will not stop her.
Piece work, sacrificing transport money and opting to walk or straight out prostitution are some of the ways to meet this money gap.
Crime in general picks up in December as everyone is trying to get money quick.
Luckily, the police have become more vigilant but they can’t be everywhere.
I have lost money at a bus station, I have lost money while in the market and one time I even lost money and my phone in a major commercial grocery shop.
Another time, we were rudely awakened to find the car battery, television and furniture missing from the sitting room – two days before Christmas.
These days it is common to see the police and road traffic officers monitoring traffic to cut down on accidents but for three women on the Copperbelt it is already too late. Reckless driving led to the death of three women heading to their fields. Their families are in anguish and facing an uncertain future while the cowardly driver ran away from the scene.
So, while we may be celebrating this festive season and gearing up for the presidential election, I would like us all to reflect on the plight of women and girls and commit to uplifting and empowering their place in society.
Let this Christmas and New Year be gender-friendly.