GENDER FOCUS with EMELDA MWITWA
This being the last day of the year, I am sure everyone is hoping to cross over into the New Year safe and sound, by Godâ€™s grace. After the festivities ebb away, we will soon get back to the serious business of working hard to implement and fulfil the plans for the year 2016.
By now individuals, families, business entreprises, civil society organisations, political parties, local and international organisations, as well as government wings are full of plans of the things, they want to achieve in the new year.
For most forward-looking people and organisations, they have already set their plans in motion and what remains is implementation. Individuals, families and community-based organisations should also be looking forward to accomplishing something tangible in 2016, otherwise as they say; failing to plan is planning to fail.
Well, if I were asked to set the tone and pace for the campaign for gender equality and equity in Zambia in 2016, I would want to popularise the HeForShe campaign which is being spearheaded by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
The coming, year being an election year, I look forward to men getting more involved in denouncing socio-cultural practices that promote gender inequalities and hold women in subordinate positions.
As per HeForShe campaign principle, I expect to see men in the forefront of supporting women that will be aspiring for political office in the 2016 tripartite elections.
I hope to see the men articulate the socio-economic benefits of womenâ€™s equal participation in the economic life, decision-making as well as the social and cultural life of their communities.
According to UNDP communications officer Moses Zangar, the HeForShe campaign aims to bring home the message that although laws exist to deal with gender violence and guarantee gender equality, every man must take personal responsibility to root out the vice of gender discrimination in his home.
â€œOnly then can society begin to take a stand together to bring to an end injustices committed against women and girls. The HeForShe campaign is also about recognising the enormous economic gains society stands to make when women are able to grow up in environments that are kept free of gender violence and discrimination,â€ Mr Zangar said.
Going by this principle, I expect men in our country to join the campaign at household level by beginning to accept women as equal partners in every aspect of human endeavour – be it community development, making decisions that will affect the community and participation in the life of that community.
It means men and women need to work together in denouncing negative cultural practices that promote gender discrimination and violence.
So as the HeForShe campaign is rolled out in Eastern, Central, Copperbelt, Lusaka and Southern provinces, hopefully attitudes will begin to change with regard to the role of women in economic, social, cultural and political spheres.
People should be made to understand that sustainable development in society is not possible without equal participation and fair distribution of benefits to men and women, girls and boys.
If the feminisation of poverty continues, and more and more girls continue to drop out of school, and females continue to be marginalised in decision-making on matters affecting them, then the gains of development will be negated.
If we ought to reduce poverty, both genders should benefit, otherwise all such efforts will be futile.
And women, being care- givers who more than their male counterparts cater for food, education and health needs of society, need to have a fair share of all socio-economic gains.
Education also places women in a better position to raise healthy children who are more likely to survive childhood diseases and other conditions that threaten the lives of infants and children.
Similarly, equal participation of women and men in decision-making will allow the former to have a say in matters that affect them such as education, health and access to productive resources and economic empowerment.
Having a fair number of women in Parliament and local councils will enable both genders to influence policy formulation and its implementation.
Perhaps getting to this level of partnership between males and females, could help us stamp out gender violence, which in my view is born out of the subservient position that women hold in society.
No wonder, traditionally, some men believe they ought to chide a wife with a fist or that a woman must â€˜not be heard, but seenâ€™.
And what may be seen as harmless traditional beliefs are responsible for the incidence of gender violence we are grappling with, resulting in the maiming and deaths of countless victims.
Likewise, when an assertive woman aspires for political office, she is rejected or called names and subjected to an unfair morality gauge that her male counterparts are not exposed to. The smear campaign that women who are in politics are subjected to, is what discourages other women from coming forward to seek political office.
These are the perceptions of women that need to change if we are going to have a good number of them seeking political office in the 2016 tripartite elections.
Having about 11 percent women in Parliament in a country where the female population is slightly higher than that of men is unacceptable.
I was therefore happy to note that traditional leaders were taken on board during the launch of the HeForShe campaign. Without doubt, the involvement of chiefs and other male community leaders will go a long way in changing perceptions on matters of women, gender and development.
What is equally encouraging is that the men are being challenged to stop the gender discrimination and denounce violence at household level.
So if every man at household level could have a change of heart, then it is possible to have more women in positions of influence, including economic spheres, without fear of any form of harassment and discrimination
Equally, a violence-free atmosphere (physical, emotional or otherwise) will make women more productive and allow them to exude their full God-given potential.
Whatâ€™s more is that if fathers begin to denounce gender discrimination in their homes, we will have more girls being enrolled in schools and being supported by their families to climb the ladder up to completion level.
Probably households will create a levelled ground for both their boy and girl children to study, not just at school but at home, too. By this I mean girls and boys must begin to share house chores â€“ cooking, washing dishes, cleaning-up etc – equally so that they could have equal time to rest and study.
It is possible to achieve this if the change of mind-sets begins at household level, with full participation of the two genders.
Of course we have the law in place to enforce gender equality and punish perpetrators of gender violence, but from what we have seen, it is not enough to change things.
We need a change of mind-sets, and getting men on board the campaign for gender equality and anti-gender-based violence will do what the law cannot do.
This is what I hope to see in the new year.
Let me wrap up by wishing you a goal-driven, successful and happy new year. A million thanks to you our readers and I am looking forward to your continued support in 2016.
Most importantly, I thank Jehovah God for his grace and faithfulness in 2015.
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GENDER FOCUS with EMELDA MWITWA