By Mwazipeza Chanda
EVEN at the end of 16 Days of Activism against Gender-based Violence (GBV) there is still so much that can be done on a daily basis.
During the commemoration of the 16 Days I was unpleasantly surprised to discover how little I knew about the gender agenda.
My mistake has been assuming that as a female journalist with so much access to information I was well equipped to stand as a soldier in the gender equality crusade.
However, during a snap quiz conducted by Gender Links, a southern Africa non-governmental organisation (NGO), I was deeply embarrassed to discover that I did not even know when or where the 16 Days of Activism came from.
I feel it is only fair to share the knowledge that I discovered and why it is important to commemorate.
Historically, November 25, is based on the 1960 assassination of the three Mirabal sisters, political activists in the Dominican Republic; the killings were ordered by Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo .
In June 1991, the Centre for Womenâ€™s Global Leadership (CWGL), with participants of the first Womenâ€™s Global Institute on Women, Violence and Human Rights, called for a global campaign of 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence.
Participants chose the dates, November 25, International Day against Violence against Women and December 10, International Human Rights Day, in order to emphasise that violence against women is a violation of human rights. This 16-day period also highlights other significant dates including November 29, International Women Human Rights Defenders Day, December 1, World AIDS Day, and December 6, which marks the Anniversary of the Montreal Massacre, when 14 women engineering students were gunned down for being feminists.
The UN General Assembly proclaimed December 10 as Human Rights Day in 1950, to bring to the attention â€˜of the peoples of the worldâ€™ the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as the common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations.
This yearâ€™s theme, Human Rights 365, encompasses the idea that every day is Human Rights Day. It celebrates the fundamental proposition in the Universal Declaration that each one of us, everywhere, at all times is entitled to the full range of human rights, that human rights belong equally to each of us and bind us together as a global community with the same ideals and values.
In Acting President Guy Scottâ€™s message on the commemoration of International Human Rights Day he pointed out that Zambians should actively ensure that human rights are observed.
He pointed out that there were structures in place to ensure the freedoms of citizens and he called on Zambians to be actively involved in ensuring the protection of human rights.
Some of the fundamental human rights are the right to life and freedom, protection by the law, fair treatment, and freedom to express ourselves.
The sad truth is that very often women and girls do not get a chance to live lives as dignified human beings because they are considered as second-class citizens despite all the efforts being made by governments and civil society organisations.
Women face difficulties giving birth, getting food, owning land and resources, getting an education, getting jobs and accessing reproductive health services.
Non-Governmental Organisations Co-ordinating Committee (NGOCC) chairperson and gender activist Sara Longwe says that â€œgender journeyâ€ for women in Zambia has experienced many ups and downs in the past fifty years.
In her presentation at a Gender in Media conference that was organised by the Alchemy Women in Leadership organisation, Ms Longwe said despite both men and women equally participating in the freedom struggle there was no single female Cabinet minister in 1964 and in 2014.
She said most women in senior government positions were often attacked in the media based on their gender and not their work, for example women Parliamentarianâ€™s fancy hats and not their contributions to national debate.
Ms Longwe said Zamia was a signatory to various international and regionalÂ protocols that set out to guarantee the rights of girls and womenâ€™s but these were not been enforced.
The SADC Gender Protocol, for instance states that women should make up 50 perecent of all top decision making positions by 2015 â€“ it doesnâ€™t look like we will attain that goal.
She said that gender equality should be given top priority because no real progress can be made if half the population is left out of managing the country’s resources.
This takes me back to my call for us all to be activists.
During the 16 Days, several organisation undertook several activities to highlight the plight of abused women and the different programmes to address it.
Gender Links gave some journalists an opportunity to interact with women who had benefitted from their entrepreneurial programme which seeks to empower women with business skills.
These women were not looking for pity or hand outs because they wanted to share their stories in a bid to help other women break free from the shackles of abuse and poverty.
â€œI was married for 18 years to an abusive man, whenever I left him, my family forced me to go back â€“ I felt helpless and useless for a very long time,â€ one woman narrated.
â€œMy husband eventually kicked me out of the house with my children and I really struggled to make ends meet. I thought suffering was normal, but when I heard about the Gender Links programme on radio, I signed up and now my life is better.â€
She and other women beneficiaries all pointed out that education and the availability of resources were an integral part of fighting GBV.
I donâ€™t want to bore you by repeatedly talking about GBV but unfortunately it is a sad reality that Zambia faces and more importantly these women told me that they get encouraged when they hear about abusive men being taken to court, because they know it encourages more women to rise up against abuse.
And by rising up against abuse, I do not mean beating men. No!
Violence begets violence, and we want to stamp it out.
Girls and boys, men and women need to appreciate that each and every individual under the sun is a valued member of society.
Nobody should be intimidated into abandoning their education, forcibly recruited into employment, beaten or jailed without trial.
UN secretary general Ban Ki Moon says violations of human rights are more than personal tragedies.
â€œThey are alarm bells that may warn of a much bigger crisis. I call on States to honour their obligation to protect human rights every day of the year. I call on people to hold their governments to account.â€
I hope that you are ready to take up the challenge to make every day of the year a day to champion the cause of dignity for all.