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Men should speak up for women

GENDER FOCUS with MWAZIPEZA CHANDA
THE arrival of 2015 marks the end of global commitments towards improving humanity’s standard of living and the establishment of new goals to attain.
It was encouraging last weekend to hear Acting President Guy Scott encourage women to give birth at health facilities, it was even more impressive that the head of government is committed to the welfare of the nation’s future and that he is willing to speak up for women.
During this time of elections, politics seem to take the front seat, but kudos go to Dr Scott, who during his tour of Chingola’s Kabundi East Clinic urged women to ensure they gave birth at health facilities.
The Acting President’s statement got me thinking about how more men need to commit themselves to ensuring the promotion of women’s rights.
Matters of pregnancy and childbirth are often left to women and despite all humans having been born from women, maternal health issues are still killing women and girls across the country.
As we celebrated Christmas and New Year, some political leaders and organisations went round various health centres presenting gifts to mothers.
One of the recipients was a 15-year-old grade seven pupil of Chief Chamuka’s area in Chisamba, who gave birth by caesarean section at Kabwe General Hospital.
This again highlights the plight of high teenage pregnancies we are facing as a country and the need to roll out more information on health risks they pose.
I find it quite interesting that women are still having to deliver their babies on mattresses on the floor while our male counterparts are able to undergo vasectomy and circumcisions in the comfort of well-equipped surgeries – no matter how rural the place can be.
That is a gender disparity right there.
We need more men like Dr Scott to speak up for women.
It is amazing that in 2015, we still have men clenching steadfastly to Bible doctrine that a woman is a man’s helper and, therefore, gender equality is a myth that should not be entertained.
One of my brothers is very adamant on the point that a woman was formed from the rib of a man, specifically to be his assistant while all of God’s other creations were created from the soil of the earth – somehow making us inferior.
He argues that gender equality and women’s rights just promote promiscuity and divorce. I still don’t understand how being divinely destined to be an assistant gives the male of the human species the right to deny a woman access to family property, food, decisions over her reproductive rights and personal dignity.
Recently, the Harry Potter movie star Emma Watson brought to global attention the need for more men to join the campaign in promoting gender equity.
In October last year, the United Nations Goodwill ambassador addressed the UN assembly at the launch of the He For She global campaign.
“Men, I’d like to take this opportunity to extend to you a formal invitation. Gender equality is your issue too,” she read. “No country in the world can yet say they have achieved gender equality.
“These are rights I consider to be human rights but I am one of the lucky ones. My life is a sheer privilege because my parents didn’t love me less because I was born a daughter. My school did not limit me because I was a girl. My mentors didn’t assume I would go less far because I might give birth to a child one day. These influencers were the gender equality ambassadors that made me who I am today. They may not know it, but they are the inadvertent feminists who are changing the world today. And we need more of those.”
During her speech, she pointed out that feminism had become a dirty word and unfortunately despite her coming from a First World nation – she was still able to give testimony to how women and girls were often held back from realising their full potential due to skewed perceptions of gender equality.
Following her speech, over 100,000 men signed up to the He For She campaign. That was last year and to date, only 20 men from Zambia have signed up at http://www.heforshe.org.
It would be nice if more Zambian men made the commitment and public endorsement online for the gender equity campaign – but if it was a campaign to change the line-up of the national football team over one million votes would probably be recorded.
Government and development-oriented organisations need to engage more men towards ensuring girls and women have access to education, health facilities, justice and resources.
Last week, on a radio programme, I heard a very respectable social commentator stating that he was not aware of any activities being undertaken by the Ministry of Gender – citing that it was a toothless arm of government. I nearly fainted.
When a person has an opportunity to share information on a public platform, why choose to take away from the various empowerment programmes being undertaken by Government agencies and their partners?
How does a man fail to see all the reports on ending child marriage, anti-gender-based violence campaigns, court convictions for defilers, establishment of safe houses and one stop centres for GBV survivors?
I hope that, just as Acting President Scott chose to speak on maternal health, more men can speak up for the women’s movement.
One global ambassador for the gender equality campaing is Pakistani teenager Malala Yousafzai, who at the age of seventeen became the youngest Nobel Peace Prize winner.
Malala was shot in the head by the Taliban in 2012 for advocating girls’ right to education.
She was attacked on a school bus in the Swat Valley in north-west Pakistan by masked gunmen as a punishment for a blog that she started writing for the BBC’s Urdu service as an 11-year-old to campaign against the Taliban’s efforts to deny women an education.
Unable to return to Pakistan after her recovery, Yousafzai moved to Britain, setting up the Malala Fund and supporting local education advocacy groups with a focus on Pakistan, Nigeria, Jordan, Syria and Kenya.
She has travelled the world and last year in Nigeria, she demand the release of 200 schoolgirls kidnapped by the Islamist group Boko Haram.
“To the girls of Nigeria and across Africa, and all over the world, I want to say: don’t let anyone tell you that you are weaker than or less than anything,” she said in a speech.
“You are not less than a boy,” Malala said. “You are not less than a child from a richer or more powerful country. You are the future of your country. You are going to build it strong. It is you who can lead the charge.”
So as we move forward to plan for 2030, and Government develops proposals towards the Special Summit on Sustainable Development to be held in New York this September, it is my hope that more young people, and especially men, will rise to the occasion of promoting gender equality.
For comments: mschanda@daily-mail.co.zm