NKOLE NKOLE, Lusaka
IT IS argued that the problems of women are understood much better by women themselves but because men are part of society, they must help solve these problems as well.
In the area of parliamentary gender equality, Rwanda is considered the world leader for women in politics followed by Iceland. According to the Women in Politics 2017 map created by the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) and UN Women, it has 49 women in its 80-seat lower house of parliament and 10 women in its 26-seat upper house of parliament.
Zambia, with 156 elected parliamentarians, has only 26 elected female parliamentarians and four nominated ones.
It is against this background that the Zambia Men Parliamentary Network on Gender Equality was recently created at a meeting hosted by the Non-Governmental Organisations Coordinating Council (NGOCC) in Siavonga.
During the meeting, parliamentarians in attendance discussed gender budgeting and advocacy among other key gender-related aspects.
The meeting resolved that the issue of gender equality cannot be addressed by women alone but by men who are willing to give women a chance to lead as well.
This network of parliamentarians therefore gave themselves the responsibility to push the gender agenda in Parliament and give institutions and organisations like NGOCC more direct access to parliament.
“Effectively the gender equality movement now has a direct male-driven option in parliament,” Lukashya MP Mwenya Munkonge who leads the network, says.
Because Zambian lawmakers are predominantly male, pushing an agenda on gender equality requires the backing of male parliamentarians for success to occur.
Numbers are crucial in ensuring that laws passed in Parliament are gender-balanced because the process of a bill becoming law is determined by votes in parliament.
“In parliament we table and vote on different issues so when we push for gender equality in parliament, it means you can now rely on the members within the network to get gender issues across,” Mr Munkonge explains.
It is the first such network involving male parliamentarians on gender in southern Africa.
Zambia is a signatory to the Revised Southern African Development Community (SADC) Protocol on Gender and Development and therefore has a moral obligation to recognise gender equality through its elected body of government.
The Revised SADC Protocol on Gender and Development provides for the empowerment of women, the elimination of discrimination, and the promotion of gender equality and equity through gender-responsive legislation, policies, programmes and projects.
The protocol was revised in 2016 so that its objectives are aligned to various global targets and emerging issues.
The SADC Protocol on Gender and Development entered into force in 2013 following the ratification of the instrument by the requisite two-thirds of Member States.
The objectives of the protocol are, among others, to provide for the empowerment of women, to eliminate discrimination and to achieve gender equality and equity through the development and implementation of gender-responsive legislation, policies, programmes and projects. It also seeks to harmonise the various international, continental and regional gender equality instruments that SADC Member States have subscribed to such as the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), Beijing Declaration and its Platform of Action, The Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa, and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) amongst others.
In Zambia the challenge has been how to push the gender agenda practically in Parliament while simultaneously addressing cultural challenges that perpetuate gender imbalances even in the country’s law-making institution.
Mr Munkonge says for practical application of gender equality in Zambia’s parliamentary make-up, men have to be willing to give women a chance.
“It means someone should be able to approach me and ask me to give a woman a chance to lead and giving a woman a chance doesn’t end at me stepping aside so that she can have a go at becoming a parliamentarian. I have to personally give her support so that she can succeed in being an MP,” he explains.
Over time, he says this will cause the representation in parliament to be more reflective of Zambia’s population, which has more women than men.
Presently, in the Zambian Parliament, the female voice is drowned out by the male voice because men have the advantage of numbers.
Mr Munkonge says stepping up efforts means creating networks such as the Zambian Men Parliamentary Network on Gender Equality and having a strategy that recognises and identifies male parliamentarians who are championing gender equality.
“We must have meaningful strategies if it is to be a practical fight,” he emphasises.
NGOCC board chairperson Sara Longwe says although a women’s caucus to address the issue of gender in Parliament already exists, it is undermined.
Ms Longwe says the newly formed network will give male parliamentarians a chance to be directly involved in pushing the gender agenda because in many organisations, it is women who take up the mantle.
“The male network will help other male parliamentarians recognise the importance of equal representation among law-makers through their male counterparts who are members of the network,” she says.
Additionally, she emphasises that if male parliamentarians understand the need to have gender equality, they will be able to fight bills that are gender-blind.
She further points out that the issue is cross-cutting and non-partisan, which will ensure there is balanced development in various spheres of society that takes into account both genders in the long term.
“Gender equality is a human rights issue, so this should be championed by men as well and they can correct the wrong perceptions regarding gender issues. It is not so that we are ruled by women but by men and women equally. It is so that whoever is in charge takes the interest of everyone, be it male or female, into account,” Ms Longwe emphasises.
NKOLE NKOLE, Lusaka