Women’s Day: Time to step up and speak out

ZAMBIA National Service officers marching on Women’s Day last year.

INTERNATIONAL Women’s Day is a time for celebration in Zambia, the United Kingdom, and many other countries around the world.
It is an opportunity for us to come together in recognition and celebration of the achievements that women have made in our society.
These achievements are seen strongly in Zambia as we celebrate women leaders in business, media and politics, women community leaders, caregivers and entrepreneurs.
We have recently celebrated 100 years since some women won the right to vote for the first time in the UK. In Zambia, women have been able to vote from the birth of the nation at independence.
This is a reminder of how far we have come, but also how far we still have to go to achieve equality between men and women.
The struggles of women and girls for equality go on around us every day, from young girls trying to stay in school and get a quality education, fighting to be treated as equals in the boardroom, advocating for access to health care.
Behind each of these lies a universal struggle that a shocking number of women and girls face – the struggle to live a life free from violence and abuse.
No country or workplace is immune to this. In Zambia, 47 percent of women have experienced violence in their lifetime, most from their husband or partner.
Those of us working in development have been shocked by the recent revelations of discrimination, harassment and abuse in our own sector.
This has been a wakeup call, demonstrating that women working on development or humanitarian programmes and in partner organisations are subject to the same environment that tolerates abuse, shielding perpetrators and neglecting the rights of victims.
The UK Secretary of State for International Development, Penny Mordaunt recently stated, ‘the culture that allowed this to happen needs to change. And it needs to change now.’
Men are often the perpetrators of violence, but men also have a huge role in ending it. President Edgar Lungu has been a shining example of a #HeforShe champion, leading efforts to promote gender equality and firmly stating that violence against women will not be tolerated.
This leadership is seen in government legislation and policy, including the ambitious targets in reducing gender based violence in the Seventh National Development Plan.
The UK is proud to support the work of the government of Zambia in promoting women’s equality, tackling violence against women and child marriage. This International Women’s Day in Zambia, the UK and USA will mark the end of five years of support to strengthening health services for survivors of violence.
Together, we have supported nearly 65,000 survivors of violence to receive quality healthcare, and over 3,000 cases to be taken to court. We are now handing over the one stop centres created under our programme to the government of Zambia, with their commitment to fully run and scaled up across health care facilities.
Whilst providing these services is essential, we will never stop the unacceptably high levels of violence unless we tackle the root of the problem and work to prevent violence before it occurs. We welcome the growing number of chiefs proclaiming child marriage and violence free zones and increasing legislative protection for women, but this change is not happening fast enough.
We know what works, both from Zambia and other countries, we know that increasing access to finance at the same time as talking about power and decision- making in the home can increase household income, reduce violence and promote gender equality.
We know that working with the whole community is more effective than working with individuals, engaging everyone to reduce violence and create more healthy societies. We also know that we are much more effective at reducing violence when we actively work with both men and women to address stress and conflict in the home.
These are the interventions that the government needs to build on, working with communities, traditional and religious leaders, the media and other stakeholders. And we need to keep innovating and testing different approaches until we find the best combination of activities to end violence across the country.
Handing over the one stop centres is not the end of the UK’s advocacy and support for ending violence in Zambia and we look forward to continuing to support government leadership in this important area.
The author is Head of Office-DFID Zambia.

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