NOMSA NKANA and SHIKANDA KAWANGA, Lusaka
AS THE year comes to an end, it gives everyone an opportunity to reflect on what the country has attained this year pertaining to gender-related matters.
For example, Zambia has demonstrated commitment and political will to deal with gender violence at various levels. The country has also raised the bar to ensure female participation in the decision-making process by appointing women to influential positions.
At the international level, Zambia has signed and ratified all the major international treaties and is a signatory to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR).
At national level, the condemning of various acts which cause physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women and children is enshrined in the republican Constitution.
Nevertheless, despite the aforementioned efforts, the country has continued to see a rise in gender-based violence (GBV) cases.
This year, the Zambia Police Service recorded over 6,000 cases of gender-based violence (GBV) countrywide during the third quarter of 2018 compared to over 5,000 recorded during the same period in 2017, showing an increase by over 1,000 translating to 16.7 percent.
Police spokesperson Esther Katongo said a total of 664 cases of child defilement were recorded, representing 11 percent of the total reported cases out of which three cases were against boys while 661 were against girls.
“Lusaka recorded the highest number of child defilement cases with 320 translating to 48.2 percent of the child defilement cases reported countrywide,” she said.
However, the high number of reported cases of GBV means that more people are coming in the open to speak against the vice and this can be attributed to the many interventions put in place by the Police Victim Support Unit and other stakeholders in combating the vice.
Minister of Gender Elizabeth Phiri holds the same opinion.
She said the escalating reported GBV statistics is a blessing in disguise because people are coming out in the open to report the vice.
“People are now knowledgeable enough to know that they are not supposed to be abused and they are reporting the cases to the police. Through reporting, there have been more prosecutions,” she notes.
Ms Phiri believes that the fast-track courts have also been instrumental in ensuring that the GBV cases which are reported are quickly disposed of, adding that previously, it was difficult to know that people were abusing each other in families.
Similarly, the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) has this year observed a rise in GBV cases and also reported cases.
YWCA programme s manager Priscilla Mwiinga says a lot of people have been reporting cases to relevant authorities, adding that this is a good sign that the vice is being addressed.
Ms Mwiinga, however, notes that 2018 has surprisingly seen more women rise as perpetrators of the vice against each other as seen on television and on social and print media.
“We have witnessed women battering each other over husband or boyfriend snatching. We have seen how they abuse women caught in adultery and how they are fighting with each other to the point of causing bodily harm,” she notes.
In Kalumbila, Solwezi, women were reported to be more violent and aggressive compared to men.
The action by the women to beat or pour hot water or hot cooking oil on their spouses is prompted by husbands neglecting their families once they get paid.
Due to such behaviour, Ms Mwiinga says, human rights violations have been on the rise this year in communities.
Furthermore, YWCA saw an increase in reports of non-payment of child maintenance cases where women sought assistance from the association to compel the men to be more responsible.
This is a concern to the association which has also seen children report their fathers for lack of support.
YWCA states that neglected children are the ones that end up as street kids abusing drugs or involved in other bad vices.
To curb the vice, YWCA this year launched the ‘Good Husband Campaign’ in Chawama, Linda and George compounds where men undergo a 21-day course in the consequences of GBV and also how to be responsible husbands and fathers.
The association, however, wishes to see Government establish the GBV Fund to empower women with capital to start businesses so that they don’t have to stay in abusive marriages.
This view is supported by the Zambia National Women’s Lobby (ZNWL) that believes that the gender agenda cannot be enhanced without equality and equity of laws and policies in leadership and decision-making positions in Zambia.
ZNWL chairperson Beauty Katebe is concerned that representation of women in leadership in Zambia is still low despite the many efforts of various stakeholders to promote gender equality at all levels of leadership.
For example, Zambia has 127 female councillors out of a total of 1,624; 10 female council chairpersons/executive mayors out of 109; 29 female members of parliament out of 164; 11 women Cabinet members out of 33; and the Vice-President at the highest level of political decision-making.
In order to increase female participation in leadership, Government this year appointed Margaret Mwanakatwe as Minister of Finance, Kanyama Member of Parliament Elizabeth Phiri as Minister of Gender to replace Victoria Kalima, and another female minister, Olipa Phiri, to run the Ministry of Community Development replacing former Minister Emerine Kabanshi.
Additionally, President Edgar Lungu appointed Colonel Mwizukanji Namwawa as director of army legal services in the Zambia Army, becoming the first female and youngest full colonel in the country’s defence force.
However, NGOCC communications and advocacy coordinator Whitney Mulobela says that the non-operationalisation of the Gender Equity and Equality Act is a huge blow towards the attainment of gender equality.
Mr Mulobela is of the view that in future, Government should prioritise operationalisation of the Act as a way to narrow the gender gaps both in the private and public sector.
“With the operationalisation of this Act we would have seen the creation of the Gender Commission which should have been monitoring gender equality and equity issues in the private and the public sector,” he noted.
NOMSA NKANA and SHIKANDA KAWANGA, Lusaka