PATRIARCHY has been defined as a gendered power system. It is a network of social, political and economic relationships through which men dominate and control female labour, reproduction and sexuality as well as define women’s status, privileges and rights in a society.
It takes place across almost every sphere of life but is particularly noticeable in women’s under-representation in key state institutions, in decision-making positions and in employment and industry.
It is a successful system because those that gain this privilege are often unaware of it and therefore inadvertently perpetuate the ill-treatment of the people in this society whose suffering is the fulcrum upon which this society turns.
Patriarchy is a pervasive and ubiquitous ideology that has been naturalised by its silenced victims. The three most critical issues that women face daily in the Zambian community are gender inequality, discrimination and fighting patriarchal oppression. Discriminatory laws against women persist in Zambia.
In all legal traditions, many laws in Zambia continue to institutionalise second-class status for women and girls with regard to marital rights, employment, parental rights, and inheritance and property rights.
These forms of discrimination against women are incompatible with Zambian women’s empowerment.
For example, marital rape is still not recognised or criminalised in Zambia.
The reluctance to criminalise and prosecute marital rape has been attributed to traditional views of marriage, interpretations of religious doctrines, ideas about male and female sexuality, and cultural expectations of subordination of a wife to her husband. Laws explicitly mandating “wife obedience” still govern marital relations in Zambia. Zambia needs to expeditiously criminalise marital rape.
The most dangerous thing is many Zambians’ inability to separate Zambian culture from systems that oppress the freedoms of Zambian women.
It is this inability to see a future where Zambian culture isn’t tinged with patriarchal undertones that is the biggest threat to the feminist movement in Zambia.
I t is necessary that we disassemble what it means to be a Zambian and take a closer look at what customs are merely window dressing and which things define our culture.
Another form of patriarchal oppression that is evident in Zambia is women’s under-representation in politics and governance. Even though progress has been made in increasing the participation of women in politics in Zambia, women’s participation in government at all levels, from the local to the national level remains extremely low.
In Zambia, democracy has proven to be no guarantee for a more equal representation of women in government.
Currently, out of the 166 members of parliament (MPs) in Zambia, 18.1 percent represents the proportion of women while 81.9 percent represents the male proportion.
There is a serious gender imbalance. It is a worrying statistic and impossible to justify, notwithstanding the fact that women constitute more than half of the electorate.
Women continue to be largely marginalised from the political sphere, often as a result of discriminatory practices, attitudes and gender stereotypes.
When one argues that women are underrepresented, many may say that women are not enthusiastic when it comes to politics and thus resist participating.
This argument however fails to underscore the barriers that exist in women’s representation in the legislative and executive branches of government, and does not adequately explain women’s reticence to stand for office.
These barriers include, but are not limited to the following: male-dominant culture, low levels of women’s activism within political parties, discriminatory adoption practices often dictated by the party head, lack of financial resources, and cultural constraints that confine women into gender-specific roles. Democracy should be a genuine partnership between men and women.
However, can a democracy be deemed legitimate if it fails to represent half its population? Progressive measures must be adopted towards gender equality in part by the proportion of women in parliamentary seats.
It is high time Zambia harbours a new, vibrant feminist movement whose primary focus will be to combat the perpetuation of patriarchy. As poet and academician Choman Hardi eloquently put it, “Patriarchy is not a war between men and women. It is a fight against women by a system, which also includes women.”
Many women have internalised the patriarchal values through socialisation, religion and tradition.
And when you believe in the system, you will oppress women who cross the line. Patriarchy is the parasite that the Zambian culture must rid itself of in order to survive.
The author is vice-secretary general of African Initiative for Youths Participation in Politics & Governance.