By Mwazipeza Chanda
Equality as a right means both men and women should be able to access the same benefits
WHY has the concept of human rights been given a negative connotation despite the fact that it is the one thing that can guarantee a personâ€™s freedom?
It is unfortunate that very often human rights issues quickly turn to human rights abuse.
How often do we look down on childrenâ€™s rights as a bad thing? Citing that it will make children lazy and rude because they will not recognise guardianâ€™s authority and will get away from doing house chores.
Not too long ago parents gave preference to male children to go to school if resources were limited. House chores were also relegated to girls, which often led to them attending classes late or performing badly academically due to fatigue.
Government in recognition of these challenges, decided to provide girls with a lower cut- off point at primary and junior school levels to ensure more girls progressed.
Imagine my surprise when delegates to last weekâ€™s Gender in Media national forum cited this as a bad practice that was contributing to gender inequality.
One participant at the forum said, while the cut-off point policy might have been introduced to motivate girls, it was now doing the opposite as young girls grew up thinking that they had limitations in how much they could achieve in school exams as compared to boys.
â€œIt is like saying, because you are a girl – we do not really expect you to do more than this. Boys are smarter and that is why their cut-off point is higher,â€ Jessie Chishi a film director and producer says.
Ms Chishi shared how she was repeatedly discouraged from following her professional ambitions because society often gives a pre-set idea of what girls can do. You either get married or have a career as a secretary, sales person, teacher or nurse.
She says it is time to change some of the discriminatory policies to encourage girls to be more ambitious.
Alchemy Women in Leadership (Alchemy WiL), who organised the national media forum in partnership with the United Nations Development Fund (UNDP), have undertaken a number of mentorship programmes aimed at promoting more women to take up leadership positions.
Alchemy WiL director Chimango Chikwanda says her organisation has identified several factors that hold women back from attaining professional leadership positions and her organisation had developed a programme to help women and young girls take up more spaces in the labour market.
Alchemy has several mentors who provide professional guidance and motivational talks to girls and young women professionals.
Among their mentors are UNDP resident representative Viola Morgan, Bank of Zambia deputy governor Tukiya Kankasa-Mabula and more notably Dr Charlotte Scott, the wife to Acting President Guy Scott.
Dr Scott officiated at the national forum and shared some of her views about contributors to gender inequality and social development.
She highlighted how womenâ€™s empowerment programmes limited beneficiaries to starting up micro and small-scale business such as selling tomatoes or vegetables, while men are often given skills that see them venturing into more lucrative businesses.
So an unemployed young man can gain skills in carpentry, get a loan and start selling furniture that will see him build a house, venture into establishing a shop and employing other young people while the majority of women traders eke out a living realising small profits from selling vegetables or second- hand clothes that do not see her expand her business.
This is something I had never thought about.
Equality as a right means that both men and women should be able to access the same skills training and development agencies should go out of their way to ensure that more women participate in entrepreneurship programmes.
Talking about rights, I was encouraged to hear a young man express disappointment at women being stripped by call boys at bus stations.
Liswaniso Mwanalushi, describes himself as a commutersâ€™ rights campaigner, and he says Zambia does not have a dress code that gives call boys the right to strip a woman of clothing just because they feel like it.
Mr Mwanalushi says he is disappointed that the public has not taken any action against these heinous acts.
Kenyans recently marched against the practice of stripping of â€œindecently dressedâ€ women recently, and he says he had hoped the media could give more attention to this problem.
While it may be a right to express yourself, you certainly do not have the right to beat, harass or strip a woman in public simply because you feel you can. We as citizens need to speak out more against the wrongs that are being perpetuated.
Taking â€œthe lawâ€ into your own hands never helps anyone. Today it is stripping a woman because she looked too good in her skirt or jeans, tomorrow it is stabbing a young man because he was wearing the t-shirt of a political party.
We have already seen this happen and we need to promote respect for rights and tolerance for divergent views. Another area where rights are misunderstood and abused is how social media is now a platform to insult and demean people.
When Zambians are given an opportunity to share their thoughts about women politicians or leaders, very often they are attacked, often by fellow women, on issues outside the topic raised.
What has a marital status, make-up or fashion style have to do with sinking a borehole? Instead of using social media to raise up more women – we are usually bringing them down.
I think it is important that more people get to understand exactly what human rights are and start to respect and protect them.
By Mwazipeza Chanda