DOREEN NAWA, Kazungula
NOT long ago, women in Kazungula district were breadwinners for their families.
This was so following the fading away of gender roles as men left the masculine roles like farming to women.
Despite the gender roles having always been well defined and firmly entrenched in African traditional society, many women in Kazungula took the roles of men to fend for their families.
With regard to agriculture, men are expected to play a pivotal role in the production of food for both consumption and sale. But today, the scenario is changing.
Currently, women constitute more than 80 percent of the labour force in agriculture in Zambia.
But in Kazungula, women are saying no to such trends that are common in many rural areas in the country.
Tables have turned in the district with men assuming the role of major players in farming activities.
Five years ago, men whiled away their time drinking beer from neighbouring Botswana and Namibia.
Until 2012, some women felt that the men had neglected their roles as heads of families, leaving the responsibility to their wives. They believe that was a clear form of gender-based violence.
The United Nations defines violence against women as any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or mental harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or private life.
Esnart Siandavu of Kazungula’s Sikaunzwe area says gender-based violence also exists in agriculture because once the produce is ready, husbands immediately take charge of selling the produce to Food Reserve Agency (FRA) or private buyers.
Mrs Siandavu, a small-scale livestock farmer under the Singendende Farmers group, says gender-based violence does not only apply to wife battery, but in the distribution of resources as well.
“I think gender-based violence is not only when a husband beats his wife. Even in the distribution of resources. Like here, women are involved in farming while their husbands go drinking. Surprisingly, when it is time to sell the produce to FRA or other private buyers, it is the husbands who take a central role as if we do not know where the FRA depots are. I think it is a violation of our rights because we do not see the money after toiling for the whole farming season,” Mrs Siandavu says.
But Mrs Siandavu says after being introduced to a project funded by International Fund for Agriculture Development (IFAD) on livestock management, she learnt how women can be self-reliant as opposed to being oppressed by their husbands.
“I joined Singendenge group and with financial assistance from IFAD, we started rearing goats and cattle, and when these animals breed, we sell some and share the money. It is from this money that I have decided to buy my own animals and when I want to sell them, I do so without restrictions.
“After selling these animals, I also contribute to the well-being of the family. This has helped me become self-reliant. And because of having something I call my own, my husband now looks at me with that respect that any human being deserves,” Mrs Siandavu says.
Many women, especially in rural areas, are victims of gender-based violence and seem to have accepted it as part of life.
But for women in Kazungula district, change is the direction to go.
Another woman, Matildah Nasilele of Bilibisi farmers group says not long ago, most men in Kazungula were unproductive, as they spent most of their time getting their goods into Zambia.
Mrs Nasilele says instead of turning to farming during the rainy season, most men continue to spend time at the border drinking beer and pottering around.
“Our men here in Kazungula used to be a problem and because of tradition, where a wife cannot castigate her husband, we end up accommodating their ill behaviour for the sake of the children. Most families were looked after by women and not because they just wanted to, but because their husbands were irresponsible,” she says.
According to Mrs Nasilele, women were in the forefront of farming but when it was time to sell the produce, husbands took up the responsibility.
Worse still, when they are paid, all the money was spent on beer instead of school requirements for the children.
She also says levels of literacy were very low in Kazungula five years ago. She attributes this to irresponsible husbands who could not take care of their children’s school needs.
Since the introduction of women’s clubs in Kazungula district, fathers are evolving into role models in most homes.
It is gratifying to see change in some communities, which constitute major strides Zambia has made in the fight against gender-based violence.
Even if the vice still exists in many areas, the change being experienced in Kazungula should motivate others.
According to Ackim Simamba, men resorted to drinking beer and left all the masculine jobs to women because of frustrations and pressure of fending for their families.
“Being the sole provider of all the needs at home is not easy, and as you may be aware, men are not as courageous as women when it comes to confronting situations. We get so scared and may not show it,” Mr Simamba says.
Edwin Sikute, a community leader and former Zambia Railways human resource personnel, admits that beer drinking was rife among men in Kazungula and this was because of the frustrations incurred due to the massive loss of cattle because of the Contagious Bovine Pleuro Pneumonia (CBPP) disease.
“People here are pastoralists, and when the disease struck their cattle, most of them entered into depression and started drinking beer and spending too much time at the border, living their wives to do most of the work in their fields,” Mr Sikute says.
After losing all the cattle they had, men in Kazungula district resorted to fishing and beer trading as survival means.
It is empowering when women co-operate in income-generating activities as they get to meet regularly, build solidarity, share ideas, interface with local officials and development personnel, and better understand their community’s economy.
From the women’s talks in Kazungula, it is clear to see that women participating in these programmes tend to develop improved self-worth and self-esteem.
In some cases, women leaders have emerged and developed their skills and knowledge.
From this experience, it is clear that the empowerment of women through the provision of activities that can bring them income is a key strategy in the sustainable development of the country.
In Kazungula, women are now increasingly contributing to, and often assume sole responsibility for the welfare of their families.
The change happening in Kazungula district is possible anywhere, and it is a pointer to a statement that, ‘when you empower a woman, you empower a community’.