By Marvin Chanda Mberi
Raising the gender profile in any society, Zambia inclusive has been a long journey stretching as far as 1948 when the United Nations member states made a declaration to affirm the equality of all firms.
This landmark decision was replicated by other international state actors and with time, the various state parties Zambia inclusive started finding progressive ways of integrity gender equality in their policy framework.
The discussion on Zambia’s gender profile is traceable from the landmark cases of Edith Nawakwi v. Attorney General and Chief Passport Officer as well as Sarah Longwe v. Intercontinental Hotels (1994).
For the benefit of the readers, in the Nawakwi case, the applicant was a single mother who had applied to travel outside the country with her two young children. Under the immigration laws at the time, a single woman could not travel with the children unless prior consent from the father was obtained. The applicant successfully sought the intervention of the Court and was allowed to travel with the children.
As regards the Sarah Longwe case, the applicant sought admission in the respondent’s bar. According to the regulations, no woman was to access the Intercontinental Hotel unless she was accompanied by a male patron. These regulations did not apply to male patrons. Ms. Longwe’s intervention from the Court was successful.
Against all odds, hardworking women such as Professor Nkandu Luo were privileged to serve first female Health Minister, Ms. Nawakwi serving as first female Finance Minister, Bo Inonge Wina been privileged to serve as first female Vice President. These are some of the women that have withstood the hostile environment to rise to prominence.
Despite the Court pronouncing itself on the need for society to desist from the exclusive exclusion of women, there are some society values which made the quest for gender equality an uphill battle. As a matter of illustration, under customary law, a girl child could be married so long three requirements have been satisfied. These are; the girl must have reached puberty, lobola should have been paid and the consent from the parents should have been obtained (the case of Chibwe v. Chibwe).
The above requites of a valid customary law marriage are somehow a basis of fostering discrimination of women in society. It is likely that a 17-year-old girl may be married while his 21-year-old elder brother is still a dependent at the parent’s house. While society may treat a 17-year married girl as an adult, in the sight of the parents, a 21-year man is a dependent until such a time he is in gainful employment.
Whilst it is a fact that gender discrimination has been institutionalized, there are some progressive and deliberate measures which have been implemented by the Government to supplement the earlier judicial decisions. For instance, on 8th March, 2012, during the women’s day commemoration, then President Sata made a decree and upgraded a Gender and Women’s division at Cabinet Office into a fully-fledged Ministry.
Then Deputy Minister Emmerine Kabanshi was appointed to serve as first Gender Minister with Professor Chomba serving as the first Permanent Secretary. This Ministry was to supplement the efforts of the Ministry of Community Development, Mother and Child Heath. The elevation of gender and women related portfolios into fully related matters has been an affirmative action to have a society that is based on equality.
There has been growing demand to implement the relevant legal, institutional and policy reforms. The enactment of the Anti-Gender Based Violence Act, the establishment of the Gender and Equity Commission, the National Gender Policy are among the progressive steps that will positively help us win the war against Gender Inequality.
While we may count a few achievements in Gender Equality, the battle is still in transitory stages and what has been achieved are the building blocks for a gender balance future. Happy women’s day.