DIVERSITY-EQUITY-INCLUSION (DEI) in Zambia: Challenges and Progress Towards a More Inclusive Society.
Bernadette Deka-Zulu (PhD Researcher-Public enterprise)
In the previous article, we looked at “BREAKING BARRIERS: Overcoming Challenges to Women’s Participation in Politics, Leadership & Businesses in Zambia” and in the past, we also looked at financial inclusion; with respect to women, the youth and the marginalized society. Building on that background, we today look at a key topic of relevance to ensuring society as whole (without leaving anyone behind) participates in the development and growth of the Zambian Economy: “Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI)”
In recent years, there have been efforts to increase diversity, equity, and inclusion in various sectors, including politics, leadership, and business. However, many challenges still exist that prevent full and equal participation of underrepresented groups.
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) refer to the collective effort of promoting a work environment where people from diverse backgrounds, races, genders, and beliefs feel valued, respected, and included. DEI is an essential aspect of any organization or society as it promotes social justice, increases creativity, and enhances productivity. A diverse workforce is crucial in fostering a culture of innovation and creativity, leading to improved decision-making processes, and helps organizations better understand and meet the needs of their clients.
In Zambia, DEI is becoming increasingly important as the country continues to develop and attract investment. The country’s diversity in culture, language, and ethnicity presents a unique opportunity to leverage the strengths of each group, leading to increased productivity, economic growth, and social harmony. However, despite the significant progress made towards DEI in Zambia, there are still significant challenges to overcome.
Currently, there are disparities in access to education, healthcare, and job opportunities, which disproportionately affect certain groups. Women, people with disabilities, and those from marginalized ethnic groups are particularly vulnerable to these disparities. Furthermore, discriminatory attitudes and practices continue to exist, perpetuating inequality and hindering the full realization of DEI.
As a country with a diverse population made up of over 70 ethnic groups, each with its unique language, culture, and traditions. The country is home to several religions, including Christianity, Islam, and traditional religions. The majority of the population speaks Bantu languages, with Bemba being the most widely spoken. According to the previous census of 2010, it was indicated that Zambia’s most widely spoken languages are Bemba (spoken by 35% of the population), Nyanja or Chewa (20%), Tonga (12%) and Lozi (6%). An urban variety of Nyanja (Chewa) is the lingua franca of the capital, Lusaka, used for communication between speakers of different languages.
In terms of diversity representation in various sectors, Zambia has made significant progress in promoting diversity and inclusivity. In the government sector, there is a notable representation of women in leadership positions, with the country having had its first female vice-president in 2011. Women also hold several key positions in the civil service and parliament.
In the education sector, Zambia has made significant progress in increasing access to education for all. However, disparities still exist, with girls, children with disabilities, and those from rural areas being less likely to access education. Efforts are being made to improve access and ensure that education is inclusive of all learners.
The media sector in Zambia is diverse, with various media outlets covering different aspects of society. However, there are concerns about media bias and representation, particularly of marginalized groups. There are also concerns about the representation of women in media, with women often being portrayed in stereotypical roles.
Zambia is a diverse country with a rich cultural heritage. While progress has been made in promoting diversity and inclusivity in various sectors, there is still work to be done to ensure that everyone is included and represented in all aspects of society. Efforts to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion must be ongoing to realize the full benefits of a diverse and inclusive society.
Equity refers to the fair and equal distribution of opportunities, resources, and benefits to all individuals, regardless of their background or circumstances. In Zambia, there are significant disparities in access to education, healthcare, and other resources, particularly for marginalized groups.
The current state of equity in Zambia is challenging, with poverty being a significant barrier to accessing basic services such as education and healthcare. The country also faces significant disparities in access to education, with children from rural areas and low-income households being most affected. Additionally, there are disparities in access to healthcare, with those living in remote and rural areas having limited access to essential health services.
Efforts are being made to address these disparities. The Zambian government has implemented several policies aimed at promoting equity, including the National Health Strategic Plan, which seeks to improve access to quality healthcare for all. The government has also implemented programs aimed at increasing access to education, including free primary and secondary education as well as different bursary programs.
Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and civil society groups are also working towards promoting equity in Zambia. These groups focus on issues such as gender equality, disability rights, and poverty reduction, among others. For example, the Zambia National Women’s Lobby Group works to promote gender equality and women’s rights in the country.
While progress has been made towards promoting equity in Zambia, there are still significant disparities in access to education, healthcare, and other resources. Continued efforts are necessary to address these disparities and ensure that all individuals have equal opportunities and access to essential resources.
Inclusion refers to the practice of creating an environment in which all individuals feel valued, respected, and supported. In Zambia, there have been efforts to promote inclusion, but there is still a long way to go.
The current level of inclusion in Zambia varies depending on the sector. In the workplace, there are still challenges in promoting diversity and inclusion, particularly with regard to women and individuals with disabilities. Discrimination on the basis of gender, race, and disability is still prevalent in many workplaces.
Whilst there maybe efforts being made to promote inclusion in Zambia, including the implementation of anti-discrimination policies and affirmative action programs. The Zambian government also establishing policies to promote gender equality and non-discrimination, for example the passing of the Gender Equity and Equality Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender. There is much work that needs to be done at increasing the representation of marginalized groups in various sectors, such as education and public service and especially Parliament.
Non-governmental organizations and civil society groups have also continued to work towards promoting inclusion in Zambia. For example, the Zambia Disability Rights Watch works to promote the rights of individuals with disabilities and increase their participation in all aspects of society.
However, despite these efforts, there are still significant challenges in promoting inclusion in Zambia. There is a need for greater awareness and education on issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion. There is also a need for greater representation of marginalized groups in decision-making positions in various sectors.
While there are efforts being made to promote inclusion in Zambia, there is still a long way to go. Continued efforts are necessary to create a more inclusive society in which all individuals feel valued and supported.
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR INCLUSION
For example, in the case of The National Construction Council of Zambia (NCC), it would be cardinal to ensure that construction includes the welfare of the disabled by implementing the following measures:
- Establishing regulations: The Council can establish regulations that require all construction projects to consider the needs of disabled individuals. These regulations can mandate the inclusion of features such as ramps, accessible toilets, and wider doorways in buildings.
- Training for construction professionals: The Council can provide training to architects, engineers, and other construction professionals on how to design and construct buildings that are accessible to disabled individuals.
- Collaboration with disability organizations: The Council can collaborate with disability organizations to understand the specific needs of disabled individuals and incorporate them into construction guidelines and standards.
- Certification of accessible buildings: The Council can develop a certification program that recognizes buildings that meet accessibility standards. This program can incentivize developers to invest in accessible design and construction.
- Enforcement: The Council can enforce accessibility regulations by conducting regular inspections of construction projects to ensure compliance with accessibility standards.
By implementing these measures, the National Construction Council of Zambia can ensure that construction includes the welfare of the disabled and promote a more inclusive built environment. Many other institutions to many numerous mention here can adopt new policies that include several groups that would often be marginalized in the society.
CHALLENGES AND SOLUTIONS
Despite efforts to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in Zambia, there are still significant challenges that need to be addressed. Some of the obstacles to achieving DEI in Zambia include:
- Limited resources: Limited resources and funding for DEI initiatives make it challenging to implement programs and policies that promote diversity, equity, and inclusion.
- Lack of awareness and education: There is a need for greater awareness and education on issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion. Many individuals may not be aware of the importance of DEI, and this can hinder progress towards achieving it.
- Cultural and traditional practices: Cultural and traditional practices may perpetuate discrimination and marginalization of certain groups, such as women and individuals with disabilities.
- Limited representation: Marginalized groups such as women, people with disabilities, and members of minority groups are underrepresented in decision-making positions in various sectors, which makes it difficult to address their concerns and needs.
To overcome these challenges and promote DEI in Zambia, potential solutions include:
- Increased funding: More resources and funding can be allocated towards DEI initiatives and programs.
- Education and awareness: Education and awareness campaigns can be implemented to increase understanding of the importance of DEI and promote its values and principles.
- Cultural change: Efforts can be made to promote cultural change and challenge traditional practices that perpetuate discrimination and marginalization of certain groups.
- Increased representation: Affirmative action programs can be implemented to increase the representation of marginalized groups in decision-making positions in various sectors.
There are significant challenges to achieving DEI in Zambia, but there are potential solutions that can be implemented to overcome these obstacles. Continued efforts are necessary to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion and create a more just and equitable society for all.
Diversity, equity, and inclusion are essential for creating a just and equitable society. While Zambia has made efforts towards promoting DEI, there is still a long way to go. Achieving DEI requires a collective effort from individuals, organizations, and the government.
Individuals can play their part by being open-minded, respectful, and inclusive towards people from different backgrounds. They can challenge discriminatory behavior and language and promote the values of diversity, equity, and inclusion in their personal and professional lives.
Organizations can take steps to promote DEI by implementing policies and programs that support diversity, equity, and inclusion. They can also create an inclusive work environment where everyone feels valued and supported, regardless of their background.
The Zambian government can promote DEI by implementing policies and programs that promote diversity, equity, and inclusion in all sectors. They can also increase representation of marginalized groups in decision-making positions and ensure that their voices are heard.
In conclusion, promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion is an ongoing process that requires a collective effort from everyone. We must continue to work towards a society where everyone is valued, respected, and supported, regardless of their background. By doing so, we can create a more just and equitable society for all.