Time is now; Press for women’s progress

MMD women during the 2017 International Womens Day celebrations in Lusaka-picture by Tenson Mkhala

2018 is here, another year to celebrate the contribution of women in every corner of Zambia and the entire world. It is a time to reflect on hustles and hurdles that women encounter to make a typical Zambian family survive. It’s also time to realize and celebrate the power of women in rural and urban areas to transform lives and make this world a better place.
In one way or the other, we have all encountered the struggle of women to make ends meet for a family. I recently met a small scale farmer of Kafue district. Her situation is not uncommon to most women in Zambia today.

With little help and more frustration from her husband, who spends his money and takes some of hers without her permission, to spend on alcohol, she is left to care for their four children and two dependents single-handedly. With little opportunities and power in a household, she has her mind focused on caring, feeding, educating and providing health care to her children including, in most cases, the husband too.

This is not an isolated case in Zambia. A lot more of people have seen this and more people have been raised through such situations. We have all seen the potential of these women to provide for more if the environment was supportive enough.
Indeed as per this year’s theme, time is now for all activists to take stock of gender issues in Zambia and begin to transform women’s lives.

As seventy eight (78 per cent) of women are engaged in agriculture, women constitute an important labour force for agriculture. However, most of these women are involved in crop production for home consumption and their farming activities do not produce any tangible income. Usually, women’s role is often to assist men in family farming or production for home consumption due to firstly, their little access to production equipment and land compared to men, secondly, their prominent role in household work and child rearing and thirdly, their activities are often limited to subsistence farming or other simple work due to the fixed role expected of women and time constraints.

Despite that number of women involved in agriculture, they are not part of the leadership in the sector. The Ministry of Agriculture in Zambia, quoting the Zambia National Farmers Union stated that there has been very little participation from the women in the agricultural oriented leadership roles in the country. Yet, women in Zambia have what it takes to lead the men not only in agriculture including other key sectors. What is comforting today is that women are moving into domains that were once explicitly male, for example ploughing, beekeeping, and gardening among others. Despite these gains for women farmers, there remain several outstanding issues. In the majority of cases women’s increased access to resources still relies on their ability to maintain their relationship to the male head of household and to wider kinship networks.

Outside the agricultural sector, many women are employed in the informal sector – selling food related items – where they are faced with a number of challenges. A case in point is the most recent Cholera pandemic that saw street vendors in Lusaka being moved out of the street. While this is a most welcome move and is commendable, it is important that the authorities pay attention to the disadvantaged position that this risk has had on women and how resilient they will be to overcome this situation and still be able to support the food and nutrition needs of their families. As places of trading are being allocated to those that were affected by this noble action, women should be highly considered for allocation of trading places and be given other forms of support to ensure that access to food by these women and their families is not reduced.

As we celebrate this women’s day, we take note of some success points that Zambia has scored. Having a female Vice-President is something worth our celebration. Having a gender policy in place is not something to be ignored. The 50 per cent land policy allocation to women is something we need to recognise.

As we press for progress, it is time to leave the rhetoric and move into actions – our policies have some gender forward thinking which when implemented a conducive environment can be created for women development. Now is the time for activists to push for implementation of programs that will transform women’s lives.

Hivos’ sustainable diets for all program is working towards transforming the food system so that it becomes more diverse and addresses the nutrition challenges that affect the country. In Hivos, we are calling for activists and advocates to consider Building and strengthening women’s capacities while including men in a culturally acceptable way and capitalizing on the talents and contributions of women and men. This capacity-building should be accessible in terms of content, location and timing. In food systems there are a number of relevant areas for building capacities such as production and processing technologies, finance, entrepreneurship, rights and laws. Skill-building also includes leadership and advocacy skills to develop women’s ability to voice their concerns and ideas. We believe taking this route would contribute to transforming women’s live.

The author is a Regional Advocacy Manager – Sustainable Diets at Hivos Southern Africa

         

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