Equality means presenting identical opportunities to every person regardless of race, sex, or status. The concept of human rights is anchored on the universality of the rights. The theme of this year’s Human Rights Day is ‘Equality – Reducing inequalities, advancing human rights’. Zambia still has many prevailing inequalities that hinder the enjoyment of various fundamental rights. The result is that many Zambians do not enjoy the full dignity that must be accorded to every human being. We are argue that for equality to be a reality for all Zambians, every Zambian must enjoy equal access to not only civil and political rights and freedoms but also economic and social rights.
Differently abled persons in Zambia are often excluded from enjoying many facilities and amenities. For example, during the recent August 2021 elections, few polling stations had ramps for wheelchair users. Additionally, there were not enough Braille ballot papers for the visually impaired, thus compromising their right to a secret ballot. These elections also recorded a high number of rejected ballots, which has widely been attributed to insufficient voter education. The presence of inadequate voter education coupled with Zambia’s poor literacy levels are some of the barriers to the exercise the right to vote.
Children who do not have access to education miss experiences that build them into empowered members of the community. The Zambian government is making strides to raise literacy levels and increase participation in education. The government plans to recruit 30,000 teachers, build more schools, and provide free education at primary and secondary levels. These plans are a welcome step in ensuring the citizens’ right to the right to education.
In the recent past, many citizens have lost their homes due to factors such as fires, displacement, acts of nature, and demolitions. They have been displaced and have had their homes demolished by both the government and the private sector. The demolitions are done on the basis that that the homes were illegally built whereas displacements have been done on the basis that the inhabitants are illegal occupants. The people affected by demolitions or displacements are not compensated and are left to resolve their issue on their own. These events negatively contribute to the already existing shortage of adequate housing. in Zambia.
According to Habitat for Humanity, 70% of urban dwellers in Zambia live in slums with limited access to clean drinking water and good sanitation. The lack of affordable housing creates the problem of illegal settlements which in turn affects access to clean water and sanitation. These circumstances bring to light the fact that the government needs to improve its work in affording two important rights to Zambians: the right to adequate and affordable housing as well as the related right to clean water and sanitation. Government intervention is crucial in ensuring that there is an equal and basic standard of living for the average citizen.
The lack of proper waste management facilities exacerbates sanitation problems incidental to housing poverty. Dumping sites all over the country pose a threat to the inhabitants of the surrounding areas particularly those without access to water. The fact that the dumpsite does not have the infrastructure to contain the waste within its premises puts the immediate community at risk of contracting diseases, especially in the rainy season when water borne diseases are prevalent. There is need for such areas to come under regulation and be managed properly.
The Zambian healthcare system isnotoriously inefficient when it comes to providing access to health and medical facilities. The subpar standard of the healthcare system prevents persons in Zambia from enjoying the right to a standard of living adequate healthcare and well-being. Government continue to address the weaknesses in social service systems linked to human rights.
It is not enough to have policies and laws that endeavor to challenging inequalities without action to support them. To elaborate, the Zambian gender gap remains a cause for concern because few women occupy decision making positions. Of the 164 Members of Parliament only 14.6% are women. Men continue to dominate positions of influence.. This is despite the inclusion of Article 259(b) of the Constitution of Zambia which provides for gender equity in the nomination and/or appointment in government positions.
We believe that the Zambian Government must be deliberate and intentional about protecting the rights of the people it serves. Its plans to secure the human rights of its people must be meticulous detailed, practical, and aimed at dismantling unjust systems that negatively impact human rights. Doing so will allow the government to comprehensively tackle existing inequalities that prevent their citizens from actualising their rights and freedoms. There must be extensive advocacy and civic education so that the masses can engage the government and afford a wholesome evaluation of the human rights position especially in light of this year’s theme.
In conclusion, the advancement of human rights is a collective effort. Empowered citizens go on to use their rights and to create opportunities for others and support already existing human rights initiatives. Use this Human Rights Day to begin supporting initiatives aimed at helping others enjoy their rights as you enjoy yours.
Chapter One Foundation is a civil society organization that promotes and protects human rights, the rule of law, constitutionalism, and social justice. Please follow us on Facebook and LinkedIn at ‘Chapter One Foundation’ and on Twitter and Instagram @CofZambia.