The struggle for gender equality is far from won and more needs to be done to make it a reality. Even in many of the most advanced countries, one just has to look at how long it took women to gain the right to vote, let alone enter parliament. The fight for equal work for equal pay is still ongoing particularly the corporate world where prejudice against women at the workplace is still rampant.
In Zambia, representation of women in Parliament and local councils is still a far cry and the numbers have been heading in the wrong direction. Both SADC and the African Union through their various protocols have been prodding governments to move towards gender parity in decision making positions, real power and influence, but yet very little progress has been made. In terms of appointed positions, progress has been made in that we have a female Vice-President, a Chief Justice, Supreme, Constitutional and High Court judges, permanent secretaries, magistrates, a Clerk of the National Assembly, directors and deputy directors in ministries, heads of parastatals, university professors, town clerks, to mention only some. There are also a few female chief executive officers in the private sector, which has been more resistant to senior women appointments to high offices, no matter how highly qualified they may be.
What about elected political offices? One does not have to look further than our Parliament and local councils to see how poorly represented our women are. During the National Constitutional Conference process started by the President Levy Mwanawasa and continued by President Rupiah Banda, there was a recognition that something drastic had to be done to redress this under-representation by introducing a mix-member election system to parliament and local councils to increase the percentage of women to these elective political positions.
It was therefore decided to have a separate number of seats where women would compete among themselves using proportional representation, in addition to the existing system. There were also supposed to be a few seats where people living with disabilities and youths would compete among themselves. Sadly these clauses were dropped by the PF government from the final draft constitution which went to Parliament. What I found most disappointing is that, there were very few female voices heard in protest against this retrogressive development.
The last time I counted women members in our Parliament, there were 29 out of a House of 164 members, some of them sitting on a knife edge as a result of election petitions, which were before courts of law. This is unacceptable. If you look at Rwanda which leads the whole world in gender representation, there are just over 50% women in Parliament and in South Africa, out of 400 members of Parliament, 45% of them are women.
In the Scandinavian countries, they have more women parliamentarians than in the United States of America or Britain. Yes we have female Cabinet ministers appointed by the President. In a way, this has to do with the way political parties select their candidates for parliamentary and local government seats. A quick survery revealed that many political parties adopt female candidates in parliamentary constituencies or local government wards where they have no realistic chances of winning.
There are also still societal attitude issues which hinge on prejudice and in some cases, blatant discrimination against women. For women to earn promotion in certain professions, they have to be two or three times better than men. Constitutions, laws and men must be more supportive of women in their careers and business endeavours. Conversely, women must also support each other more.
In a number of institutions where I have been in charge, whenever we have promoted women to senior positions, the loudest voices of dissent and disapproval have come from fellow women who go so far as to impute unwholesome motive that their fellow women have been promoted for reasons other than merit and merit alone. Until this attitude changes, women will remain a danger to themselves and aid those men who hold the outdated and old fashioned view that women belong to the kitchen. Women must be treated as important and equal partners in development and the road they have travelled to get to where they are today, has been long and tortuous. They still have many obstacles to overcome to achieve gender equality and men must be more supportive