The International women’s week which culminates into International Women’s Day (IWD) on 8th March is celebrated globally to remember the contribution of women to development worldwide. This day allows us all to acknowledge women’s social, economic, cultural and political achievements despite the challenging environment.

These may come in the form of systems, structures, laws and traditions that disadvantage them. The day also marks a call for action to accelerating gender parity. The day gives an opportunity to women worldwide to voice their concerns, reflect on their obligations, responsibilities and contributions towards development.

In Zambia for instance IWD is in line with the Seventh National Development Plan (7NDP) which has a pillar on reducing developing inequalities. The pillar focuses on reducing the widening gender gap between women and men among other things. This year’s IWD theme therefore, calls on the government of Zambia to put in place measures to reduce gender inequalities between women and men.

The 2018 IWD is being celebrated worldwide under the theme: ‘Time is Now: Rural and Urban Activists Transforming Women’s Lives’. The theme provides an opportunity to transform the global and national campaigns into a call to action by various stakeholders that seeks to empower women in all settings be it rural or urban. This allows us to celebrate the Activists who are working relentlessly to claim women’s rights and help women realize their full potential as active agents.

Activism in this context is defined as the policy or action of using vigorous campaigning to bring about political or social change in the lives of women. In other words, activism is doing something about injustice with the goal of creating and inspiring social change. That is why this year’s theme unlike the preceding years’ has a focus on both women and women’s rights Activists.

Thus, the theme implies celebrating and promoting the achievements of both groups.
Globally, the 2018 IWD theme echoes the priority theme of the upcoming 62nd session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) which focuses on challenges and opportunities for the empowerment of rural women and girls. The emphasis on rural women is based on the fact that, globally women are the major contributors to the agricultural labour force and produce the food consumed by the citizens.

Similarly in Zambia, women constitute more than 80 percent of the small scale farmers and are the major producer of the food that is consumed. Despite their important contribution to food security, women lag behind on almost every measure of development because of deep rooted gender inequalities and discrimination. For instance, in Zambia, less than 20 percent of both rural and urban women own land in their own right. Further, rural women are more vulnerable to the effects of climate change. This year’s IWD theme therefore provides an opportunity to both government and CSOs to address the challenges that rural women face and ensure their active participation in national development.

The 2018 IWD theme builds on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) focus which is to leave no one behind. Therefore from the foregoing CSOs are of the strong view that this year’s IWD theme implies placing special attention on vulnerable groups of society, including rural women and young people. For Zambia, this implies tackling the existing marginalization and inequalities facing the disadvantaged groups in our society particularly women and girls. Therefore, this year’s IWD theme calls for urgent action in rural areas to ensure an adequate standard of living, a life free of violence and harmful practices for the women. The theme also emphasizes a call to action to as well as guaranteeing women’s access to and control of productive resources, food security and nutrition, education and health, including their sexual and reproductive health rights.

The theme is timely and it calls upon everyone to become an Activist for a world where no one is discriminated based on gender. The theme further emphasizes that women’s issues are not a by the way thing, but a serious cross cutting issue that should be part of the development agenda. Further, the theme reminds both rural and urban Activists of their role in linking rural and urban women and ensuring that both participate effectively in national development. Further, the theme provides an opportunity for all Activists, especially the silent Activists to amplify their voice and allow them to be heard.

Activists in Zambia face a number of challenges, including shrinking political space, sexism and unidentified potential for some Activists. With regard to shrinking political space, in the recent past, Activists have been victims of the unfair application of the law that guides freedom of speech and association, the Public Order Act, which has limited their activism. Furthermore, the non-enactment of the law on Access to information (ATI) has limited activism in the country in that Activists do not have access to certain information which is important in their Activism. Specifically, for women’s rights Activists have been subjected to sexist comments by different sections of society over their passion to see women reaching their full potential.

Based on the foregoing, as ActionAid Zambia we recommend the following:
i. Call upon the government to implement the Public Order Act fairly. This will help address the shrinking political space, especially for various CSOs. Furthermore we call upon the government to enact the long awaited Access to Information Law which will improve on accountability and transparency on the part of government. The Law will also make available certain information to Activists that will help them to actively advocate for women’s rights.

ii. Call upon government to urgently operationalize the Gender Equity and Equality Commission as well the Anti-Gender Based Violence Act.

iii. Call upon the government, through the Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources to adopt a National Land Policy that will address the needs of both women and men as well young people in terms of access to and control of land. Further, we urge the government to amend the Lands Act of 1995 to align it to the policy provisions of the National Land Policy.

iv. Call upon the government through relevant ministries to allocate adequate resources and prioritize women’s programs within the sector budgets, including education, agriculture and health, which have the potential to uplift the situation of women and girls in both rural and urban areas.

v. We urge the government to put in place a quota system to improve the participation of women in positions of decision making. In line with this, we urge political parties to adopt women as leaders in their party structures.

vi. The government and Activists need to combine their efforts and conduct mass sensitization campaigns aimed at changing the mind set of women and men with regard to access to and control of productive assets including land.

vii. To ensure gender sensitive administration and management of land, there is need for government through various structures to ensure the equal participation of women and men in decisions over who should be given land. Additionally, there is need for adequate monitoring of land allocation affirmative action policy.