PRESIDENT Hakainde Hichilema has urged Zambian men to love their women, saying doing so conquers a lot of evil including gender-based violence and child abuse.

And President Hichilema says this year’s Women’s Day theme, “Gender Equality Today for a Sustainable Tomorrow’, is a reminder of the need to achieve gender equity and equality amongst the country’s population.

Meanwhile, NGOCC board chairperson Mary Mulenga says the sad reality of high gender inequality that currently exists requires magnanimity and boldness of leadership.

Delivering his speech during the commemoration of International Women’s Day, Tuesday, President Hichilema said it was not possible to beat a spouse that you love.

“If we love our women, it is not possible to beat the wife that you love, it is not possible. Ask my wife, I have not touched her, not a single day because I love her. I urge all the men here to love your wives. That word love will take away by and large gender violence. You are a young man, you have a girlfriend, you must love her. Why did you reach out to her if you didn’t love her? So if you love her, you will not be violent against her. That is the importance of love,” he said.

“If there is love in the house, you will not have child abuse in the house. There is so much child abuse going on in households. How is it happening if we love each other? How can a father take their own child to bed if they love their child? How possible is that, it is not possible. Love conquers a lot of evil including gender violence, including abuse of the girl child. Because it starts in the house. Before you report to the police about gender based violence, you must take responsibility in the household and love is that tool you use to protect that girl child.”

And President Hichilema said this year’s theme was a reminder of the need to achieve gender equity and equality amongst the country’s population.

“The theme is well selected and could not be more appropriate than we have before us, ‘Gender equality today for a sustainable tomorrow’. This is a great theme, it captures literally everything. This theme reminds us of our noble duty and the importance of achieving gender equity and equality amongst our population; women, men, boys and girls. Equal rights and involvement in national development are truly among the prerequisites for a sustainable tomorrow,” he said.

“This theme has come at an opportune time when the world is visibly affected by the negative ravages of climate change. Across our societies, the impact of climate change has a telling effect on our women, men, youth and indeed the whole population. But this segment of our population is affected differently in rural areas peri-urban included for example. Our women are often responsible if not always for gathering and producing foods, energy sources and water to look after our families.”

President Hichilema noted that climate change was negatively affecting women and girls’ duties.

“Climate change is making these tasks even more difficult. In most cases, women and girls have to move long distances to access water, firewood and indeed food due to the negative effects of climate change. That is why our government is accepting the challenge of climate change which was a debatable matter a few years ago. This government fully acknowledges that climate change is a serious issue and needs to be mitigated in order to ameliorate the challenges that our communities face, in particular our women, our children. Studies indicate that climate change is making our lives even more difficult than before,” he said.

“The effects of climate change on the world’s poorest and most of whom the majority are women should be viewed as a universal human rights concern. Because this effect obviously impairs the ability of our communities, mainly women-led households in feeding themselves and we need to address these challenges, which are extremely important. We as the government are determined to find solutions to these challenges. Government recognizes that the country faces increasing threats and these threats need to be mitigated. We do not want them to make the situation of women worse than it is now for various reasons.”

President Hichilema also observed that previously, land which was a water catchment area was given out to office bearers at the expense of mitigating climate change, which act he said should immediately come to an end.

“Secretary to cabinet, ministers that are here and permanent secretaries, I want to underscore one particular issue. In the last couple of years, a lot of land which is our water catchment area was given out and given out to mainly those occupying public office at the expense of mitigating climate change. This must come to an end forthwith. No more rain feeding areas. Water bodies must be given to private use, especially to those of us who are in public office. Public office is not an opportunity to take away from the communities, to take away from women. Public office is meant to serve the people of Zambia not to take from the people of Zambia,” he said.

“Minister of Lands, Green Economy, we are engaged on this matter, we must not wait on days like this one to do what is basic, to do what is minimum and really to do what we call a basic responsibility to our society. We must be more active to avoid encroachment of water generating bodies or sustaining bodies. We must not engage in agriculture on river banks. We must irrigate of course but we must extract water in an environmentally acceptable way.”

President Hichilema further called on stakeholders to work in collaboration with the gender division at cabinet office to create a conducive environment where women and girls would realize their full potential.

“Our government is calling on all stakeholders to work in collaboration with the gender division at the cabinet office to create a conducive environment where our women and indeed girls will realize their full potential. Above all, we call upon our traditional, church leaders and their communities for us to work together. As I said in Chipata a few days ago, this government is not in competition with traditional leaders, church leaders. We are complementary, and we should work in a complementary way because we serve the community. Once we understand that, it becomes easy to collaborate on matters that affect women or the girl child,” said President Hichilema.

“We must work together to ensure that children don’t get married at an early stage because we are denying them the opportunity to excel in life. As a government, we have taken a deliberate measure to keep the children in school longer. That is the reason we have introduced free education up to grade 12 and acquire skills they will learn in future in order to earn a decent living. It does not have to be through an early marriage that we say to our children that you will be better if you married today. No, you will not be better, you will be destroyed and we as leaders of the community must protect our girl child from being destroyed at an early age. They don’t have to scrounge to get the resources. The resources have been availed by their government. This is their resource, not the President’s resource.”

President Hichilema also said there was a need for those involved in marrying off children at an early stage to face the law and that Constituency Development Fund was a game-changer in the lives of women and the girl child.

Meanwhile, Mulenga said the high gender inequality that currently existed required magnanimity and boldness of leadership.

“We reiterate our desire and expectations that under your leadership, Zambia will build on past efforts and accelerate our pace towards the gender parity agenda between women and men, girls and boys. Your Excellency, the sad reality of the high gender inequality that currently exists, requires magnanimity and boldness of leadership. Zambia’s growing democracy requires a level of consciousness by every citizen to ensure women and men, girls and boys are made an integral aspect of sustainable development,” she said.

“The international women’s day accords us the women’s movement an opportunity to interface with you our leaders and share our accomplishments over the years and indeed the challenges that women of this country continue to face. While progress has been made towards an all-inclusive society for both women and men, we remain concerned with the entrenched patriarchy which continues to take away from the gains that are being made.”

Mulenga noted that achieving gender equality required real partnerships between CSOs and the government as well as other key stakeholders.

“Today we choose to commemorate this day by highlighting the challenges that women continue to face in this country. The lack of adequate maternal health facilities, which impact women across all spheres. Today, we also share information about how little girls are married off at age 10 and the health complications that follow as a result of child marriages. The lack of sanitary wear that has forced that girl child in Katuta, in Luwingu district, to miss hours of learning and sometimes even drops out of school. It is about that girl whose safety is not assured by society but is instead a victim of a public rape. This year’s theme is therefore a call to action to all to take a step and mitigate against these ills. It is also a call to action to mitigate against the adverse effects of climate change,” said Mulenga.

“The call to achieve gender equality so that we have a sustainable future can only be achieved if there is a real partnership between civil society and government as well as other key stakeholders. We need clearly articulated policy frameworks around women’s empowerment. We definitely need constitutionally enshrined affirmative action so that marginalised sections of society benefit in line with the sustainable development goals (SDGs) agenda of leaving no one behind.”

Mulenga appealed to the government to expedite the operationalization of the gender equity and equality act.