CORNELL University’s Women’s Law Coalition has honoured America-based Zambian law Professor Muna Ndulo for supporting women and advocating for gender equality throughout his life.

And Gender Links founder Colleen Morna has described Prof Ndulo as a feminist and humble human being.

Meanwhile, Prof Ndulo says although some progress has been made, the world is far from achieving gender equality.

Speaking virtually from South Africa when Prof Ndulo received the Lukingbeal Award, Tuesday, Morna said everyone she talked to described Prof Ndulo as a feminist and humble person.

“I asked some of my colleagues to just reflect, when they think about Muna, what comes to mind and I think that two words came up very prominently. One was that Muna is a feminist, nobody hesitated Muna in giving you that title and I have to tell you that for some of my colleagues, that doesn’t come easily, they have to think twice before they give you that title. You have to earn it. But in your case, it was the most natural thing, Muna is that kind of man we have no hesitation in calling a feminist. You may be aware that Muna is the father of four daughter, I know of at least two of them who have gone on to become prominent lawyers. Muna, I want to tell you here that not only have you inspired your daughters, you inspired my daughter who is a human rights lawyer and I always believe that feminism begins in the heart or the home and if you cannot demonstrate it there, you are not going to demonstrate it out in the bigger world,” Morna said.

“The other thing about Muna which comes out so very clearly is just his style, the word humility, a humble person comes out over and over again in all the tributes that came through.”

She noted that gender had been an integral part of Prof Ndulo’s academic work.

“When we look at your CV Muna and all your achievements, it is just amazing the many things which you have done in so many different parts of the world. In the US, in Africa, in Asia, all over the place we see your name, in South Africa where you spent time, where you hold many academic positions at top universities in SA. The constitutional review processes which you have contributed to around the globe, but what is amazing is that although your repertoire is so vast and your field is international law, trade and some of these hardcore areas which some of us struggle to understand, gender has always been a part of it and that is so powerful for us as feminists as well. That people of Muna’s calibre, no matter where they go, they nail their gender colours to the mast and they are willing to stand up and speak for women,” she said.

“Just recently, Muna did some work with some activists in Botswana around re-writing their 55-year-old constitution from a much more gender informed perspective and each time I Google, your name comes up somewhere whether it be in Zimbabwe, Somalia, Afghanistan, where you have advised on the constitution and you always make sure that gender is integral to that advice you have offered. When you look up Muna in terms of the books and publications he has contributed to…among that collection, you will find titles like ‘Power, Gender and Social Change in Africa’, ‘Customary Law and its Relationship to Women’s Rights in Africa’, texts which for many of us activists have been key tools for informing and guiding our work.”

She observed that Prof Ndulo had never forgotten his roots.

“Muna has never ever forgotten his roots. He remains very much rooted in his country, the politics of Zambia, at any time, you can ask Muna what is going on in Zambia and he will be able to tell you to the minute what is going on there. Indeed, he has founded a research institute in Lusaka, Zambia and that is just one of the giant footprints,” said Morna.

Meanwhile, speaking when he received the award, Prof Ndulo said according to an estimation by the World Economic Forum, it would take about 136 years to achieve gender parity.

“I am extremely honoured to be chosen for this award which not only honours the empowerment of women but also bears a name of a very cherished friend and colleague Anne Lukingbeal. Every nominee for this award has committed themselves to the upliftment of women. I wish to dedicate this award to my mother who passed away last year, her life was a testament to the strength courage and resilience of our women. Being chosen for this honour would not have been possible without the inspiration I received from friends and colleagues for whom I had the greatest respect. Gender inequality remains a threat to the sustainable development of national states worldwide. In 2021, the world economic forum predicted that at the current rate we are going, it would take us another 108 years to reach gender parity. This year, they revised their prediction and now estimate that it will take us 136 years,” Prof Ndulo said.

“The covid pandemic has worsened the global gender gap. Ensuring gender equality is not only a matter of human rights, it is also smart economically. It is evident that gender smart development policies have the ability to enhance production and improve development outcomes. Leading development institutions such as the World Bank and other regional banks have repeatedly found that economies become more resilient when societies pursue and implement policies aimed at achieving gender equality.”

He said there was still a lot which needed to be done to achieve gender equality.

“It is now 2022 and we are now 37 years after the Nairobi conference and 27 years after the Beijing conference. In no country in the world have women’s full de jure and de facto qualities been achieved. Laws, systems and services for addressing gender equality have proved inadequate. According to the World Economic Forum, progress towards gender equality have been slow in the areas of political empowerment and economic participation. Only 26 per cent of members of parliament in 156 countries surveyed are held by women while 80 per cent of the men aged between 25 and 64 are in labour force, there are only 53 percent of women of the same age group in the labour force. Progress made in gender equality laws which relate to mobility and employment have been undermined by the lack of complimentary reforms related to parenthood which would enable more participation of women in the workforce,” said Prof Ndulo.

“We need reforms that address the pervasiveness of patriarchy in our societies. Patriarchy in my view is the only truly universal norm. Covid pandemic and conflicts such as the Ukraine Russia conflict can increase long standing structural inequalities in society. In most countries, poverty and inequality are on the rise and increasingly, they have a feminine face. While there has been some progress in raising awareness and challenging gender stereotypes in the media and popular culture, the battle to change mindset is still far from being won. Over the years, the number one lesson learnt is that there is a propensity on the part of leaders and employers to sign declarations and commitments without any serious commitment or plan for delivering those promises…Although some progress has been made, we are far from achieving equality. We need to improve the gender sensitivity of all our institutions, economic, legal and political and remove the structural impediments to change that. Without gender sensitivity, the barriers to equality will continue to exist leading us to a less cohesive society due to the inequalities.”