President Edgar Lungu says women will never achieve gender equality if they give up their pursuit for social justice and stick to the shipikisha mentality. According to his International Women’s Day message, the Head of State would like to see more women standing up against abusive “old fashioned” men who don’t consider their opposite sex as equal partners in development.

Our President was very right on this point, and we note that he was echoing sentiments made by the United Nations country representative Janet Rogan. The shipikisha mentality that is common among our women in Zambia is retarding the fight for gender equality and national development, in the long run.

But this shipikisha is a more complicated issue than it appears on the surface. It is embedded in the DNA of our women, intertwined in their culture and highly evangelized in the society they live in. When our girl children are born, they are taught not to be naughty like boys. Before they even turn 10 years old, girls are formatted to accept that boys their age are of superior gender who can afford to be mischievous, while their role is to be supportive.

That is where the problem starts. By the time these girls develop into young adults, they look for a man who can suitably support their needs; a man who they think is basically superior to them. When they get married to this man, they will do everything to keep him no matter how abusive he can be; after all, they were taught at childhood that it’s normal for boys to be naughty. This is why women who are beaten in relationships don’t waste time reporting the abuse for fear of further victimization. There is even a song that says “Chipuba chandi ndekeni nemwine, chilansunga bwino.” (so long he provides, he is my beloved idiot).

Our society today teaches young women that “ubucende wamwaume tautoba ing’anda” (a man’s promiscuity doesn’t destroy a marriage). And for real, when a woman reports to elders that her husband is having an extra marital affair, they tell her to shipikisha because she will never find a perfect husband who has no bad habits. They say, “you can’t complain about a cheating husband because there are wives out there whose husbands are having children outside wedlock”.

This is the reality of the society that we live in. That is the depth of the gender imbalance that we have tolled for generations. Therefore, breaking this shipikisha mentality will take a little more than reading speeches on International Women’s Day. It might mean having to first break the very fabric of our society and initiating a cultural remodeling campaign that should be extended to the rural populations where the gender gap is even wider and the traditional norms are even more bizarre.

But while we agree with President Lungu that time is now for our women to demand their equal rights. We would like to draw his attention to yet another thought provoking idea from economist Chibamba Kanyama, regarding how else women can score big in the national development agenda.

Chibamba says women are capable of using their domestic influence at household level to curb corruption, by demanding to know the source of money and properties which their husbands possess.

CHIBAMBA Kanyama: “When corruption eats up a society, it means women have abandoned their calling; they are partakers of corruption, failing to ask their husbands, ‘Where did this money come from? My wife once told me, ‘you are exposed to opportunities to make money illegally but I will not be a conduit to an evil that will eat up our own family, giving false hope of eternal security and prosperity’. A smart woman has power to tell the husband, ‘unless you show me the source of this money; of this property; of this vehicle, I remain aggrieved because our children should grow up in an environment of sustainable prosperity’. My wife is the guiding light for me, the number one trusted advisor…”

Mr Kanyama is absolutely right. If you look back in recent history, you find that all high profile theft and corruption cases of former government leaders have not excluded their wives. Recently, we carried a picture of a former commander who is jointly charged with his wife in a criminal case. This is not necessarily because wives are involved in any alleged criminality, but simply because they allowed their names to be used in wrong dealings. Instead of interrogating the source of money, some spouses get excited when their partner is bringing home unexplained wealth. They believe in “kufwa na no!”.

In our view, this messages should be directed at President Lungu’s wife and his Cabinet Minister’s spouses, because these are the people who have access to the little resources that our country is remaining with. Has our First Lady cared to know how her husband has become so filthy rich within a short period? She has to, otherwise it will be quite painful to first of all, shipikisha in her marriage, then later on have to answer for crimes she was not involved in.

A First Lady must be a number one trusted advisor, making sure the President doesn’t drag the whole family into a mess after leaving office. Other advisors have their own lives after the presidency, but a wife can’t run away from the husband’s trouble.

This is also food for thought for those minister’s wives who think their spouses are very hard working because they leave the house in the middle of the night for unexplained meetings, where they even get involved in car accidents. If they don’t want to interrogate these night covert meetings which are generating wealth, they should be ready to face news cameras at court when the bells come tolling.