By Terence Miselo
The call to have an increased number of women in decision making positions specifically in the political landscape is not new to Zambia.
It is as old as our democracy but the practicality of it is what has dragged on to this date.
There have been several pronouncements of having more women in top political positions in the past but when the time comes to have this put into action many political parties have acted contrary especially at adoption stage.
This has for long left the Zambian political sector visibly dominated by men.
These are men that have continually made decisions on behalf of, and for women.
There is however renewed hope of realizing this call especially that our nation is preparing itself for the forthcoming August 11 elections.
This hope is exacerbated by the recent passing of the gender Equity and Equality Bill by Parliament which many stakeholders described as a giant step in the attainment of gender equality and equity at all levels in Zambia.
Additionally it now makes good reading the intentions from leading political parties to have more women adopted to contest various positions in the August election.
The ruling Patriotic Front has offered 40percent of their positions to women and so has the newly-formed (currently de-registered) Democratic Front (DF).
The Forum for Democracy and Development (FDD), the Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) as well as the United Party for National Development have all made pronouncements to increase women participation in politics.
This is indeed good news to the women and in particular, the women organisations that have for long been pushing the gender agenda.
It is for this reason of wanting to increase women participation in politics and creating some acceptable gender balance that prompted the Zambia National Women’s Lobby in collaboration with the Women for Change and Zambia Women Parliamentary Caucus to launch a programme aimed at profiling female MPs and raise awareness of their achievements in their constituencies.
Launched in December last year, the programme which is still ongoing, was planned to visit all the 22 female-led constituencies and to date, Mulobezi, Namwala, Pemba, Luena, Lwampa, Munali and Mandevu constituencies have already been covered.
In all these constituencies reached, it is noticeable that women MPs have one thing in common; development.
ZNWL executive director Juliet Chibuta who has toured a number of these female-led constituencies across the country under the same programme believes that women have development as a common goal because they are very closer and directly related to the issues their different communities go through. She contends that once a woman is empowered at any decision-making level, their quest is to promote programmes and projects that embrace communities and border on basic social needs.
She notes that the many female-led projects that have been monitored so far hinge on education, health, sanitation and entrepreneurship which all fall under the umbrella of development.
“We have noticed that in most of these constituencies women are using different initiatives to resolve the issues people are facing. This is because women care more for issues that affect them. We have seen that women have prioritized the building of clinics and health centers as well as schools,” Chibuta says adding that it is even more encouraging that women are fully involved in these projects.
In Mulobezi for example, there was massive evidence that PF MP Hon. Patricia Mulasikwanda is fully in charge of the projects in her constituency.
These are projects mainly under the Constituency Development Funds (CDF). This came to light through the visit to her constituency which marked the commencement of the entire project.
“We met with the community leaders in Mulobezi Constituency and monitored various projects the Hon. MP is pursuing. We also arranged for a meeting with the community so that we provide a platform for feedback. We were impressed that Hon. Mulasikwanda is in charge of the developmental projects there,” Chibuta explains.
The second constituency the team toured was Namwala, whose member of parliament is UPND’s Moono Lubezhi.
Here, the team monitored constructed bridges, schools and various health centres projects which the parliamentary categorically stated that they are very close to her heart because she is a woman.
The team was amazed at how Hon. Lubezhi has gone out of her way to even use her own resources to see community projects work. Often times it was noticed the parliamentarian has also initiated partnerships with the corporate entities to put up enterprises.
“What we have seen is that the two women (Moono and Mulasikwanda) are working very hard. They are in touch with the community. For example in Namwala we have seen the projects where the woman MP mobilized the men and women to come up with a health centre.
The background to that particular health centre is that the female MP witnessed a girl die after child birth and quickly mobilized resources and community labour to build a health centre. I think for us as Women’s Lobby it shows that women care and if we had more women, issues such as maternal health and other basic health issues would be dealt with,” narrates Chibuta in a bid to explain the attention women pay to community issues. Hon. Lubezhi also excited the team with her efforts in promoting access to information through the creation of the first-ever radio station in Namwala. This is purely a project from the CDF and her aim is to see the project create youth employment.
Her biggest revelation and cry was to call for the powers that be to increase the allocation of the CDF funds.
“As you have seen, we in the rural constituencies have huge challenges and our needs are usually double the needs of urban constituencies. For this reason, I suggest that there should be an increase in the allocation to the CDF in rural constituencies because what we are getting is not enough to meet the projects,” bemoans Hon. Lubezhi who has more often managed her projects through partnerships to supplement the CDF.
Pemba Constituency, under UPND’s Mutinta Mazoka was another rural constituency the team visited that revealed common trends of developmental projects as the other women led constituencies. Here, Hon.
Mazoka has excelled in championing the setting up of rural health centres and schools. She echoes Hon. Lubezhi’s call for having increased CDF for rural constituencies.
This according to her would take development to the people that need it the most. She gave an example of children that had been for a long time learning under a mango tree in Mutukula ward.
However, her commitment to promoting education had made her insist on constructing a school which had taken long to finish because of minimum funds mainly drawn from CDF.
Hon. Mazoka’s call is for the development of a culture of prioritizing projects that benefit the larger communities in all areas without looking at political parties.
“My message is that let us not look at what political party an MP belongs to, let us look at Zambia as a whole. Let’s not develop an MP, let us look at Zambia because all of us are representatives of the people,” appealed Hon. Mazoka.
As the team visited more and more female led constituencies, like Luena in Central Province, Munali and Mandevu in Lusaka, the development pattern on maternal health, education, youth empowerment and entrepreneurship had formed up.
This as the Women’s Lobby chairperson Beauty Katebe explains is what defines women parliamentarians.
“The women MPs have development in common. This is because by nature women are more caring and attentive to issues that affect them and the communities. Everything in society now has a woman face, poverty has a woman face, HIV/AIDS has a woman face, GBV has a woman face.,
“Women are simply the centre of development and through this project we have seen how they are trying hard to develop communities,” Ms Katebe said in an interview after a tour of Mandevu Constituency under PF’s Jean Kapata.
Ms Katebe was particularly impressed that Hon. Kapata has created an open-door policy which enables her interact with her electorates.
“This is very important and I think it should be done in all constituencies including those that are led by men. This is because it allows the community to freely give feedback and air the views on the leadership they are getting,” Ms Katebe insists.
And in Munali Constituency under PF MP and gender minister Hon.Prof. Nkandu Luo, the team was impressed with her commitment to provision of good health through the construction of Chainda Maternity wing and water reticulation projects.
She however bemoaned the mushrooming of unplanned structures such as shops and houses that have seriously hindered the development of roads in her constituency especially Mutendere.
Prof Luo also proved to the team that contracts of any development projects are better handled when given to the Zambia National Service rather than private contractors.
This she said was because the national service is effective, works with time and is less costly.
She gave an example of the construction of Kaunda Square Stage 1 market as one project being undertaken by ZNS and urges most MPs to engage them in their projects.
From all these visitations to female-led constituencies, the project organisers insist that there is need for increased participation of women in parliament.
They feel women apart from having development on top of the agenda have proven that they can do more once empowered.
Remarkably, the recent announcement by Republican President Edgar Chagwa Lungu that he will choose for his running mate, a female gives enough confidence that Zambia is making headway in achieving gender equity and balance.
This has incredibly given the women organisations more cause to call for women in parliament as concluded by Juliet Chibuta, “You are aware that there are about 51% of women in Zambia. But there are only about 14% of women in parliament compared to men. There is need to call for more women to take up seats in parliament.”