Apr 28, 2011

Constitutional Protections: Women & Children

As I’ve been researching on the rights of women and children, and in particular those behind bars I looked up the constitution. Sadly, our current constitution from 1996 has no such provisions. So, I turned to both the 2005 Mung’omba Draft Constitution and the 2010 NCC Draft Constitution – neither of which have been adopted but have had a significant amount of work put in.

Lo and behold there is applicable language but there are stark differences between the two that I find disturbing. This is in Part VI, the Bill of Rights section. The highlighted are the areas I consider applicable to this unique situation but please notice other omissions.

2005 Draft
2010 Draft

Further rights
for women (Article 42)

Clause (3) Without limiting any right or freedom guaranteed under this Bill of Rights, women shall have and be accorded the
right -
(a) to reproductive health, including family
planning and access to related information and education;
(b) to acquire, change or retain their nationality including the nationality of their children; (c) to choose residence and domicile;
(d) to guardianship and adoption of children;
(e) to choose a family name; and
(f) to non-custodial sentences if pregnant or are nursing mothers, except as a measure of last resort for serious offences and for those
Women who pose a danger to the community.

Further rights
for women

This entire section was eliminated

Children (Article 44)
Clause (5) 

Every child has a right -

(a) to a name and a nationality from birth and to have the birth registered;
(b) to parental care or to appropriate alternative care where the child is separated from its parents;
(c) to free basic education;
(d) to be protected from discrimination, neglect, abuse and harmful cultural rites and practices, including female circumcision, tattooing and early marriage before attaining the age of eighteen years;
(e) to be protected from all forms of exploitation and any work that is likely to be hazardous or adverse to the child’s welfare;
(f) to adequate nutrition, shelter, basic health care services, social security and social services;
(g) not to be subjected to corporal punishment or any other form of violence or cruel and inhumane treatment in schools and other institutions responsible for the care of children;
(h) to be protected in times of armed conflict and not to be recruited and used in armed conflict;
(i) not to take part in hostilities;
(j) not to be incarcerated on account of the mother’s incarceration;
(k) to a standard of living adequate for the child’s physical, mental, spiritual, moral and social development;
(l) to development and an individual
development plan, where appropriate;
(m) to protection from all forms of sexual
exploitation or abuse;
(n) not to be arrested or detained, except as a measure of last resort, in which case that child has the right to be -

(i) detained only for the shortest
appropriate period of time;
(ii) kept separate from adults in custody;
(iii) accorded legal assistance by the State;
(iv) treated in a manner and be kept in
conditions that take account of the
child’s gender and age; and
(v) tried in a juveniles court;

(o) to know of decisions affecting the child, to express an opinion and have that opinion taken into account, having regard to the age and maturity of the child and the nature of the decision;
(p) to protection of the child’s identity and not be exposed by the media during criminal proceedings; and
(q) generally to survival and development.

Clause (6)
Children with special needs, especially girls, orphans, a child whose parent is in prison, children with disability, refugee children and homeless children, are entitled to the special protection of the State and society.

Children (Article 50)
Clause (3) 

Every child has a right -

(a) to a name and a nationality from birth and to have the birth registered;
(b) to parental care or to appropriate alternative care where the child is separated from its parents;
(c) to be protected from all forms of exploitation and any work that is likely to be hazardous or to interfere with the child’s education or to be harmful to the child’s health, or physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development.
Provided an Act of Parliament may provide for the employment of children for a wage under certain conditions.
(d) to adequate nutrition, shelter, basic health care services, social security and social services;
(e) to protection from all forms of sexual exploitation or abuse.

2005 Draft

  • Article 42, Clause 3, advocates for “non-custodial sentences” to be considered first for pregnant women or nursing mothers unless they pose a serious threat to the community.
  • Article 43, Clause 5 (part J) clearly states that every child has a right not to be incarcerated on account of the mother’s incarceration.
  • Article 43, Clause 6 calls upon the State and society to take responsibility of taking care of children of inmates (and other vulnerable children
The authors of this language obviously had in mind the need to protect innocent children from getting caught in the crossfire between their parents and the justice system.

Whatever reasoning the National Constitution Conference (NCC) had for watering down these rights and protections in the 2010 Draft is beyond me. But given what we now know of the narrow focus directed by the ruling MMD party this is not entirely unsurprising. They have constantly pushed their own agenda at the expense of the wishes expressed by the Zambian people in previous constitution reviews, and it just further illustrates how we continue to lose out.

The Way Forward

So, knowing all this, what is the way forward? The 2010 Draft was soundly defeated in Parliament and yours truly was not among those crying at the loss. It was a futile effort that duplicated and defiled earlier work that had been done well and was accepted by Zambians; and it cost billions of Kwacha that will never be recouped.

We need to unite in our opposition to the government’s dilly-dallying on this issue. We need a strong constitution enacted, and we have no shortage of good language already available such as that shown above from the 2005 Draft. We need to have an expanded Bill of Rights that reflect the things that matter most to Zambians, and repeal the bad laws we currently have on the books.

We cannot continue like this. It is high time the government and the people of Zambia took up their responsibility to protect and respect the rights of all women and children, including the rights of those in prison.

Apr 26, 2011

Using all that information

Courtesy of Scott Adams (Dilbert)

I’m always struck by the level of ignorance sometimes exhibited by the American public about the world around them – the activities of their government at home and abroad;  all this despite an almost ungodly amount of information of information out there. Granted, there is a lot of garbage to sift through at times but information is there, and it’s practically free.
I have a good friend from Zimbabwe who adamantly insists that access to information is not the magic elixir that brings about an informed citizenry, actively engaged in their community and politics. Rather it is the personal initiative for people to use the information, weigh the pros and cons of an issue, and make intelligent decisions. Sadly, many would rather be force-fed information by their favourite pundit(s) – liberal or conservative without doing on their own research or fact checking…and voilá, you have people who fervently believe Obama was snuck into the country by his Kenyan grandmother as an infant because she was determined to see him rise to the position of president. And no, these aren’t all grade 2 dropouts living in the swamps!  
So, as I look at this I can’t help but despair for my own people at times. I’m constantly beating the drum for more information about what goes on in our parliament, during negotiations with outside investors (tax concessions, labour relations, etc) and so forth. If we had all the information, what would we do with it? Would we indeed use it to make more deliberate decisions at the polling booth? Would we speak loudly about our support or opposition to various pieces of legislation? Or would we just shrug and go about our daily business leaving everything to the discretion of our elected officials. Oh, perish the thought. Our democracy is still tenuous; we cannot afford to leave things in the hands of the benevolent “father of the nation” and his sons.
We need to be smart! Ignorance is not bliss.

Apr 22, 2011

I'm stuck!

In November 2010 I wrote a letter to the Home Affairs, Education, and Justice Ministers about the status of children locked up with their mothers in Zambian jails and prisons, as well as the problem of overcrowding. This was driven by a report released by the Committee on Government Assurances for the Fourth Session of the Tenth National Assembly.

You can read the report here – the relevant pages are 12-18, though the entire document is worth reading. 

With regards to the children incarcerated with their mothers the committee earnestly appealed to the government to have these children removed for the sake of their psychological and social development. At the time I wrote my letter and emails there was no word on any action taken by government, and the same applies today. Please keep in mind this report was delivered in August 2010, eight months ago.

I also got in touch with the head of African Human Security Initiative (AHSI) project who has been actively involved in the issue of human rights protections for prisoners and prison reform in Zambia and other southern African countries. Sadly, she was leaving the organisation and promised to put me in touch with other people who could be of assistance in my quest to get more attention on this issue. And that’s where that ended.

So, here I am looking for other means to push this issue. Does anyone have any suggestions on how I should go about this endeavour? Is there an easier way to contact MPs who sit on committees that deal with human rights issues or prison reform?

Apr 19, 2011

Ego check

Admittedly there is a certain amount of arrogance it takes for someone to seek positions of leadership, be it in a church, company, government, university, etc. You have to be pretty sure of yourself and have confidence that you’re the right person for that job – this could be delusional, but it’s there. Such people may not always be the most skilled for the job at hand but all credit for stepping up and grabbing at opportunities (in the absence of nepotism, of course).

The ugly side of this is when you start to believe your own hype with complete disregard for others. There is no ONE person who has the answer to every question. What makes us better is the ability to collaborate with others, constantly exchanging ideas. This applies to every one of us, especially those in leadership positions. So, please do yourself and others a favour by putting aside the God-complex and keep your ego in check. 

Apr 14, 2011

Toward 2011 Elections - Zambia

A friend sent me this analysis of the current political climate in Zambia, as the country prepares for the upcoming elections later this year. I hesitated to share this because I am a little unclear on the original author of the document, but given the quality of analysis and reassurances that this is indeed meant to be shared, here you go. 

Towards 2011 Elections

Apr 12, 2011

Interview Clip

As promised here is the audio clip from my interview with Wala Nalungwe of Generation Alive! on Zambia Blog Talk Radio. The pertinent segment is the first 55 minutes. Feedback is more than welcome as always, and please you do not need to stroke my ego, be frank!

Please let me know if you have difficulty listening to the clip, and I’ll see if there’s an alternate format to share.

Taking a step back

For the past week I’ve been mulling questions about the role of women in civil society and politics. Yes, dear reader I am still on this issue! J I put down some of my thoughts in the post, “Getting to Equal Representation.” Much of my inner struggle comes from making sure I strike a healthy balance in telling the narrative without slanting things in one way or the other.
I have to step back and assess my thoughts. Am I subscribing to mainstream feminism that has by and large relegated African women into the role of impoverished, downtrodden and oppressed beings who for lack of education and enlightenment do not have the means to change their lot? I certainly hope not!
There is no denying that women in the developing world find themselves underrepresented in politics and alienated in real decision making that pertains to national development but this isn’t unique to us. Even the much touted Scandinavian countries have only in the last decade or so seen increases in female participation in their parliaments. And it is not enough to simply say “well, it’s those dangerous African traditions that keep women bonded as little more than indentured servants.”  Patriarchy is not an ailment found in isolation in the brown man.
We shouldn’t ignore the meaningful roles women play in families, churches, community organisations and businesses. It is ridiculous to diminish the role of a deaconess or a female head of family because it they do not fit neatly into the box labelled “empowered, non-traditional female.” There are indeed women who wield power and exercise it and others who do not.
So, therefore let us aid those who are disenfranchised and also pay tribute to those who are not. We simply cannot accept a single narrative to define us all.           

Apr 8, 2011

ZedHair Blog

In February, Masuka Mutenda, launched Zambia’s first hair blog - ZedHair. The content is mostly dedicated to natural hair care for both men and women. There is relevant information about techniques for the care of natural hair, and relaxed hair.
The target audience is mainly Zambians and Africans in general and adds a different voice to natural hair stories. Most of the literature and web content available is driven by and for an American audience – which isn’t a negative but there is a disconnect at times with readers in other parts of the world who may not have access to the same hair products, whose hair reacts differently due to differing climates, the hardness water, and so forth. So, this is a welcome addition to the repertoire.
Masuka has recruited various writers to contribute articles to her blog, and this ensures a diversity of opinions and experiences. As a reader it makes it more interesting. And in the interests of full disclosure, I am one of the contributors.
Please read the blog and share it with others who may be interested in the content!

Apr 6, 2011

Generation Alive pt 2

I am really excited to announce that I will be guest hosting this Saturday’s show on Zambia Blog Talk Radio. A few weeks ago I highlighted the young women’s group Generation Alive (GAL), and I will be interviewing one of the co-founders, Ms Wala Nalungwe.
As you know I am very interested in women’s involvement in civil society and politics, especially young women in my age group. So, I jumped on the opportunity to learn more and share with others.
The show will air live, April 9 at 6 a.m PST, 9 a.m. EST, 1400 hrs GMT, 1500 hrs CAT.
Once the show is over, I will post the audio file for anyone interested. Please send me any questions that you’d like me to ask. You can also interact with me via twitter @missbwalya
Wish me luck!

Apr 5, 2011

A Salute

I would like to salute the work being done by the Eastern Province Women’s Development Association in Zambia. This organisation trains paralegals, provides rural based community sensitisation trainings, educates people on human and legal rights issues, among other things.
As stated in their mission:
EPWDA'S mission is to empower rural women socially, economically, culturally, politically and legally. We want to facilitate, lobby and advocate the development aspiration of rural women living in Eastern province of Zambia.

Read more about their work.

Apr 1, 2011

First Love’s Embrace by Mwangala Akapelwa - A Review

February 2011, Romance
iUniverse, $15.95, 216 pages, I
SBN: 9781450285223
Available on Amazon.com and iUniverse.com

First Love’s Embrace by Mwangala Akapelwa was recommended to me by a friend based in Zambia who knows about my little reading endeavour. Thank you, Luciano!
This is Akapelwa’s first novel, and was just published in February 2011. From the title you can easily infer that this is a love story but gladly it’s not mushy. Liseli Mwenda meets Banda Zulu during one her school holidays in Livingstone. There is instant attraction between the two, and Banda actively courts her with permission from her aunt and uncle, with whom she’s staying.
As their relationship progresses Banda is committed to marrying Liseli, and requests his family’s blessings and presence when he asks for Liseli’s hand in marriage. His plans are thwarted when Liseli’s family impugns his character and denies his request. Heartbroken and humiliated, Banda retreats and in doing so hurts Liseli who is unaware of all the details of the marriage negotiations and feels abandoned by him. Banda later leaves for his studies abroad without contacting Liseli, and this further entrenches the hurt.  
Years go by and each of them realise their educational and work goals. Liseli also leaves the country for her post-graduate studies and slowly regains her confidence in newfound relationships. However, the spectre of her ill-fated relationship with Banda remains a barrier to her future happiness. The remainder of the book uncovers the details of how both come to terms with the past and let go of the pain.
Overall, this was a good read and I enjoyed it. It moved at a relatively fast clip and the details were easy to follow. What I really liked was Akapelwa's writing style - it's fluid and very descriptive. I could picture the different scenarios she was describing, and that's the best kind of reading in my opinion.
One of the things that didn't work for me was how quickly the characters fell in love. It seemed a little too easy and thus made it a tad unbelievable, but the author made up for it by the progression of the relationships. She showed how trust was built during the courting phase and thereafter.
Another thing that made me pause was the description on the back of the book, it states “…. as he (Banda) meets with Liseli’s family, he feels hopeful, even though their families come from two different tribes.” I don’t remember reading much about the tribal tensions between the two characters, and so I felt a little cheated and relieved at the same time. I felt cheated because it would have added a level of complexity to the story, if handled correctly by the writer, and relieved because tribal differences often get too much our attention and just act as unnecessary speed bumps to living life.  
I felt more sympathetic towards Liseli’s character probably because much was written from her perspective and Banda often looked like a weak fool. I likely would have felt differently if there was more insight into his thoughts and feelings. With that said, the ending was fitting and tied everything off quite nicely.
I would say give this book a try if you’re looking a quick and easy read.