Aug 27, 2012

Easy living, pampered women!

WOE betide all poor parents of boys! A new and worse form of gender discrimination has emerged that is heaping attention on the girl-child and completely shutting out the boy-child in empowerment programmes. Is your household crawling with boys like mine? I pity you, unless you are a businessperson or one of those lucky workers earning a seven-zero net monthly salary.
The above is the opening paragraph in a piece that was published in the Sunday edition of Zambia Daily Mail on August 26, 2012. This lovely piece was authored by the deputy news editor, Charles Chishala. Chishala spends approximately 1,200 words lambasting initiatives targeted at achieving gender parity in Zambia’s education because this is a form of “pampering and spoiling girls” at the expense of boys. You can read the full article here.

Chishala further challenges “girl pampering NGOs and other institutions to produce gender disaggregated baseline information on which they have been basing their gender discrimination against the boys.” Apparently we are just puppets for a western-driven agenda.

To say I was vexed while reading this article is a gross understatement. Appalled and angry is a more accurate description because this article was published by a national newspaper by an editor clearly out of touch with the realities of gender inequality and how this affects not only women and girls but society as a whole. In framing this as an “us v. them” argument, he exemplifies the very reason why the fight for gender equality exists in the first place.  

It’s interesting that Chishala at no point acknowledges that many Zambian girls are often denied their right to education. Even in an age where school fees are abolished for Grades 1 - 7, the indirect costs such as clothing, sanitation, safety, and transportation present substantial barriers to access.

Furthermore, studies done in Zambia show that “girls spend more time on productive work than any group of adult men (Allen 1998). Thus the opportunity costs – in terms of lost household labour – of sending girls to school are extremely high.” The incentives for keeping girls at home are reinforced when the quality of education is poor, fees are high, the learning environment is unsafe or lacking, and the likelihood of completing secondary school is low.

Is helping remove said barriers and ensuring that more girls are able to realise their right to an education, which has a direct impact on their social, political and economic rights a means of pampering and spoiling them? Hardly! And the charge that most girls are only interested in “easy living” is extremely belittling and insulting. 

There is no easy living when you're sent off to marriage soon after puberty and start having children before your body has matured. There is no easy living when you have no capacity to speak for yourself due to the disempowerment that comes with the lack of independence.

Let’s get to the numbers; Chisala asked, and he shall receive. Below are figures provided by the Ministry of Education showing indicators in primary education:

From the data above we have clear indications that net enrollment for both girls and boys is improving steadily. This counters Chishala’s wholesale argument that the improved access for girls is being done at the expense of boys. There is more work to be done in improving access to primary and secondary education for all children in all areas of Zambia, as well as improving the quality of education.

There is no new social order in which women are on top of the proverbial food chain. It’s hard enough convincing some families that both girls and boys are of equal value, without having to deal with heretics like Chishala who are screaming that the sky is falling.

The only resentment being spawn about this changing world is within Chishala and his ilk who clearly resent the fact that women can be more than vessels to carry their progeny; and that through many years of struggle many women and girls are realising their dreams of being equal partners in our human development.

I feel shame when Chishala states that achieving gender parity is a “recipe for perpetuating gender based violence” as marginalised boys/men act out their frustration. It is clear he perceives gender equality as a threat to his privilege and way of life. In such a context this loss of power may be a catalyst for violence. Pity he cannot see himself as a potential agent of change.

As a society we must look out for the inequalities and barriers to education that face all children. We cannot ignore the different needs and capacities of women, girls, men and boys, as we all have a role to play. This perhaps was the point Chishala set out to make but instead we were on the receiving end of an anti-women rant. We are allies not enemies.

Aug 8, 2012

Reaping what is sown

On Monday morning the last of Zambia’s athletes competing in the 2012 London games failed to progress to the next round of competition in his field, men’s 800m. Of the seven athletes who had the honour of representing Zambia, only one, Gerald Phiri, made it out of the preliminary rounds to the semis.

Some have bemoaned this as disappointing but I’m of a different mind. Zambia does not and has not prioritized investments in sports outside of the men’s national football team; even there we could debate the issue. We cannot expect too much from the participants since we lack facilities of international standards for training.

If you look across the landscape, at the grassroots it is primarily in private schools that students still receive lessons in varied sports like field hockey, tennis, swimming, basketball, volleyball, rounders, etc.   

With the financial pinch in government schools Physical Education (PE) is a distant memory. Outdoor activity is restricted to play only (which has its own benefits, of course) but gaining any sort of sports proficiency is seriously hampered due to the lack of instruction.

Even further many community clubs that once boasted immaculate bowling greens, tennis courts, squash courts and swimming pools have largely fallen into disrepair. Growing up I remember going to the Lusaka Club on a fairly regular basis with my family, and it’s there I fine-tuned my tennis game and my father his snooker. Granted neither of us was world class but the point is we had a place to hone our skills. The club still exists but during my last visit it was clear times were indeed tough.

Making the necessary investments in sports is not a responsibility to be borne solely by local and national government; though they have a large piece to fulfill when it comes to school curriculum and providing funds for coaches and equipment. As the larger community we can make our contributions by helping community clubs/centres become vibrant again through corporate and private sponsorship, annual dues, etc.  

These clubs once served as a pillar in our communities not just as a social gathering place but a place where young and old could get involved and stay involved in an activity, and where various sports teams practiced and hosted tournaments. In a nutshell they also served as sports development centres.    

And for those individuals with the capacity to advance in their chosen sport, coaching to international standards is key. Coaching is not restricted to technical skills only, but includes diet, mental preparation, weight lifting, etc. Quality coaches don’t just fall out of the sky. Harnessing our own local talent should be a top goal.  

Without this dedication and focus not much will change for Zambians wishing to make an impact on the international stage be it the Olympics, Commonwealth Games or Diamond League events. Of course they will be those with the hunger to succeed who will beat the odds and I salute them. 

Aug 2, 2012

Deficiencies in reporting

Over the last few months Zambia’s Registrar of Societies, Clement Andeleki, has become something of a superstar. He vaulted to fame this past March when he de-registered the former ruling party MMD for non-payment of fees dating back to 1993. This de-registration put at risk the 53 parliamentary seats the party held at the time. The issue has since been taken to court.

Before I continue "societies" are any club, company, partnership or other associations of ten or more persons, whatever its nature or object. This does not include companies registered under the Companies Act, Trade Unions registered under the provisions of the Industrial and Labour Relations Act or co-operative societies registered under the provisions of the Co-operative Societies Act. 

Since March Andeleki has held one press briefing after another updating the public on other societies that are in danger of being de-registered; most are high profile societies such as the Press Association of Zambia. It’s all quite interesting.

What caught my attention yesterday is the recent deregistration of a local church based in Lusaka. This particular church is not exactly one of the bastions most Lusaka residents know about because of their large congregations, expensive buildings or super flamboyant pastors. Rather, this church has recently been in the news because its Bishop has been linked to the murder of a young college student.

Registrar Andeleki announced that the church was being deregistered because of the criminal investigation of the Bishop, and the church should use this as an opportunity to “prove their innocence.” When I read this I was struck by how improper it all sounded, and subsequently went looking for the statutory language which pertains to Societies.

A few clicks later I had at my fingertips the Societies Act Chapter 119 of the Laws of Zambia, and familiarized myself with the provisions that allow the Registrar to cancel registration of any society. And as I suspected under section 13 “Cancellation of registration” there is no mention that alleged crimes committed by leaders or members could be used as grounds for deregistration.

Now, I stand to be corrected in case I missed something in my reading of this law. With that said, I’m thoroughly disappointed that the handful of media outlets that carried this story made no mention of the clause the Registrar used to arrive at his decision. Did anyone ask the question at the media briefing, or were they simply there to write down his statements verbatim without questioning his rationale?

Surely issues such as this need greater probing to ensure that the letter of the law is being followed and groups aren’t being unfairly targeted by overzealous government officials? It is my hope that the aggrieved Mount Zion Spiritual Church seeks legal advice and appeals this decision because from what I can see, this was a poorly thought out decision with unfortunate consequences for church members. 

Aug 1, 2012

Sharing information

As a result of the Zambian draft constitution radio series I recently hosted, I have been approached by various people to share audio, notes, etc. This has been gratifying because I’m happy to see people interested in the public review process and gathering their own thoughts on the various provisions, after all this was my original intent.

This sharing of information and ideas is critical, in my opinion, because it allows us to debate divergent views and come to an understanding of what we as Zambians feel to be the most important issues that should be enshrined in our constitution, be it gender equality or better defined powers in the executive.

It has always been my view that such participation is incumbent upon us as citizens; we cannot continue to sit back relying on others to feed us information and to dictate the dialogue. We have enough past, sad experience that shows what happens in the absence of our active participation.

Beyond this particular issue, there is a bevy of other areas that require open dialogue, sober minded analysis and suggested alternatives. We need to keep on sharing information and arguing constructively regardless of our political leanings; politics are too often front and centre and act as a distraction to meaningful progress.

This is perfectly exemplified when one peruses the daily headlines that are mostly dedicated to inane subjects of “this person insulted the president,” or “the president hits back.” These are not the issues that matter to most of us, and since many media houses continue to fail in their responsibility to report thoroughly and objectively, we have to get creative and lead intelligent discovery and debate of issues. Let them follow our lead.

Zambia’s future should not be driven by a short sighted minority who cannot look beyond what food is on the plate in front of them. We are so much better than that; let the silent majority be silent no more.