Activism taking root in Zambia’s remote villages

Activism taking root in Zambia’s remote villages

Date: December 8, 2011
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It is 4 December 2011 around 4:30pm as I arrive in Katete district in Zambia’s Eastern Province as part of Gender Links Sixteen Days of Activism activities in rural communities. As I am disembarking from the bus, my phone rings. My colleague Faides is on the line, calling to update me on how the Sixteen Days Campaign went on Kafue district that day. Somehow, I get the feeling that she was just checking on me after six hour long drive from Lusaka. So, I tell her I am okay.

I try to find a cab around. After some search, I finally find a car, but the driver looks very annoyed. It seems he has not had any bookings since morning. I joke with him that it’s not my fault!

Arriving at the lodge where I’m booked, I find a young man who does not have the word “welcome” in his vocabulary. He shows me to a room, which according to him is the best room at the lodge. Alas, when I step in, the room is in such as state; it had not even been serviced since the last guest had checked out. Oh yes, I noticed the soap scum in the bathroom!

It’s now 7:00pm. As soon as I settle down, the council secretary of Katete District Council, accompanied by the Gender Focal Person, drives in to see me and update me on the following day’s programme. I am informed that I must meet the district gender committee in the council chamber before the day’s activity begins. This means an early morning for me.

Monday morning, I wake up early to take a bath. I realise that I had left behind my toothbrush and so I just spread toothpaste on my finger and clean my teeth. Works perfectly! At 8:00am I arrive at the council to find everyone seated waiting for me.

One thing impresses me – the chairperson of the committee is a man who is very passionate about gender equality and women’s empowerment. He briefs me on the activities to end gender based violence that the gender committee has been doing in partnership with the victims support unit, the social welfare department, and other stakeholders.

We then have a round table discussion on how culture and tradition have contributed to the oppression of women in society. A speaker from the NZP+ (an association for people living with HIV and Aids) gives participants some insights on how gender based violence contributes to the spread of HIV and AIDSs in rural areas. I had an interesting and informative morning.

At 2:00pm we start off to Malata village, 20 kilometres from Katete town for the day’s main event. Malata is the area council led by Katete’s only female councillor out of the 27 male councillors. She has mobilised women in the village to come to the meeting and learn about gender based violence and the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development.

The councillor is proactive and she used part of the community development fund to purchase books and learning materials to ensure that women in the village get basic reading and writing skills. She estimates that 85% of the women in the village are illiterate.
I witness the gender committee carry out a very interesting and quite timely sensitisation campaign on gender based violence and the Sixteen Days of Activism. The women welcome the campaign with much enthusiasm, as it is their first time to participate in this global event. The women also come out and share their first hand experiences on how culture is a barrier in attaining gender equality.

It would have been more interesting to have cyber dialogues in this area; even a cell phone signal does not reach this very remote village; the word computer something unfamiliar to the community.

All in all, I am mostly impressed to see the energy and the enthusiasm that the men show in spearheading gender issues in the district and also how the committee has been utilising the local community radio station to challenge stereotypes.

Traditional gender norms are a big barrier in Zambia. With the general conception that women should suffer in silence and wait for their partner’s behavioural change, I think it is very encouraging to see men taking leading roles in trying to ensure that harmful traditional norms are revisited and demystified.

I have grown in a society where I have been taught specific tasks or duties that I should undertake as a boy or man. This concept is rooted in our culture and is complex. But having witnessed the campaigns and activities taking place during the Sixteen Days of Activism, the will of the people is very important. Both women and men want to change what has been traditional deemed acceptable. I feel that change is achievable.

I have observed that organisations like Gender Links are making very real impact in rural councils. Other local authorities should replicate the initiative of taking Sixteen Days of Activism to the villages. We can have workshops all we want, but behavioural change can only be attained once we visit individuals in their communities, enter their living rooms, and most importantly bring more men on board.

Albert Bwalya Ngosa is a Monitoring and Evaluation Capturer for the Gender Links Zambia Office. This diary is part of the GL Opinion and Commentary Service and African Woman and Child Feature Service special series for the Sixteen Days of Activism on Gender Violence and COP 17 Conference.




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