Charity Chilambwe – Zambia

Charity Chilambwe – Zambia

Date: June 30, 2015
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Charity is a fighter, and a role model who has made it despite having all odds stacked against her. Her father left the family at an early stage because her mother was never able to give him a male child. The feeling of being the wrong sex followed Charity throughout her childhood and she even used to wish she were a male child.

At the age of four, Charity went to live with her grandmother in the village. “My grandmother didn’t know anything about education, but at the age of 8 I managed to go to a nearby school by my own initiative to register myself.” When Charity’s father heard that she was intelligent at school, he arranged for her to come and stay with him and his new family. What first seemed to be a blessing turned out to be a curse. “I lived with a very abusive step mother, which affected my performance at school. I was made to do all the house chores and I was psychologically abused, which made me want to get married instead of continue with school. I started to think if I got married, I would be able to move out from my abusive stepmother.” The abuse made her wish she was a male. “I used to think that if I were a male, I was not going to be abused by my stepmother.

Although marriage seemed like an easy way out, Charity understood that education was the key to freedom. When she moved back to her grandmother in grade 7 she was determined to peruse the education that had been neglected during years of abuse. “A lot of men used to come through to ask for my early marriage, but since I had it in my mind that I might end up with an abusive husband I chose school.”

Education continued to be the goal for Charity who managed to graduate and get into university to become a social worker despite problems with financing her studies. “Because of my background where I lived with this abusive mother of mine, I still felt like being female was a disadvantage because you are not the preferred child in society and the only way of making it in life is to have something that will help you live on your own. I knew that if I was educated and I got a job, whether I was married or not, my job was still going to support me, I was not going to rely on my husband.”

When Charity started working she could see that female employees were not given as much of support as the male employees, no matter how hard they worked. “If you compare a female employee with a male employee, they would settle for a man when it comes to promotion. I didn’t accept that, because I used to see other women in responsible positions of authority and that used to inspire me a lot. Although society had this negative attitude, there were still other female people who had made it”.

When Charity started working at the Kitwe City Council, she saw it as her task to support and inspire other fellow female workers. “No matter what the negative cultural perceptions that may be out there, they can still matter to the views people had.”

Although gender had been something that Charity has been very aware of since childhood it wasn’t until she attended training with Gender Links 2012 that she was able to fully appreciate herself as a woman. “I got very happy because I now know I was being trained in appreciating myself that whether I was a female or not I was still a person”.

The Gender Champion, Bibian Nyeleti, can see a big change at the council since Charity became the Gender Focal Point. “From when we were connected to Gender Links, she has always made sure that the staff know what gender means. At first, they were not responding well but now they have come aboard thanks to Charity by involving them in issues of gender equality.”

Charity’s first priority as the Gender Focal Point was to form literacy classes following her belief that education is the key to independence for women. “When someone gets educated, they reason better and it empowers them economically and socially. They will be able to address problems that affect their families and themselves, because they move from a level of ignorance to a level where they are enlightened. When you get enlightened you can interact with other people in society at a higher level, and you will be able to contribute something, your voice will also count.”

Charity is an active member of the Gender Sub Committee at the council, making sure that everyone in the society is involved. “We go out to the peri urban areas to sensitize women on gender issues, such as giving women an equal place in society. We also work with the media, we go on television to sensitize members of the public about the importance of recognizing the role that women play in society. The gender sub committee is comprised of people from different organizations; we think that whatever we discuss as a sub committee will trickle down to the organisations where these people are coming from, and also to their homes.” To promote gender equality at the council, Charity believes that a priority should be to challenge traditional roles and responsibilities. “We should be the first council to employ secretaries that are males.”

Innocent Kayafa Mumbi, senior community development officer, has worked under Charity’s supervision. “She is one person who can create space for women’s advancement at the community level and also in the workplace environment. We have a strategic plan 2012-2016 and she was very involved in bringing gender issues into it at all levels. In terms of working with communities, she really facilitates ideas for grassroots women. She can really produce trainers of trainers in gender.”

With her background, it is important for Charity to help other women who are facing challenges. “I want to see that women support each other, especially women that have gone trough the same things that I have. They should be able to share their life experience to be able to help those who might be going through similar things. Women should not focus on being under a man for their security.” This is something she tries to encourage in all women she meets. “My neighbour’s husband wanted to divorce her. She called me and asked for advice, and I told her to find something to do that would empower herself, not be dependent on her husband. She started evening classes and did a final school grade after she went for training, so she is now a teacher. Not only that, she listened to my advice and decided to build a household of her own, which she did and her husband came back; they have since shifted to that house and are now living together.”

The main challenge Charity sees when it comes to gender equality is to bring the men aboard. “There is this resistance from men because they think that we are asking for too much. When we go for meetings they think that we are trying to usurp power from them and start controlling them.”

For the future, the priority for Charity and the Gender Sub Committee is to take stock of the situation on the ground that concerns gender. “We want to work with key organisations that are into GBV and into women’s empowerment, and work with the Police to find out the statistics how many GBV cases are reported, how many people get abused and how many GBV survivors we have.” In Zambia, which is at the bottom of the SADC countries when it comes to GBV, such initiatives really set an example for other councils.


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