Sandra Kabwela – Zambia

Sandra Kabwela – Zambia

Date: June 7, 2012
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Now in her second year in council, Councillor Sandra Kabwela from Ndola City Council is well schooled in the theories of gender mainstreaming, but has little to no support for implementing them. She starts off from a point of disadvantage by being one of only two women in the 28-person Ndola council. She is an Independent, although she says that this can sometimes be more an advantage than an obstacle.

She does not hesitate to participate. “When we are in the chambers we are supposed to speak about the development of the council, so it is all about how you take yourself. I don’t see myself as the minority, I am just a councillor and I have made myself vocal on issues that affect Ndola and the council as a whole.” Men interviewed for the study spoke highly of her, describing her as “very active, involved and knowledgeable.”

What is lacking, according to the councillor, are policies. She has put forward a motion to establish an HIV and AIDS committee in the council, and she wants to include gender as a cross cutting issue. She has been trying to mobilise women in the Copperbelt around gender issues by establishing a chapter on women in local government. But, she laments, “there is no coordination around gender issues; everyone is just working on their own and there is no gender policy.” An initiative that was started by her predecessor died a natural death.

She says that the local government association (LGAZ) has been pushing for councillors to form provincial chapters, but there is no support and there seems to be some resistance from men. She thinks that they can only be more effective as women councillors if they have their own forum where they can address women’s issues. “Having an organisation where women can sit together and plan the development of communities will be the most beneficial solution for everyone.” She is also of the opinion that this will work across party lines mostly because the LGAZ cuts across political parties.

She sees the LGAZ as the overarching body that should be providing support at the provincial level, but instead they have become a bit of a stumbling block. She has attended a couple of meetings organised by them, but gender issues are not addressed effectively. “The last time I brought it up with the national executive, they said we should start a chapter in the Copperbelt. They told women who expressed interest to start chapters.” But there seems to be a lack of follow through, after she went to a meeting in Livingstone they said ‘go back and start a chapter,’ but up until now they have not contacted her. “The Provincial chapter says that they are behind it but nothing has happened.” Each province has an executive which is made up of Mayor’s and town clerks of all of the councils in the province. There is no gender committee in the council, which is why she wanted it to start from the provincial level, in the hope that it would filter down to all the councils so that they would all establish gender committees.

One of the major stumbling-blocks to gender equality is the fact that there are not enough women in decision-making bodies; even at the community level most of the development committees are made up of just men. She says that working with women in decision-making positions rather than men would make it easier to implement gender programs, because the men resist and because they are in the majority she has no chance.

The councillor is aware, however, that gender is much broader than just the participation of women, although having women at the same level as men is crucial. “This gender business is not as narrow as gender, it’s gender in relation to other factors,” she says. “Gender is not a stand alone issue, which is why we now need a proper gender committee or policy; this would start gender mainstreaming…but we must not lose sight of the fact that we still need to bring women up to the same level as men…Men are in the majority in decision making positions and if this situation remains, this gender mainstreaming will not work so effectively. We need women to come and remind policy makers – ‘hey let me mainstream here and here….”

She knows that if there were a formal policy, there would be no chance of anyone ‘forgetting’ to adhere to the principle of awarding at least 30 percent of plots to women, as has happened in the past. She believes that an active gender committee would be able to monitor these issues properly. But they have a long way to go in the council, because she has not “seen or felt” anything related to gender in the council. Gender activities are limited to Women’s Day activities, “when we have T-shirts and we march and that’s the end of gender.”

On the other hand, expectations on the ground are high. Constituents expect a lot from women (sometimes more than men). Without support coming from anywhere she feels lost. “I don’t know what to do – on my own I do not know where to start from.” Kabwela believes that the town clerk, who is a woman, would be keen to push the gender agenda forward. What they need is more women. “Bring more women into leadership positions and then we stand united we will be a force to be reckoned with.”


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