Women protest army discharge

Date: January 1, 1970
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Some young women in the Zambia Army are complaining that the current law, which allows the Zambia Army to discharge them of their duties if they become pregnant or get married before they clock two years in employment, is a violation of their rights.

The Zambian Employment Act states that employers must grant a woman 120 days of maternity leave after two years in employment, but most employers today will not fire a female employee who falls pregnant before two years. Rather, either they will give them unpaid leave, annual leave or sick leave. For the Zambia Army, which in the past never entertained employing women as soldiers, the story is different.
According to two former soldiers, Rhoda Banda 22, and Grace Lungufyaya 21, the Army fired both women on 2 March 2007 because they had become pregnant before they clocked their two years. The duo said the law was unfair to women soldiers as it discriminates against them and infringes on their rights to have children when they want.
Both women would like to see the law challenged and themselves reinstated, as they need to support their children and families through their salaries. Banda said, “I personally feel that this law is unfair to us. These days, schoolchildren who become pregnant are allowed to go back in class after giving birth. What about us who are already working?”
According to the Zambia Army Adjutant General Instructions, female military personnel are not supposed to fall pregnant or marry before two years in employment, while a male Army personnel is not supposed to impregnate a woman or marry before three years. However, the women have complained that if even though the law applies to both women and men, male soldiers violating the law usually go free because it was difficult for the Zambia Army to know when they impregnate a woman.
Zambia Army spokesperson Colonel Boyd Kumwenda defended the law, saying the army needed rules and regulations to operate effectively. He added that the Zambia Army was not a civil set up where people would do their own things and tolerating women who fall pregnant before two years, would be setting a bad precedent.
Col Kumwenda also mentioned that the Zambia Army had been disappointed with the behaviour of many women recruits from the last intake because a lot of them had fallen pregnant before clocking two years. He also challenged the aggrieved soldiers to go to court if they felt discriminated against. “If they are aggrieved let them seek redress from the courts of law and the service is ready to defend itself,” Col Kumwenda said.
Banda and Lungufyaya joined the Zambia Army as band soldiers in 2004, stationed at Kaoma Infantry Brigade in the western province of Zambia. After one year, both of them became pregnant from fellow soldiers who themselves had worked for over five years.
When it was discovered in January 2006 that the two were pregnant, the Commanding Officer (CO) for 5 ZR at Kaoma wrote a letter to the headquarters 2nd Infantry Brigade recommending that as per the law, the two be discharged. While waiting for the response from the headquarters, the Army allegedly confined the duo in their rooms.
In a letter dated 1 March, the Brigade Commander responded that, “ ‘A’ Branch did direct us to find alternative punishment in respect of the above named women soldiers… It follows that the above named recruits should be charged for conduct under section 72 of CAP 106 of the laws of Zambia.”
The section referred to includes provisions that misconduct be liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years or any less punishment, rather than discharge. Banda said after receiving the response from headquarters, the CO informed them to resume work but instead of working as Band soldiers, they worked in the bar at the Sergeant and Warrant Officers Class II mess.
After a few months, they both gave birth to baby girls. After three months maternity leave, they resumed their normal duties as band soldiers.
According to Lungufyaya, a female soldier, also based at Kaoma, was discovered to be pregnant during a pace-keeping mission in Sudan, and was sent back home. When the CO in Kaoma wrote another letter to the headquarters to inform authorities about this soldier, the situation worsened when he included Banda and Lungufyaya’s names and their cases.
According to the two soldiers, on 2 March 2007, the CO informed them that they the Army had discharged them effective 28 February 2007, and ordered to hand over all Army property and take leave.
Former Human Rights Commissioner Francis Nsokolo said firing women soldiers when they fall pregnant was not a good solution and was discriminating against women. Commissioner Nsokolo said what is happening is a violation of the African Charter on the protection of the family, which includes a woman and her children. “In the present scenario, there is discrimination against the female soldiers, and this is a matter which should be tackled before the Minister of Gender and Development,” said Nsokolo.
It is unfair that in as much as the Army states that both men and women will be fired if they violate this law, male soldiers engage in unprotected sex and because the consequences of pregnancy do not show on their bodies like women, they go free. Banda urged human rights activists to challenge the Army law to protect women soldiers and officers from unfair treatment.
Perpertual Sichikwenkwe is a journalist in Zambia. This article is part of the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service that provides fresh views on everyday news.

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