The Situation of Women in Zambia
SARDC, Harare/Zimbabwe. The current population of Zambia is approximately 9 million, of which 51% are females. The overall position in Zambia is that very little progress has been made in implementing the 1985 Forward Looking Strategies for the Advancement of Women. Zambia remains an extremely patriarchial society where men dominate the higher political and administrative levels of government. There seems to be no political will amongst the governing male elite to promote gender equality. However the Zambian government has made further commitments to support the process of women's advancement, by assenting to the 1995 Beijing Declaration of the Platform of Action for the Advancement of Women.
The Agricultural Sector
Agriculture is a key sector in the Zambian economy and a review of the role of women in this sector reveals that they are the main producers, providers and traditional managers of food production at the family household and national levels.
Women's productivity however, tends to be constrained by lack of access to productive resources such as credit, improved technology and extension services. Information on production techniques and sources of capital is distributed by agricultural extension-workers who seldom visit women farmers. Hence, although women are the pillars of subsistence farming, their role and contribution are not recognized or supported by government policies as they are not included in national statistics on production.
Rural women play two major agricultural functions in the agriculture sector. The first is the production of household food crops for which they take the major responsibility and contribute about 80% of the necessary labour. The second is production of cash crops for the market, to which they contribute more than 50% of the labour. In addition, rural women generate incomes through non-agricultural activities and contribute 95% of the labour needed for family and household maintenance.
However, despite all these efforts, serious problems of food access and food self-sufficiency exist at household level in both rural and urban areas as well as at national level. There is urgent need for programmes aimed at improving the food security situation to focus not only on on-farm production improvements but also on increasing wealth generating opportunities for women. There is evidence that households with access to assets can better cope with drought and/or other hardship situations are not likely to need food relief.
Women, compared to men have limited access to land, capital, labour and other productive resources. Land, one of the major factors of production is predominantly controlled by men. Even though women are the most active participants in agricultural and environmental activities, they are discriminated against property. Statutory and customary laws and practices are biased against women and have inhibited women from owning and inheriting land on an equal basis with men. For example until recently, a married woman could not be given land without a written consent from her husband. Under traditional land tenure system land is usually granted to and inherited by males following kinship patterns leaving women with no say on land matters.
Decion Making Processes and Access to Commerce and Trade
Furthermore, insufficient participation by women in decision making organs of commerce, trade and industry and the gender biases contribute to the unfair situations women experience as they strive to engage in commercial ventures. This has contributed a great deal to women engaging in petty trading and other marginalised ventures especially in the informal sector where most of the female labour force is concentrated. Marginalisation of women has also been apparent in the rules and regulations applied by public lending institutions. For instance, banks until recently insisted that married women should obtain consent from their husbands to get credit. Other constraints that raise opportunity costs for women in commerce, trade and industry include; the current legislation which places restrictions on conducting a business from the home and the lack of a National Child-Care support system. This severely restricts women's participation since working at or near the home is a necessity because of their domestic responsibilities.
Sectors of Employment
A gender analysis of formal sector employment trends reveals great disparities between men and women. While the rapid increase of formal sector employment for men up to the 1980's was linked to the growth in sectors such as mining, manufacturing, construction, transport and utilities, that of women is attributed to expansion of the public sector and services, especially sales related jobs.
As a way of revitalising the overall national economy, in the mid-1980's government instituted measures within the framework of Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP). These measures include a freeze in public sector recruitment and wages and layoffs for workers close to retirement. Other measures include retrenchment and reductions in government capital expenditure. These measures have had a short term declining effect on formal wage employment and earning opportunities as the public and parastatal sectors laid off workers especially in the production and technical areas. Thus sectors most intensive of male labour, namely mining, construction, transport and utilities declined in employment share.
Female wage workers have also been seriously affected. Although the tertiary sectors, where most female employees tend to be clustered survived the worst of the employment contraction in the mid 1980's, many women in low-wage, low-skill jobs, particularly in public sector services lost employment. In addition, many workers were downgraded into less secure and lower paying positions. The lay offs at lower administrative levels resulted in rapid decline in incomes of lower-paid workers, especially women and workers in the younger age group.
As a result of declining formal sector employment opportunities Zambia has been experiencing unprecedented growth of the informal sector characterised by small scale enterprises utilising labour-intensive and adaptive technology. According to the 1986 Labour Force Survey and the 1991 Social Dimensions of Adjustment Priority Survey, most people are in the informal sector. In 1986, 1,803,300 people were employed in the informal sector and of these 976,100 (54%) were females and 824,200 were males. In 1991 the figures rose to 1,912,276 of which 988,154 (52%) were females and 924,122 were male.
In general women in the informal sector tend to be concentrated in food, textile, beer and street vending activities which require less capital and yield lower incomes in relation to time spent. This is mainly due to their inability to raise adequate capital and access to other productive resources due to restrictions including those pertaining to commercial credit such as collateral and equity. Such restrictions should be removed in order to increase output and employment potential for women so as to make the sector more viable.
Poverty and SAP
In Zambia, poverty is the state of being poor with insufficient money to afford the basic necessities of life such as food, clothing, shelter and access to basic social services such as health, education, water and sanitation. In some cases, poverty is perceived through someone's consumption being below the Poverty-Datum-Line (PDL). The poor who are usually women, children, the disabled and elderly are associated with high levels of malnutrition, illiteracy, poor sanitation and limited participation in political and socioeconomic activities.
As a result of the socio-economic factors such as the global economic crisis and the negative impact of Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP), there has been a general increase in poverty. Increased poverty affects both men and women however, women bear a disproportionate share of the burden. The dominance of women among the very poor has resulted in the feminisation of poverty.
The fundamental rights and freedoms guaranteed every citizen under the Constitution are negated in the case of women in the area of personal law (i.e. marriage, divorce, inheritance, devolution of property, etc). There are several administrative practices, rules and regulations that perpetuate gender discrimination. The de facto discrimination continues in the areas of property ownership, inheritance, rights and duties within marriage, parental rights and duties, etc. The conflict of laws between statutory and customary personal laws often works against the interests of women.
An important step to protect the rights of women was taken when Zambia ratified the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women in 1985. Though Zambia has ratified several international and regional instruments regarding the status of women, appropriate steps have yet to be taken to make the provisions of these instruments part of Zambian law, so that they can be used by the women in the Zambian courts.
Equal participation of women and men in decision making is key to
provision of a balanced and accurate composition of society that
is needed to strengthen democracy and promote its proper
functioning. However, in Zambia women are seriously under
represented in all main decision making organs of the country.
For instance, as at August, 1997 the proportion of women in decision making positions were as follows:
The Educational Sector
Women in Zambia have unfortunately lagged behind in education and training, and have, consequently, not participated fully in the national development process.
Due to cultural and traditional attitudes, coupled with the dictates of the labour market, parents prefer to educate sons rather than daughters. Educational institutions and their facilities, the school curriculum and career guidance, accord boys more and better prospects. In such a set up girls acquire attitudes and aspirations, which place them second best.
Available indicators show that the girl child is discriminated against from the earliest stages of life, through her childhood and into adulthood. Girls are often treated as inferior and are socialised to put themselves last, thus undermining their selfesteem.
Gender imbalances and inadequacies in Zambia's education processes including curricular, educational materials, teachers' attitudes and classroom interaction reinforce the existing gender inequalities. For instance the percentage of girls enroled in secondary schools remain significantly low and they are often not encouraged or given the opportunity to pursue scientific and technological education and training. Science and Technology is a critical factor in sustainable national development. Unfortunately women have lagged behind and this has limited their role and level of participation. The enrolment in science and technical subjects continues to be disproportionately in favour of boys. For example, in 1994 only 23 per cent of the students enroled in science and technology were female. The limited number of female teachers in science and technology contributes to perpetuating gender imbalances in this critical field as the girls lack role models.
The impact technology is manifested further in the lack of technological developments in the area of tools to ease the burden of production and household chores that fall on the shoulders of women.
Statistics indicate that there is almost equitable enrolment of boys and girls in Grade 1, but as the level of education progresses there are less girls than boys. According to the Education Statistics Bulletin of 1994 there were 53% boys compared to 43% girls at Grade V level and 56% boys compared to 44% girls at Grade VII level. At secondary school level there were 59% of boys compared to 41 % of girls, 60% in Grade IX compared to 40% female while Grade XII there were 67% males compared to only 33% females. At tertiary level the gender gap is even wider. Women constitute 23% of enrolment at higher institutions of learning, at vocational and technical training colleges and the universities. Women are least represented in the technical fields as they constitute less than 20% of total enrolment.
The Media Sector
The majority of women have inadequate or no access to the media and are as a result not reached by development information. Those that have access are reached through radio and television programmes, commercials and other media forms which portray conservative gender role distinctions. Stereotyped portrayal of women's images and insufficient use of mass media to promote women's contribution still continue. Women's issues that are positive are rarely portrayed. Negative and scandalous issues do make headlines in newspapers. In addition existing type of information does not respond to the needs of the majority of women particularly in the rural areas.
Women professionals, though numbers are increasing are still under represented in the national media. There are very few women in high position to influenced media policy that could challenge the portrayed negative image of women.
The liberalisation on media industry has led to the mushrooming of private newspaper some of which are trying to portray women positively. Despite these developments, and lack of gender training for editors, women's issues are not given the prominence that they need. Infact, they are usually lost in the editing processes.
The 1991 the Movement for Multi-Party Democracy government brought with it some initial promise of a more definate and radical policy on gender issues. In 1996 the former WID Department of the National Commission for Development Planning was moved to Cabinet Office, where it is now the Gender in Development Division (GIDD). Following the Beijing conference and in response to the demands of the Beijing Platform for Action, GIDD has been responsible for coordinating the development of a Draft National Gender Policy.
The draft policy describes a national situation where women are discriminated against in all sectors of the economy, and in decision making. Amongst its objectives, it would remove all oppressive statutory and customary laws and practices which perpetuate discrimination. This objective would, in itself entail amending the present discriminatory constitution. The draft policy also proposes a quota system of at least 40% women in all important decision-making bodies, including government and legislature. This policy constitutes a serious and comprehensive intention to address gender issues in all sectors.