Zambia’s new constitution brings push to end discrimination against women

Lillian Banda – WNN Breaking

Women farmers Zambia
Zambian women farmers join together during the maize (corn) harvesting for Farmer Field Day in Zambia, March 28, 2012. Land rights for women farmers is one of the current concerns that advocates are presenting to those creating the draft for the new constitution that is due now to be finalized by Zambia’s government. Image: Nancy White

(WNN) Lusaka, ZAMBIA, AFRICA: The nation of Zambia has started the process of domesticating legal protective and reporting mechanisms that may increase help to women inside the country revealed the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Gender and Development in Zambia, Mr. Edwidge Mutale recently.

CEDAW – the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, adopted in 1979 by the UN General Assembly, is considered to be the strongest international ‘bill of rights for women existing today.’ Working to stop discrimination against women country by country, CEDAW brought regional reports forward on violations against women under human rights atrocities that used violence against women because of their gender. Much of this has occurred in regions plagued by military conflict.

The Convention has also worked closely to expose regional discrimination against women and girls based on their gender through acts of forced marriage at an early age, lack of educational opportunity, femicide, forced prostitution and sex-trafficking, among many other important topics.

Today CEDAW operates under the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva.

The development to bring greater protections for women to ZAMBIA has been described by numerous women with a cryptic message: “Its been a long time coming.”

“I am delighted to inform you that we have started the process of domesticating the CEDAW [working to bring CEDAW protections into current law in Zambia],” said Secretary Mutale. “We started with CEDAW because it is the foundation of women’s rights. After that we will move on to look at other instruments that Zambia has signed.”

Sara Longwe, who is a Zambian human rights leader and winner of the 2003 The Hunger Project – Africa Prize, asserts that the new first draft of Zambia’s constitution provided an opportunity for women’s rights to be realized as it contained progressive provisions for women, children and persons with disabilities.  Longwe’s work was pivotal to bringing Zambia to the table with CEDAW. Today she is urging women and the public in the region to come forward to ensure that the voice of women and their needs can be heard, especially as Zambia is now drafting a new constitution for the country.

“The current draft constitution provides Zambia an opportunity to correct the injustices that women have gone through for a long time. We cannot afford to miss this opportunity to do the right thing,” Longwe urged delegates at a conference on Zambia’s constitution that ran from June 13 to June 15 2012.

“We have already started doing the background work with the Ministry of Justice,” outlined Secretary Mutale. “One of the things done this far is the mapping of some of the provisions that have already been made part of the Zambian laws. We are now just going to address the gaps and then have the document fully domesticated,” added Mutale.

Advocates speaking to the needs for women and human rights throughout the media in Zambia, reminded government officials not to leave Zambia’s women behind in the draft for the new constitution.

“Areas of great concern for many women are their rights to control and ownership of land,” said Beatrice Grillo chairperson for the NGOCC – Non-Governmental Coordinating Council that is working closely on the process of opening women’s rights for Zambia’s new constitution.

“The majority of the food that is produced in Zambia is by women and yet very few of them have ownership of land,”  Grillo reminded.

In the process the NGOCC is also working with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to bring voices ‘up from ground,’ like labour representatives; women farmers and food entrepreneurs; senior citizens and persons with disabilities; traditional leaders and academians, among others, into the discussion as Zambia’s new constitution is charted and written into final form.

We want to “set a road map for women’s participation and to come up with guidelines on how to make submissions to [the] draft constitution so that all the good Articles are maintained if not enhanced,” said Grillo.

Women’s rights to have opportunities in employment, education and reproductive health care services and equal participation in decision making at all levels, including the presidency, also need to be addressed in the constitution reminded Grillo.

“We also demand that these rights be justiciable [placed as laws that can be processed in court] otherwise we risk having them only on paper,” said Grillo.

Meanwhile, women delegates working to bring women’s rights into the text for the new constitution are now beginning to wear green outfits every Friday as a sign of solidarity for Zambia’s constitution campaign.

Public reports in Zambia now suggest that a majority of the public have approved the direction Zambia’s Technical Committee, responsible for coming up with the new constitution draft, is making. A majority do hope that the new constitution will be a ‘progressive’ document.


Lillian Banda is a WNN human rights journalist based in Lusaka, Zambia.


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