8th March is International Women’s Day (IWD). It is a day that has been set aside to celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The day also brings world attention to the status of women in society and the challenges that they face. The International Women’s Day was celebrated for the first time by the United Nations in 1975.The Day has since been commemorated annually in many different countries under relevant themes which guide discourse on women’s issues. The United Nations theme for the 2017 International Women’s Day is “Women in the Changing world of work: Planet 50/50 by 2030.
In Zambia, 8th March has been gazetted as a national holiday in observance of the International Women’s Day. Zambia will commemorate the 2017 International Women’s Day under the theme ‘Promoting Inclusiveness in Economic Participation as a means of Attaining Sustainable Development’. The theme for the 2017 IWD emphasizes the need for gender equity consideration in the formulation and implementation of policy guiding the allocation and accumulation of resources.
Women in Zambia continue strive for increased inclusion in economic activities although their participation has been on an unequal basis.
According to the United Nations, as at 2015, the labour force participation rate for women in Zambia was 78.3 percent, against 95.0 percent for men. This is despite the fact that women form the largest segment of the population as 51 percent. The disparity in labour force participation is partly due to the gap in human capital variables, such as educational attainment, vocational training and employer’s preference between men and women. Globally, women earn on average only 60 to 75 per cent of men’s wages. This trend has been perpetuated by placing low value on jobs dominated by women.
The informal sector in Zambia is dominated by women, most of who are involved in low level economic activities. This is because most women do not have access to credit which is necessary for expansion of business as they do not own property or assets they can use as collateral. Further, gender inequalities in time usage are still rife in Zambia with women bearing disproportionate responsibility for unpaid domestic work. Ultimately, when paid and unpaid work is combined, it is clear to see that women work more than men and they are left with little or no time to further their education, embark on additional economic activities or leisure.
The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) affirms that “women’s education, employment, and earnings are essential in the fight against poverty, not only because of the direct contribution they make to household welfare, but also because of the personal power they provide women in shaping and making family decisions and in redirecting household spending on essential needs, especially in favor of children’s health and education’’. Poverty reduction is one of the milestones for the attainment of sustainable development. Thus, economically empowered women have the capacity to compete in land, labor and product markets thereby making economic, social and environmental contributions the nation’s economy.
The Zambia we want
There is need for a review of policy guiding women’s participation in the country’s economic activities. For instance, many trade policies in Zambia are currently gender neutral and do not contain provisions that specifically target women. Further, national labour laws in their current form do not fully appreciate the extensive role of social institutions and culture in limiting the access of women to employment.
Efforts towards enhancing women’s participation in the economy must include support to women entrepreneurs through the provision of low interest loans that will enable women to grow their businesses. Further, gender equity must inform recruitment and financial support to pupils and students in schools and higher institutions of learning if the gender gap in academia is to be bridged.
Zambia National Women’s Lobby continues to engage with various relevant stakeholders in the promotion of women’s empowerment. We also endeavor to improve on our programming by not only taking a multi-faceted approach but also tailoring interventions to address specific areas of need.
The attainment of the various set benchmarks on gender such as the SADC Protocol and the Sustainable Development Goal number 5 are dependent the collective will of all Zambians, let us all embrace gender equality for sustainable development.
ZNWL wishes all the women of Zambia a happy International Women’s Day and a productive 2017.
Ms. Beauty Katebe