Hivos Southern Africa

Southern Africa

Time is now: Rural and Urban activists transforming women’s lives

International Women’s Day 2018 is here – another year to celebrate the contribution of women in every corner of Zambia and the entire world. It is a time to reflect on the hustles and hurdles that women encounter to make a typical Zambian family survive. It’s also a time to realise and celebrate the power of women, in rural and urban areas, to transform lives and make this world a better place.

The case of Bertha Bwalya, a small scale farmer

In one way or another, we have all encountered the struggle of women to make ends meet for a family. I recently met Bertha Bwalya, a small scale farmer in Kafue district. Her situation is not uncommon to most women in Zambia today. With little help and more frustration from her husband, who spends his money and takes some of hers without her permission (often for alcohol), she is left to care for their four children and two dependents single-handedly. With little opportunity and power in the household, she focuses on caring for, feeding, and educating her children, and in most cases, her husband, too.

This is not an isolated case in Zambia. Many people have seen this and more people have been raised through such situations. What we have also seen though, is the potential of these women to do so much more in a supportive environment.

Taking stock of the issues

Indeed as per this year’s theme, the time for all activists to take stock of gender issues in Zambia and begin to transform women’s lives is now. As seventy eight (78) per cent of women are engaged in agriculture, women constitute an important part of the overall agricultural labour force. However, most of these women are involved in crop production for home consumption and their farming activities do not produce any tangible income.

Women often play a role in assisting men in family farming. This is primarily a result of their limited access to production equipment and land compared to men, as well as their prominent role in household work and child rearing. Furthermore, their activities are often limited to subsistence farming or other simple work due to the fixed role expected of women and associated time constraints.

Despite the number of women involved in agriculture, they are not part of the leadership in the sector. The Ministry of Agriculture in Zambia, quoting the Zambia National Farmers Union, stated that there has been very little participation from women in the agricultural-oriented leadership roles in the country. Yet, women in Zambia have what it takes to lead men, not only in agriculture but in other key sectors as well. 

Breaking boundaries

What is comforting today is that women are moving into domains that were once explicitly male, including ploughing, beekeeping, and gardening, among others. Despite these gains for women farmers, there remain several outstanding issues. In the majority of cases, women’s increased access to resources still relies on their ability to maintain their relationship to the male head of household and to wider kinship networks.

Outside the agricultural sector, many women are employed in the informal sector – selling food related items – where they are faced with a number of challenges. A case in point is the most recent Cholera pandemic that saw street vendors in Lusaka being moved off the street. While this is a most welcome move and is commendable, it is important that the authorities pay attention to the disadvantaged position that this risk has had on women and how resilient they will be to overcome this situation and still be able to support the food and nutrition needs of their families. As places of trading are being allocated to those that were affected by this noble action, women should be highly considered for allocation of trading places and be given other forms of support to ensure that access to food by these women and their families is not reduced.

Counting our successes

As we celebrate this Women’s Day, we take note of some success points that Zambia has scored. Having a female Vice-President is certainly something worth our celebration. Having a gender policy in place is not something to be ignored. The 50 per cent land policy allocation to women is something we need to recognise. 

As we press for progress, it is time to leave the rhetoric and move into action – our policies have some gender forward thinking which, when implemented, can create a conducive environment for women development. Now is the time for activists to push for the implementation of programmes that will transform women’s lives.

Sustainable diets for all

Hivos’ Sustainable Diets for All programme is working towards transforming the food system so that it becomes more diverse and addresses the nutrition challenges that affect the country. At Hivos, we are calling for activists and advocates to consider building and strengthening the capacity of women, while including men in a culturally acceptable way and capitalising on the talents and contributions of both women and men. This capacity-building should be accessible in terms of content, location and timing. In food systems there are a number of relevant areas for building capacities such as production and processing technologies, finance, entrepreneurship, rights and laws. Skill-building also includes leadership and advocacy skills to develop women’s ability to voice their concerns and ideas. We believe taking this route will contribute to transforming women’s lives.