Your Excellency the President of the Republic of Zambia, Mr Edgar Chagwa Lungu
Your Honour the Vice President, Mrs Inonge Wina, MP
The Hon Chief Justice, Mrs Irene Mambilima
Hon Victoria Kalima, MP, Minister of Gender
Senior Government Officials
Members of the Diplomatic Corps
Representatives of Civil Society Organisations
Ladies and gentlemen
I am honoured once again to be representing the UN in Zambia on International Womens Day. Today’s national theme is “Promoting inclusiveness in economic participation as a means of attaining sustainable development”.
There are two underlying messages in this theme: first, “promoting inclusiveness” which is about empowering, or giving power to, those who are not currently included. It is about making space for others. Particularly, this message is to men, who possess the power and who occupy the space, that they need to share power, share space with women. The second message, which is “participation” is about taking power and stepping into that shared space in order to participate. Particularly, this second message is to women to take power, not only over their own lives and those of their families in the domestic space, but also in the public space – taking power and participating in community decision-making; climbing the ladder in the workplace; educating and training themselves; running their own business and employing others; taking responsibility for their own financial and legal affairs. It is about respect and opening up equal opportunity.
Some people will say that there’s no need for special attention to this. That discrimination on the basis of sex is natural and right. Indeed, it is alarming that despite the evidence that excluding and subjugating women damages economic growth, globally the situation is getting worse. In his message today, the UN Secretary General, Mr Antonio Guterres, noted that:
” Historic imbalances in power relations between men and women, exacerbated by growing inequalities within and between societies and countries, are leading to greater discrimination against women and girls. Around the world, tradition, cultural values and religion are being misused to curtail women’s rights, to entrench sexism and defend misogynistic practices.”
Here in Zambia, gender-based violence, child marriages and early pregnancy, as well as defilement of the girl child are at crisis levels. This shows a fundamental imbalance in the power levels in our society between women and men.
Zambia Police statistics show that in 2002, 870 cases of girl child defilement were reported. Last year, that had risen to over 2000 cases. Between 2014 and 2016 a total of 7,518 girls were defiled. This word “defilement” disguises and neutralises the vile brutality of the crime. The Penal Code of Zambia defines “defilement” as any carnal knowledge of – this means sexual intercourse with – any girl under the age of sixteen, whether the girl consents or not. Put simply, it is rape. The penalty is a minimum of 15 years in prison and a maximum of life. Let me restate the crimes: in 2002, 870 cases of rape of girls were reported; last year, over 2000 girls were reported to have been raped (more than 5 a day, every day); and between 2014 and 2016 a total of 7,518 girls were reported raped.
Records of the University Teaching Hospital show that among those huge numbers are babies as young as one month old, who have been sexually assaulted – raped – and brought for treatment there. I sincerely applaud the dedication, commitment, care and pure love for the victims, the survivors, their families and care-givers shown by the women and men who work at the Paediatric Centre of Excellence and One Stop Shop in UTH in Lusaka, and by their colleagues around the country. They are dealing with a tidal wave of female tragedy and misery.
I have put so much emphasis on these numbers not only because they are sickening, but because a society in which such things can be done with such brutality to our precious girl children; a society which tolerates and even covers up such devastating crimes; is a society that is going to have significant difficulty in enabling those brutalised, injured, traumatised girls to grow up into women who are powerful, strong, educated, economically significant citizens. A society that can allow such violent crimes to rise to such numbers is a society that seems content to exclude and leave behind the female half of the population in every area of life. To reach significant levels of economic inclusion for women in Zambia, our society needs to change its attitudes, its behaviours, its prejudices.
If we are to bring about this transformation, we need to face this crisis, and act, together. Government has already taken a very strong lead in this and I applaud the sustained personal commitment of the President, which has also been recognised by UN Women, when they appointed him a HeForShe champion and by the African Union. The new Constitution enshrines non-discrimination and recognises the equal worth of women and men. It is a shame that the referendum to amend the Bill of Rights did not pass. Without it, there is a deficit in rights protection in this country. The Anti-GBV Act and the fast track courts for GBV cases are showing people that there is a route to justice. At least four more fast track courts are planned for this year. The Marriage Bill needs to be finalised and brought to parliament. Government policy to allocate land plots 50-50 should be implemented properly. Measures to improve access to finance for SMEs need to ensure that the rules are women-friendly. It should be a priority that all children, girls and boys, complete high school, with a curriculum that focuses on developing the right skills for employability, whether academic or vocational.
All political parties should fully support their female elected representatives at all levels, especially at district level, which is after all where development happens. I look forward to the publication of the Seventh National Development Plan, with its focus on mainstreaming the SDGs and Leaving No-one Behind. All communities in all parts of the country – all women, all men – need to find themselves and their needs included in the Seventh National Development Plan.
Yet, the Seventh National Development Plan will work only if attitudes and behaviours relating to women and girls change significantly and fast. We need to break the silence on the issues that are damaging and holding back our girls and women and we all have a part in that. Mothers: how can you sweep these crimes under the carpet and protect family members who violate your daughters? Faith-based organisations: why are issues of moral decay like girl rape not challenged from the pulpit week in and week out until significant change is seen? Traditional leaders – we applaud the great efforts you have made to address the harmful cultural practices in your chiefdoms; and we need yet more leadership from you to drive out once and for all girl rape, early marriage and GBV; to promote school attendance for girls and boys; and to demand gender balance in dealing with community-level issues.
Or do we not break silence? Are we more comfortable, as adult men and women, to continue to tolerate in our villages and towns the systematic subjugation of our female citizens from the moment they are born, through discrimination in their upbringing, sexual slavery and rape, physical and psychological brutality, entrenching dependence in miserable marriages through lack of education and enforced ignorance?
What is the value of a girl? The value of a girl is not a cost – it can not be added up – how much was her schooling, her daily meals, her clothes. The value of a girl is not a price – whether lobola or some equivalent. A girl is not a commodity. A girl is not a sex worker. A girl is not a cure for HIV/AIDS – there is no cure for HIV/AIDS.
A girl is a future President, a future professor, a future musician, a future business tycoon, a future astronaut, a nuclear scientist, a mining engineer, an ambassador for her country, an IT whizzkid, a film star. All these contribute to the GDP and the development of a country. An extra year in school can add up to 25% to a girl’s future income. When women participate fully in the labour force, it creates opportunities and generates growth. Globally, closing the gender gap in employment could add USD 12 trillion to global GDP by 2025.
If the menfolk in Zambia are to ‘give power’ to womenfolk who are able to step in and take it; if we are to promote that economic inclusiveness to stimulate the growth that this country needs, then we must ensure that the raw material is the strongest it can be and we must protect it from any damage along the way. The value of a girl is the measure of the strength and maturity of a society. On International Womens Day, as on Human Rights Day only a few months ago, we must speak out for rights and I choose to speak out for the girlchild, the future of this and every country and the foundation of future economic growth. Please, no more shipikisha, break the silence, speak out, act to clean up the moral decay, prejudice and discrimination that holds back development in this beautiful country.
Sustainable Development Goal 5. Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls
5.1 End all forms of discrimination against all women and girls everywhere
5.2 Eliminate all forms of violence against all women and girls in the public and private spheres, including trafficking and sexual and other types of exploitation
5.3 Eliminate all harmful practices, such as child, early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation
5.4 Recognize and value unpaid care and domestic work through the provision of public services, infrastructure and social protection policies and the promotion of shared responsibility within the household and the family as nationally appropriate
5.5 Ensure women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision-making in political, economic and public life
5.6 Ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights as agreed in accordance with the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development and the Beijing Platform for Action and the outcome documents of their review conferences
5.a Undertake reforms to give women equal rights to economic resources, as well as access to ownership and control over land and other forms of property, financial services, inheritance and natural resources, in accordance with national laws
5.b Enhance the use of enabling technology, in particular information and communications technology, to promote the empowerment of women
5.c Adopt and strengthen sound policies and enforceable legislation for the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls at all levels