Month: March 2012

It’s a holiday galore

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By Florence Gichoya

Superior Mudaala my Zambian friend had warned me that there are so many public holidays in Zambia I will get bored of them. I have been here for almost a month and there have been 3 public holidays already.

In February when Zambia won the Africa Cup of Nations trophy, a public holiday was declared. March 8th was International Women’s day and a public holiday. Four days later another holiday! It was the Youth day, a day dedicated to celebrate the youth and their contribution for the country. I would be interested to know if there is any other country that has a national youth day.

On public holidays offices are closed and people get to relax at home, visit friends, travel, and for others they party the day away. Whatever the activities people engage in, they are just glad to have a break from the office and school. Below are upcoming holidays in Zambia.

• Good Friday – 6th April
• Holy Saturday – 7th April
• Easter Monday – 9th April
• Labour Day is – 1st May
• Africa Day – 25th May
• Heroes’ Day – 2nd July
• Unity Day – 3rd July
• Farmers’ Day – 6th August
• Independence Day – 24th October
• Christmas Day – 25th December
• Boxing Day – 26th December

At this rate my country Kenya is holiday deprived. There are only 7 public holidays, including Easter and Christmas holidays. I plan to enjoy the holidays as they come. And to my friend Superior Mudaala, I don’t think I will be bored any time soon. If anything I already have plans of activities to do in the impending holidays.

 

Zambian Flag

 

Enjoying the Land of Chipolopolo

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By Florence Gichoya

Such is the euphoria in Zambia that for the time I have been in the country I have experienced immense excitement and positivity and I wonder if it has always been like this. There was never a better time to be in Zambia than now. Why? You may ask; a new government came to power last year after a landslide victory, and with it came a new dawn for change. In February this year, the winning of the Africa Cup of Nations by Zambian’s national team – Chipolopolo was an icing of the cake.  There is a high spirit of patriotism and pride among the Zambian people.

When African Cup of Nations – 2012 kicked off in Equatorial Guinea in January, most football analysts thought that Zambia had no chance of winning the Cup. They favored other participating countries like Ivory Coast, Ghana, and Senegal.  However, the Chipolopolo boys surprised the critics by winning the trophy to the joy of their fans and all Zambians. They are indeed the champions of Africa.

Zambia traditional dance troupe perform in front of the AFCON trophy

The victory of Chipolopolo which means bullets in Bemba language has brought a lot of business opportunities. Musicians are cashing in and I have lost count of the number of new songs that are playing on radios and local TV stations in praise of the national football team. Every day new billboards are put up by cooperate companies to sell their products as well as congratulate the Chipolopolo boys. The street vendors are also not left behind they are selling jerseys, t-shirts and other merchandise branded with the national colors.

Zambia is a Christian nation, about 99% are Christians. In my first week at work I asked a colleague Sally, if Muslims and Hindus represented the 1% and she joked that many Zambians don’t know the difference between Muslims and Hindus. Interestingly, the current president Michael Sata declared that Zambia shall be governed by the Ten Commandments as written in The Bible.

On my first Sunday I decided to go for shopping and woe unto me because Lusaka streets were literally empty, shops and supermarkets were closed for the day. I asked a passerby why this was so, she was surprised by my question and told me obviously it is a Sunday and everyone goes to church.  I told her that am from Nairobi-Kenya and at home whether it’s a Sunday or a public holiday, you can shop any day and some supermarkets are open for 24 hours. Since then i always ensure to buy what I need before Sunday.

I am also getting familiar with the local currency – Zambian Kwacha. This is the first country I have travelled to that does not have coins; here it’s just notes.

Zambians are nice people, very friendly, approachable and helpful. They are also respectful and their idea of respecting the elders is greeting them while kneeling. Now that was a culture shock to me.  When a child greets a parent they have to kneel and shake the parent’s hands.

I had an interesting debate with my colleagues and they were surprised when I told them that in my culture we shake hands and hug as a form of greeting. They sensitized me and demonstrated on how I should greet people who are older than me; by bending one knee then shake hand. They also forewarned me that if I ignored that and just shook the elders hand I would be perceived rude and disrespectful!

The weather in Lusaka is fantastic and I love it. The main language is Nyanja and it’s easy for me to learn because of my Swahili speaking background. Many words are similar with the two languages. I also enjoy local dish nshima which is like our ugali. Caterpillars are also a common food among the Zambians; though I must admit that am yet to gather courage to eat them.

My first few days in Lusaka, Zambia were tougher than I expected, I was really homesick but every time I called my family and friends from Kenya I felt much better. I have started working and am settling in well. As I make more friends every day and explore Zambia, I am feeling more ‘at home’.

 

 

 

Women’s day that was

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I had never celebrated International Women’s day like I did this year. I was impressed that it is a public holiday in Zambia. For the past 3 years on this day women and progressive men come out in large numbers to march in support of women development issues. These parades take place in all the districts in the country.
Pauline – my supervisor had informed me that women normally march in designated routes around Lusaka city and walk to the main venue where they march in front of the presidential dais.
On the eve of International Women’s day the radio stations had announced that many roads would be closed for the march. My organization – ZAMWA (Zambia Media Women’s Association) organized for a taxi to pick my colleague and I early and drop us at the starting point which was Munali roundabout. We were strategically positioned to view the parade which comprised thousands of women and a few men who had come to support.

Women marching in Lusaka

It was a spectacular show. The women looked beautiful in their African kitenge outfits and suits. Members of the same organization dressed in a similar way. I was told that the employers buy outfits for their women employees’ purposely for this event. That’s incredible! I wouldn’t mind getting a beautiful, gorgeous dress every year from my employer.
They also carried banners which had their company logo and this year’s theme for the day, which was “connecting girls, inspiring future – mentorship for success”. Over 200 companies, organizations and government ministries were represented.
In the mid-morning it started to rain, I thought the women would run for cover but amazingly they braved the rain and marched on. By midday the whole group had marched to the venue – Lusaka show grounds.

school girls who were part of the parade

Little to celebrate
However with the backdrop of all this pomp and glamour, all has not being well for Zambian women. There are escalating cases of gender based violence towards women; hardly a day passes without news of a minor who has been defiled or a woman who is nursing injuries after being battered by the husband. Many have also lost their lives and it’s sickening. The statistics are also alarming, for instance by December 2011 a total of 11908 cases of gender based violence had been reported and from the number only 2170 cases were brought before the courts of law.
It was no wonder the event started by observing a minute of silence in honor of the women we have lost through domestic violence. Speaker after speaker emphasized that there should be zero tolerance on gender based violence.
The president – Michael Sata who was in attendance commended the media for covering gender based violence stories and creating awareness on the vice. He said he was committed to ensuring women’s rights are observed.
As the occasion came to a close I learnt and at the same time was entertained. Gender based violence has to stop. We need to protect all girls and women from abuse. Both women and men should continue this fight against this scourge. We should not give up on protecting women and the girl-child. What type of future will we have if we don’t defend them?

 

 

Can women in politics overcome stereotypes?

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By Florence Gichoya

From the time a girl is born, the society already has pre-determined expectations from her. Many cultures bring up the girl child to be a home maker, caregiver, submissive follower and to uphold the family values. This is contrary to the expectations of the boy child. A boy is groomed to be a leader, provider, assertive and hard worker. The girl develops to be the kind of woman who would rarely be interested in political leadership. Society often frowns upon those that go against these norms.

Dr Alice Eagly a psychology professor once said that, “Cultural stereotypes can make it seem that women do not have what it takes for important leadership roles, thereby adding to the barriers that women encounter in attaining roles that yield substantial power and authority”

For a woman to vie for a political position today, she has to contend with lots of stereotypes compared to her male counterparts. There are numerous stereotypical views that she has to overcome during the race. This could be cultural, historical, personal, education, career development or media portrayal of a woman. More so, women do not support other women vying for political leadership like the male candidates do.

Chapter 4, article 27 (3) of the Kenyan constitution clearly states  ‘Women and men have the right to equal treatment, including the right to equal opportunities in political, economic, cultural and social spheres.’

Women leaders in the corporate world and local communities find it a challenge to be fully accepted. This is even harder for those that get into political leadership. A woman has to work harder to prove her worth and respect as compared to her male colleagues. It is hard enough for them to be nominated from respective political parties.

Also previous research showed that predominantly communal qualities such as being nice and compassionate are associated with women. While being assertive and competitive are associated with men. Hence women are expected to be soft and motherly in their leadership ventures.

 

It can be done

Over the years there are women who have succeeded in politics though the journey has not been smooth sailing. Since we attained our independence the rate of women who venture into politics as compared to men has been discouraging. A political career is not for the faint hearted. We have leadership personalities like Dr. Julia Ojiambo, Nyiva Mwendwa, Martha Karua, and Prof Wangari Maathai among others.

These remarkable Kenyan women leaders have experienced stereotypes though some more than others. For instance, former assistant minister Wangari Maathai had to endure a humiliating divorce and adultery accusations from her husband in 1979. Her husband alleged that she was too strong-minded for a woman and that he was unable to control her. As if this was not enough she had to contend in court for using his name. In 2004 while still an assistant minister she put Kenya on the map after she won the Nobel Peace Prize for her work in conserving the environment. The world celebrated her, yet she was not promoted to be a full minister. Others like Starehe MP Margaret Wanjiru had to go through invasion of privacy to a point of cancelling her wedding.

These women were not accorded due respect in their personal lives as compared to the male colleagues. Because of what the society dictates as what women ought to be. It is yet to fully accept and embrace women leaders.

The media can also be a fan of these stereotypes towards women. Many movies, soap operas and magazines undervalue women to sex symbols, and vulnerable individuals in need of male approval and attention. Very rarely will they emphasize a well balanced female character that is career focused, family oriented and successful. It is often quoted that women are the weaker sex. On the contrary women are strong and are capable of achieving just as men can.

Kofi Annan concurs that “…there is no tool for development more effective than the education of girls.” Literate women are more aware of their rights, are open to vie for political positions and fight against stereotypes. Because of illiteracy levels, during the voting period most of the assisted voters are women and they are just given directions on whom to vote for by men.

In schools the education system needs to be reformed in order to cater for the needs of girls. In many homes especially in the rural areas the girl is expected to cook, clean, and take care of other siblings. At the same time that girl is expected to perform well in school.

Today there are more women who are educated and have vast career experience as men, yet research has shown that women are viewed as less capable as compared to their male counterparts.

Very few women take the plunge in politics; many are not willing to face the challenges and problems associated with being stereotyped. Therefore there is no true representation of a large part of the population. It’s ironical that the biggest percentage of voters is the least represented.

Interestingly women also don’t support each other in politics, if they would; women emancipation would be a won battle. Just as Germaine Greer a writer once said “Men rule because women let them. Male misogyny is real enough, and it has dreadful consequences, but female misogyny is what keeps women out of power.”

InKenya, women are majority voters yet they don’t vote in large numbers for other women. They are not accepting to women candidates and judge them harshly. This makes it very easy for the male candidates to win political positions.

Stereotypes against women in politics may take years to overcome. More women need to be encouraged and supported as they join political leadership. With time the society will fully accept and appreciate these incredible women. They will not have to validate themselves any more.

Role of NDI in promoting women participation in political leadership

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By Florence Gichoya

As years go by, more women are taking part in political positions from the grassroots to the national level. It is imperative to sensitize the society that the women can deliver if given an opportunity to lead. More women need to be encouraged to get in the political system. With increased numbers the society will gradually be convinced that women can achieve citizen’s interests even better than men.

There are many organizations that deal with educating, sensitizing and empowering women who are interested in running for political positions. One such organization is National Democratic Institute (NDI) which is nonprofit, nonpartisan, nongovernmental organization that has supported democratic institutions all over the world for over 20 years including Kenya. NDI promotes openness and accountability in the government. The organization empowers citizens to articulate the leadership concerns hence promote citizen participation.

NDI has the mandate to work with all the 47 registered parties. One of their major focus is affirmative action. They encourage parties to advocate for women leadership in branches at the counties in order to have an impact in the grassroots levels.

County level capacity building is achieved by strong presence of the political parties in the counties. Developing these branches facilitates women programs that focus on training potential candidates.

In regard to women participation in leadership, NDI is at the forefront in conducting training for potential female candidates. They however have to come through their respective political parties. These capacity building trainings are designed to equip and create opportunities for the aspiring candidates with the motivation, proper skills and networks to position themselves to successfully run for political office and win elections.

It is important to have gender mainstreaming in the 47 registered parties. In the current 10th  parliament women comprise 10% of the 222 members of parliament. It is this reason that the constitution emphasizes on equality in order to get rid of the existing disparity of women leadership as compared to men

That is why NDI and other organizations take the role of training members of these parties in order to increase citizen participation especially in women. This is actioned from the grassroots up to the national level.

NDI also publishes an e-newsletter called Win with Women; this newsletter highlights stories on women participation in selected countries around the world.

Another organization that is active in empowering women political candidates is the Centre for Multiparty and Democracy (CMD). CMD was founded by Kenyan political parties in early 2004. Its main objective is to enhance gender equity and effective participation and representation at all levels in the management of political parties.

There have been instances where potential women candidates have approached these organizations for help yet they are not registered in any political party. This is very unfortunate because many women lack awareness on the importance of being a registered member of a political party, yet a lot of emphasis is placed on training potential candidates on how to prepare them and be fully equipped for leadership.

Challenges of potential women candidates

Women are subjected to numerous challenges especially socio-economically. In almost all communities inKenya, women are socialized from a tender age that men are the leaders and this affects their attitudes towards leadership. There have been situations where men determine the family’s choice of candidate during elections. Political campaigns also require a lot of money and economically women are disadvantaged as compared to men because in most families men control the family resources therefore the women don’t have access to these resources in order to vie for political positions.

Moreover there are still communities that frown upon women interested in taking up leadership positions. For instance Nyanza, Western and North Eastern regions do not have elected women MP’s in the current parliament. There are only nominated female MP’s.

There are hardly any mentoring programmes for inexperienced women aspirants. That is why NDI organizes training sessions through political parties to mentor young women interested in venturing into politics. They gain more confidence to even run against the veteran politicians.

Is it possible to translate women’s socio support network to political support?

Women have a very strong socio support system, for instance there are very many ‘chamas’ or self help groups in almost all communities from all walks of life. Women support each other in business, purchasing properties, paying school fees and taking loans. They also support each other socially like family events, religious activities; however this network support does not translate in the politics arena.

There needs to be a support system for these potential women candidates. More emphasis should be put in to mentor them because many have the desire but lack the necessary skills, money and will power to compete with other male aspirants.

In addition to that the women aspirants need to plan early for their campaigns because they demand a lot of money and time. Organizing fundraising activities and mobilizing volunteers at least a year before elections is a strong driving force for a successful election.

NDI and other like-minded organizations and the Kenyan constitution fully support the women venturing into politics. They no longer have an excuse and should make use of these available opportunities.