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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.
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.
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?
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By Florence Gichoya
My journey to Kimathi Location in Murang’a East district in Murang’a County was an epic. It was during the rainy season and the villagers were busy tending their farms and removing all the unwanted weeds in the fertile soils. The people were of good cheer and very friendly, they easily gave me directions to their chief’s homestead and even one offered to accompany me.
When I first met Chief Mary Wambui Maina I was impressed by her warm heartedness and welcoming cheer, very friendly and easy to talk to. It was no wonder the only woman chief in the Murang’a East District is a role model for the women in the district and in her country Kenya.
Chief Mary has being a chief for one year and no doubt she has accomplished a lot and brought many positive changes in her locality. Her journey to government leadership was far from easy. Born in the location over 40 years ago in Kimathi location her family struggled to get her through school and she had to drop out for one year in form three because of lack of school fees. But with determination and strong will she finished high school in 1986 and achieved 3rd division. However due to lack of school fees she was not able to further her studies due to financial constraints.
Just as Tommy Lasorda said that “The difference between the impossible and the possible lies in a person’s determination.” Mary may have been down, but she was not out. For more than 10 years she involved herself with community projects and was an active community leader. She was consulted by the community for various issues. It was also in this period where she involved herself in women self-help groups and was their leader in that capacity.
In the year 1999 she applied for the position of sub-chief. She had confidence that with her vast experience in community leadership she would meet the government expectations. Mary Maina was appointed by the government to head the Rurii sub-location. At the time the Rurii people wondered whether a woman would manage the position. It was a first in the locality and Mary was determined to proof her detractors wrong. She says that self-confidence and determination that she could do it propelled her to the people of Rurii.
When she took over leadership her biggest challenge was widespread brewing of chang’aa (illicit brew). Together with a cooperative community she embarked on flashing out the activity by dismantling the brewing dens. Eventually the brewing of illicit brew became a thing of the past. With the success of curbing illicit brew, Chief Mary realized that unemployed youth who had been engaging in drunkenness were idle and desperate. She encouraged them and implored them to start a self-help group and engage in the sand harvesting business which is readily available in the locality.
With an impressive work record for 10 years, in the year 2010 she was appointed chief of Kimathi location, the only woman chief in Murang’a East District. She heads two sub-locations Rurii and Githuri. In addition to Chief Mary representing the government in Kimathi Location; Mary’s daily activities also include attending government meetings, advising women, farmers, parents, students, solving domestic disputes (which include inheritance wrangles, land disputes among others.
Mary believes whatever a man can do a woman can do even better. Women need to come out of their comfort zones and embrace leadership. Women need to know that they can be capable leaders not just because they are women but because they have to be self-assured that they can lead. Women should be validated and given opportunities to lead.
There is no position in life without its challenges. For Chief Mary for instance there are numerous orphans and vulnerable children in the location where the government is supporting them. There are also old people who are too weak to take care of themselves however the government has rolled out a plan to provide food and basic medical care for them.
Also, in terms of education the people of Kimathi have taken advantage of the free primary education. However, many still lack school fees and school necessities like school uniforms. Mary has mobilized the community and local churches whereby they organize for fundraising activities to support the bright students from poor families. They have being able to send many children to the universities which was rare a while back.
Chief Mary’s inspiring life assents Diane Mariechild wise words that “A woman is the full circle. Within her is the power to create, nurture and transform”. She affirms that when women validate themselves they will be proud of their jobs or whatever they do for a living. They should know that they can achieve whatever they set their eyes on and should not despise themselves; eventually they will see and enjoy the fruits of their hard work. Ultimately the society will have educated children, successful and fulfilled communities.
She is very thankful to her employer – Government of Kenya which has set a favorable atmosphere to work well and is very supportive of women leaders. She is also indebted to her supportive husband and two sons.