“WOMEN need to shift from thinking ‘I am not ready to do that’ to thinking ‘I want to do that and I will learn by doing it’,” says Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg.
According to Panos Institute Southern Africa, leadership in Zambia is a male-dominated arena particularly in terms of numbers of people holding decision-making positions at various levels of society. The gender disparity in leadership creates difficulty for women to thrive as they compete with men (who are already dominating) but they also have to deal with the deep-rooted beliefs and attitude that leadership is for men.
The Zambia National Women’s Lobby is a non-partisan, non-profit making and membership driven non-governmental organisation committed to the equal representation and participation of women in decision making at all levels. ZNWL was formed in 1991 to respond to the persistent exclusion of women from decision-making processes and the increasing gender imbalances in the representation of women in government departments, political parties, the public and private sectors.
The mandate of the ZNWL is to promote the representation and participation of women at all levels of decision making through advocacy, lobbying and capacity building of women in order to enable them influence decisions on development issues.
ZNWL has been conducting capacity building workshops for female leaders across the country. Last week, ZNWL organised a workshop in Lusaka for female councillors and mayors. The aim of the workshop was to strengthen the capacities of female mayors and council chairpersons for effective leadership and service delivery. The engagement with female civic leaders at the highest level was part of ZNWL’s continued effort to promote women’s effective leadership and participation in decision-making processes.
“You will agree with me that women are an integral part of any leadership system and local government is no exception. Therefore, enhanced women’s participation in decision making at local government will increase knowledge of the community’s problems and bring to the table new resources and energies to improve service delivery. This is because women’s involvement in community affairs is cross cutting and often at a deeper level. Further, women’s priorities are different. This then means that women in leadership at local government level brings a different perspective which is necessary as policies are being formulated on issues such as where resources are channelled ,”ZNWL Lusaka board member Sylvia Nyambe said during the official opening of the workshop.
“Therefore, our firm belief is that if we have many women in leadership and decision-making positions who are well equipped to serve, some of the challenges that we speak of today will be a thing of the past. This workshop hopes to provide a platform for us to focus on issues of common interest. We are therefore hoping to explore ways of identifying priorities, and addressing the various challenges in ways that are systematic and acceptable to the people. It is the desire of the Zambia National Women’s Lobby that we not only have women occupying leadership positions but we have effective women leaders who are committed to serving their communities and mentoring other women who will take over from them so that there is no shortage of female leaders or leaders in-waiting.”
Out of 115 mayors and council chairpersons across Zambia, only 10 are women.
Some of the mayors and council chairpersons who attended the workshop shared their thoughts about women leadership in Zambia.
Chimwemwe Banda, 31 is the newly elected council chairperson of Chasefu district.
Banda says it is always important for a country to have many women in leadership and decision-making positions.
“Knowing that Chasefu is a newly created district, we were part of Lundazi but we have now been separated and Chasefu is on its own now. I was privileged to be adopted in Chasefu and I am now the first female council chairperson for the district under the ruling Patriotic Front. Since my election, everything has been moving well. As a district, we are starting from the scratch actually. It is different because we are not like these other districts that have been in existence for some time and have had council chairpersons before. For me, it’s a new district and we are just starting from somewhere; infrastructure… we are starting from scratch…as a district we are also happy because we are going to see development in the area because it is a newly created district. Since I am the first council chairperson, I am happy because everyone in future will say I did this and that,” Banda said.
She says being a young woman embarking on a political career is a challenge.
‘ZNWL has helped me refocus’
“During campaigns, men would come out and say, ‘you cannot give a new field to a woman. You have to give it to a man because a man has the strength to cultivate a new field.’ It was a challenge because most people were against me handling a new district, not knowing that I had the capacity to work and handle a new district. My party had confidence in me and they knew that I would deliver [and] that is why they adopted me. As women in politics…in Zambia where we have very few women participating in politics, the ZNWL has taken it upon itself to come and educate, strengthen, and teach us so that we can continue in politics. It’s not just about joining politics today and tomorrow you give up…it is about staying in politics and making a difference,” Banda says.
She says the ZNWL has helped her understand her role in politics, how to handle her district and how to make a difference in politics.
“ZNWL has helped me refocus. This capacity building workshop has helped me relook at my vision and see how I can change certain things to help me grow in politics. I am grateful that ZNWL has found time to organise capacity building workshops for women in politics. I know that this will not only benefit me but also other women out there wishing to join politics. It is unfortunate that women are scared of politics in this country. The problem is when you are growing up as a girl, all you know is house chores and getting married. That is why women think that politics is for men…I understand why women are scared. Women who decide to join politics are not even given the support that they need from their own families, which is so unfortunate. If you don’t have support, you cannot go anywhere and you are drained physically and emotionally,” Banda said.
“Women leaders are the best because we always know what people, both men and women need in society. I know that being council chairperson is a huge task and so I have resolved to be focused, hard-working and determined. I will not be easily shaken because I know why I am here and what I am supposed to do for my district. I would also like to thank ZNWL for supporting me. ZNWL was there during my campaigns and I was really encouraged to see my fellow women supporting me when there were other people who did not believe in me.”
‘Education first; marriage can come later’
Christine Kalumbwa was elected Masaiti Council chairperson through a by-election in 2017.
“I have been in office for one year. I was given all the support by the PF. As a woman, although I face challenges, but I am a woman and I’m used to challenges from the home so it’s just a continuation. As women in leadership positions, we need to be courageous, and put God first. I am a mayor of 17 wards – 15 are male councillors and it’s a challenge because it’s a male dominated council. But as a strong woman, you can face and overcome these challenges. My campaign was hectic because it was full of male candidates but I managed to win. The party really helped, that is why I am in this position. I did my best and we went through, winning in all the wards. This has been my second workshop with ZNWL and it has been an eye-opener. Most of the things we are learning are new but the ZNWL has organised these workshops to help us women on how we can be operating in our offices,” Kalumbwa says.
“During this workshop, I have learnt that we are supposed to embrace the media. I didn’t know and some of us were scared of journalists but now we know that we are supposed to befriend the media because the media can help us inform the people what we are doing. I am really thankful for what the ZNWL is doing. Culturally, women are supposed to be in the background but if you are in a leadership position as this one, we are supposed to be in the forefront. You are supposed to show your leadership skills and since we had that background of just being in the kitchen…we were scared of participating in politics.”
Kalumbwa says she was a full-time house wife before joining politics.
She says her husband encouraged her to try politics and that he has always been supportive.
“I have a very loving husband. Times have changed, we have people to look after – children, relatives and we can’t just wait for our husbands to provide everything. We have to chip in and help where we can as women. Those days of relying on our husbands for everything are gone. We need to help each other. In my district, Masaiti, it is a rural district and there is this notion that girls have to get married at a tender age. We go out to educate the girls that times have changed, they need to go to school and find employment. Who knew that becoming a council chairperson, a councillor you have to have a grade 12 certificate? So this is what I always tell the girl child. I always tell them that even if you have a child, you can still go back to school like I did. I completed grade 12, had children but still went back to university to obtain my degree and I am working on another degree,” Kalumbwa says.
“I always encourage the girl child out there to put education first. marriage can come later. Inasmuch as we want our children to get married, they have to be educated so that they are independent. For the upcoming politicians, we also tell them continue with their education. I applaud the ZNWL and we are very thankful for setting up these workshops because we are learning a lot. We know most of the things that we didn’t know. I encourage them to continue doing what they are doing. We are 115 districts in Zambia and only 10 are female mayors but through ZNWL we are confident that the number will continue to rise.”
‘Women should take the challenge’
Meanwhile, Annie Brown, the newly elected Chilanga Council chairperson says women should stand up and rise to the occasion.
Brown says women should not feel that politics is just for men because there was need for the country to have equal representation of both men and women in decision-making positions.
She says women may even deliver development better than men.
“For me it was a bit different because I got a lot of support. It was a by-election and most of the ministers, the President were there to support me. 11 people applied and I was adopted because they had confidence in me. I am really grateful to the President and the party. I am newly elected…I am still learning because my predecessor died so there hasn’t been any handover. I rely on my council secretary to take me through. It is a very new experience. Women should stand up and take the challenge just like we have seen women doing different things in different fields. One thing in politics is that when you are a woman and you want to join politics, people will say you are a prostitute. But that is not the situation because I started politics in MMD. When it lost I joined PF but I have never had a boyfriend in both political parties. You just have to be focused and know what you are there for,” Brown says.
“I just want to encourage women to even start at very low grass root level, like branches…ZNWL has taught us a lot and the topic I enjoyed most was on the media. I now know the importance of the media. It is through the media that people will get to know what I am doing. The media plays a very important role in our work as politicians. ZNWL is doing a very good job and I would like to encourage them to have more of such workshops.”
‘More women should join politics’
Muyambango Sheba is Lukulu Town Council chairperson.
She was elected in 2016.
“As a woman in politics, so far, it has been okay though with some challenges. My district is a rural one and the most critical issue is the main road that connects Kaoma and Lukulu and goes beyond North Western Province. Since independence it has never been tarred and it is becoming unreliable. Being a female council chairperson, I am the first one to be elected into this office under the new system so we are facing a lot of challenges,” Sheba says.
She says her campaign in 2016 was easy because she was being helped by the area member of parliament.
“Some people were asking me why I wanted to become a female council chairperson. Some were saying ‘how can a married woman involve herself in politics’. But thank God I didn’t listen to those comments and my husband had no issues with that. My husband has been supportive from the beginning,” she says.
Sheba says she had learnt much from ZNWL and appealed to the organisation to continue helping women in decision-making positions.
She encouraged women not to be scared of joining politics, saying that the number of female politicians was low.
“Women are more than men in Zambia but when it comes to politics, there are very few women getting these decision-making positions and it is worrying. I want to encourage more women to join politics. ZNWL should continue encouraging women to join politics…even political parties themselves, when it comes to adoptions, they do away with women and this should not continue. Men have become very selfish and I want to appeal to political parties to adopt more women when it is time for elections. The other problem is that most women are not financially sound and some of these positions need money and women are left out because they have no money to bribe those in charge of adoptions. But men should not look at how financially sound women are in order for them to be adopted,” Sheba says.
She says female politicians always make a difference in any society.