WE have a chance of making 2022 a successful year, says Non-Governmental Organisations Coordinating Council chairperson Mary Mulenga.
Reflecting on the year 2021, Mulenga said the election of the new dawn administration provides a ray of hope that things would change for the better for majority Zambians.
She said Zambians were hopeful that the new dawn administration would facilitate a process that will ensure Zambia has a constitution that stands a test of time.
Mulenga urged the government to pursue constitutional reforms to ensure it addresses the gaps in the Amended Constitution of 2016.
“We continue to appeal to the new dawn administration to facilitate for a national referendum for the inclusion of the expanded Bill of Rights in the new constitution that will guarantee social economic rights of citizens. As a country we have missed opportunities to enact a constitution that would embody the fundamental principles and wishes of the majority Zambians,” she said.
Mulenga said the year 2021, just like 2020, was a difficult year from different fronts, as could be seen from the way all navigated the COVID-19 pandemic’s lockdowns, work-from-home dynamics and partial reopenings and operations in an unstable economy and highly contested election year.
“Unexpected moments in life happen, but our mind has the power to interpret those moments in a way that either helps us or hurts us. You can choose to view what happened in the past year as an opportunity to learn from and develop, or something that prevents you from moving forward,” she said. “Through learning the lessons from our experiences in 2021 and changing accordingly, we have a chance of making 2022 a successful year. We look forward to a Zambia that will be mutually beneficial for girls, boys, women and men in matters of national development; a society were gender equality will become a reality.”
She said 2021, however, was not all doom and gloom.
Mulenga said 2021 was also the year where women leaders across the continent continued to shatter all manner of systemic ceilings to occupy top leadership and decision-making positions.
She said Zambia continued to register inequalities between women and men with regard to participation in various development areas.
Mulenga said the low number of women in key decision-making positions continued to manifest at all levels – a situation which did not change even after the 2021 general election.
“On the other hand, the low socio-economic status of women also continued to impact negatively on the status of women with poverty levels still carrying the female face. According to the Living Conditions Monitoring Survey (2015), national average poverty levels stand at 55 per cent, out of which 60 per cent are mostly female headed households,” she said. “Access to health services was also not favourable on the part of women and girls who continued to experience challenges in the area of access to reproductive health services. Reference here can be made to the number of rural health facilities which continue to have limited bed spaces and few medical personnel to provide the needed maternity services.”
Mulenga said access to quality education remained a serious gap in 2021 going by the continued low progression rates for female learners including financial challenges faced by most households to sponsor their children to school.
She welcomed the announcement of free education up to secondary level in government schools and hoped the bursary scheme that had been devolved to constituency level would also target the most vulnerable and marginalised learners.
Mulenga said it was also NGOCC’s desire to see the setting up of the Gender Equity and Equality Commission which had been gazetted by the new dawn administration.
She said the commission was very critical in gender programming at national level.
And Mulenga said NGOCC remained deeply concerned with the high debt levels with the stock of public external debt amounting to US $14.71 billion.
“It is therefore, NGOCC’s expectation that the new dawn administration will commit to managing the debt discourse, including broader consultations locally while pursuing the IMF programme and getting on a path of debt restructuring,” she said.
“It is a truism that if the total debt stock is not well managed, it has the potential to hamper the implementation of the well-intended inclusive economic growth and overall national development trajectory by the new government.”
Mulenga said for a long time, Zambians had been expecting more practical measures to address their current socio-economic challenges.
She said it was also NGOCC’s aspiration that the impact on the poor and vulnerable, mostly women and children, who depend on government’s service delivery in mainly the health and education sectors, would be ameliorated in the process.
Meanwhile, Mulenga said sexual and gender based violence impacts women and girls more than men and boys.
She said the 2021 gender based violence disaggregated data indicates that 2,980 child victims were abused countrywide representing 24.0 per cent of all the victims of GBV.
“Out of the 2,980 children, 2,450 were girls representing 82.2 per cent while 530 were boys representing 17.8 per cent of all abused child victims respectively,” Mulenga noted. “Additionally, incidences of child marriages unfortunately continued to be on the upswing. The State has a responsibility to ensure that it addresses these high incidences of SGBV. It is therefore our hope that the new dawn administration will prioritise the full implementation of the anti-GBV Act of 2011.”
She also said NGOCC was part of the technical working group constituted to oversee the repeal of the NGO Act of 2016 to bring about a self-regulatory mechanism for NGOs.
Mulenga said while the process of drafting the same was finalised, NGOCC was saddened that the piece of legislation remained in abeyance with government yet to provide the next steps.
“We call upon the new dawn administration to progress this process so as to assure free civil space and bring in certainty regarding the operations of NGOs in Zambia. On the other hand, the selective application of the public order Act continued to negatively impact on the advocacy activities of civil society organisations,” she said. “It is NGOCC’s hope that this aspect will receive urgent attention by the new dawn administration as per policy pronouncement by the new leadership to embrace freedom of expression and association.”
Mulenga said NGOCC continued to forge working partnerships with the media in all its forms through various programmes.
“Generally, there was a marked increase in the number of women who were profiled in the run up and during the 2021 election campaign activities. It is NGOCC’s aspiration to continue strengthening working relations with the media and to ensure that media personnel appreciate the gender agenda, going forward.”