Women Saving the Earth

Thirteenth in the series for 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based Violence. Photo: NASA

December 7, 1972 – On the last Apollo mission to the moon, astronauts took a photo now known as the “Blue Marble” photo – very likely the most reproduced photo in history – the first ever “whole earth” photo.

As a much more recent astronaut – Karen Nyberg, the 50th woman in space — stated: “In the future, I would like to be more of an advocate for animal conservation. Every single part of the Earth reacts with every other part. It’s one thing. Every little animal is important in that ecosystem. [Seeing the planet from above] makes you realize that, and makes you want to be a little more proactive in keeping it that way. If I could get every Earthling to do one circle of the Earth, I think things would run a little differently.

We will not all have an opportunity to go into orbit, and if Karen is right, our planet is the worse off for it. Too many of us interpret the biblical assignment of “dominion over the earth” to mean “domination” rather than “stewardship.” But we can all take action to halt both the violence against women and the violence against the Earth.

Women have been in the lead of the environmental movement from the start. Rachel Carson wrote the 1962 book Silent Spring which many credit with launching the entire global environmental movement. In fact, one of my mentors credits that book with launching women’s ongoing engagement with the UN system to force world leaders to confront global issues. Another high profile woman at the UN was the late US Congresswoman Bella Abzug who co-founded and led WEDO – the Women’s Environmental and Development Organization – which still continues that legacy today.

Chipko Movement, 1973.

The Chipko Movement – known globally as the “tree huggers” in the Indian Himalayas – is an inspiring example of how indigenous (tribal) grassroots women literally put their bodies on the line to preserve the forests from government-sanctioned logging. The modern chipko movement dates to 1973, but it has a history going back, according to Indian Express, to 1730 AD when in Khejarli village of Rajasthan, 363 people of the Bishnoi tribe sacrificed their lives to save khejri trees.

In communities around the world, women have been the traditional guardians of nature. In our lifetime, real champions for the earth have included Nobel Prize winner Wangari Maathai. Her Green Belt Movement has planted more than 30 million trees on public and private land.

In 2017, “the Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network (WECAN) brought together indigenous women from around the world to discuss the effects of climate change in their communities and their work towards sustainable solutions.”

There is strong theoretical background linking women’s rights and environmentalism. In 1974, the French feminist Fraçoise d’Eaubonne published her book Le Féminism ou la Mort which linked male oppression of women to oppression of the earth and coined the term Ecofeminism. In 1993, Maria Mies and Vandana Shiva published the book Ecofeminism, which carried the analysis further to critique modern science and capitalism as reflecting this same patriarchal mindset.

In his address at the second International Conference on Nutrition, Pope Francis quoted one of his mentors as having echoed a theme of gender and environmentalism – “God the Father may always forgive you, but if you damage the climate, Mother Nature will kill you!”

Gender-based violence extends beyond the brutality against women and girls, to violence against Mother Earth. We must all take action to protect her.  

Is God a Feminist?

Fourteenth in my series for 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based Violence. Photo – public domain – of the painting by Francisco Rizi.

December 8 is observed by some Christians as the “Feast of the Immaculate Conceptionand honors Mary, the mother of Jesus of Nazareth. Mary plays a major role in both the Christian New Testament and in the Holy Koran.

Throughout the ages, religion has been twisted to justify a broad spectrum of ungodly behavior – and perhaps most tragically – violence against women. From the Salem Witch Burnings of 1693, to ritual suicide of widows in India (Sati)  to the kidnapping and rape of school girls in Nigeria – some of humanity’s worst behavior has been done in God’s name.

If you are reading this, you would probably agree that violence against women and girls in all forms is “an abomination in the eyes of the Lord.”

But is God feminist? That’s actually a fascinating question.

First – what is a feminist? Is it merely someone who believes in gender equality? No. It requires the recognition that inequality is not simply an accident of history – it is based on intentional injustice that must be countered. As my college dorm-mate, the feminist bell hooks wrote in Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center: “‘Feminism is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression.”

Ten years later, she expanded on that definition in Feminism is for Everyone, “I love [that definition] because it so clearly states that the movement is not about being anti-male. It makes it clear that the problem is sexism. And that clarity helps us remember that all of us, female and male, have been socialized from birth on to accept sexist thought and action. As a consequence, females can be just as sexist as men. And while that does not excuse or justify male domination, it does mean that it would be naive and wrong minded for feminist thinkers to see the movement as simplistically being for women and against men. To end patriarchy (another way of naming the institutionalized sexism), we need to be clear that we are all participants in perpetuating sexism until we change our minds and hearts, until we let go of sexist thought and action and replace it with feminist thought and action.”

Second – what is God? There is today a movement within virtually every religious tradition known as Feminist Theology. There is a website – “Feminist Theology 101” – that I highly recommend. Its authors emphasize that Feminist Theology is a “highly diverse ‘umbrella’ term, and we revel in the diversity.”  And the site emphasizes that “feminist theological scholars seek to address the social problems and structures of oppression of their day.”

My personal introduction to this subject was while in college when another school friend wrote her thesis on female aspects of divinity with  “Mary and Isis.”

But it became even more interesting about 15 years ago in a conversation in Bangladesh with one of The Hunger Project’s local volunteers who explained to me – with great confidence – that Islam IS the religion of women’s liberation. She understood the Koran to say that women were three times more powerful than men, and that all the current misogyny among current practitioners is left-over from pre-Islamic Arabic culture.

Certainly, every concept of the divine I’m aware of appears to reflect our deepest aspirations for compassion, justice and equality. That spells feminism to me.

Guns make gender-based violence deadly.

Twelfth in a series for 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based Violence. Photo by by ZhengZhou of the sculpture “Non-Violence” by Carl Fredrik Reuterswärd, in front of UN headquarters at New York City.

December 6, 1989 was the Montreal massacre – a mass shooting at the École Polytechnique  specifically targeting feminists. Since then, December 6 has become a National Day of Remembrance, and has mobilized the Canadian gun control movement as well as the movement to end male violence against women. Their activism led to Canada’s federal government establishing the Panel on Violence Against Women in August 1991, and passage of Bill C-68, or the Firearms Act, in 1995, ushering in stricter gun control regulations.  

This spirit of remembrance and activism is continued by the “White Ribbon Campaign” in which men wear a white ribbon as a “pledge to never commit, condone or remain silent about violence against women and girls.”

TheTrace.org is a non-profit news service on gun violence in the United States. It provides a fact sheet – 12 Facts That Show How Guns Make Domestic Violence Even Deadlier. It states “domestic violence claims at least 2,000 lives each year. Seventy percent of the victims are women. More than half of the time, the weapon used to carry out an ‘intimate partner’ homicide… is a gun.” When guns are involved in domestic violence, they also kill numerous children as well as the police responding to the incidence.

From TheTrace.org

While the US has the highest rate of gun ownership in the world, there is currently a flood of “surplus” small military arms entering countries everywhere, particularly in Africa. To counter this, there is IANSA – the International Action Network on Small Arms. For example, it supports the African Union (AU) “Gun Amnesty Month” each September, to help collect some of Africa’s millions of illicit small arms and light weapons – giving citizens a chance to turn them in without fear of prosecution. It is part of the AU’s larger “Silence the Guns in Africa by the Year 2020.

Clearly, there is a link between overcoming the toxic masculinity that finds a misguided security in keeping handguns in the home, the importance of common-sense gun safety legislation and developing a culture of gender justice that respects the human rights of every woman and girl. On this National Day of Remembrance – whether Canadian or not – we can each learn more on how we can transcend patriarchy in our communities and our world.

Halting Sexual Abuse of People with Disabilities

Ninth in a series for 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based Violence. Photo: The Hunger Project-Bangladesh

December 3 is the International Day for People with Disabilities. According to the Minnesota website DisabilityJustice.org, “People with disabilities are sexually assaulted at nearly three times the rate of people without disabilities.” The site reports that 83% of women with disabilities will be sexually assaulted in their lives, and just 3% of those cases will be reported. Half ot these women have been assaulted more than 10 times. 50% of girls who are deaf have been sexually abused compared to 25% of girls who are hearing; 54% of boys who are deaf have been sexually abused in comparison to 10% of boys who are hearing.

At the beginning of 2018, NPR news began reporting on this “sexual assault epidemic no one talks about,” focusing on individuals with intellectual disabilities – where assault rates occur at 7 times the rate they do against people without disabilities – 12 times the rate for women.

The 2030 Agenda – the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted in 2015 – make a global commitment to “leave no one behind.” Today, the United Nations is issuing its “UN Flagship Report on Disability and Development 2018 – Realizing the SDGs by, for and with persons with disabilities”.  The report highlights the growing number of good practices that can create a more inclusive society in which people with disabilities can live independently.

Independence could prove crucial for halting sexual abuse. NPR found that the predators attacking people with disabilities were often their caregivers. Most caregivers in institutions are loving people, but for someone who is a predator, the situation is ideal – with individuals under their care totally dependent.

The Movement for Community-led Development is made up of groups working to empower all people to be authors of their own development – including those living with disabilities. Several of its members have received the Disability Inclusion Award from InterAction, which is the association of International relief and development NGOs based in the US. For example:

  • Mercy Corps addresses the special needs of the 10% of people with disabilities among refugees crossing from Syria into Jordan. Here is a heartwarming story of their success in enabling a 15-year-old girl with severe physical disabilities to return to school.
  • World Vision has published this guide on Best Practices in Disability Inclusion. For example, they recognize that the ability to provide wheelchairs is only part of the solution for those who need them. “It takes community engagement to not only support service provision but also ensure inclusive societies and environments.” They have also used the Citizen Voice and Action social accountability tool to support people with disabilities in six countries to demand appropriate services.

Other Movement members have teamed up with organizations with special technical skills in the inclusion of people with disabilities. For example, CBM International works with The Hunger Project, Save the Children and others applying its Community-based Rehabilitation approach to disability inclusive community development.

While the situation of abuse of people with disabilities is heartbreaking, addressing it in the era of the SDGs is gaining more and more international focus. To learn more, see:

Community Action to End Modern Slavery

Part 8 for 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based Violence. Photo: iStock.com/Favor of God

December 2, 2018 is the International Day for the Abolition of Slavery. Modern-day slavery is appallingly widespread. According to the UN more than 40 million people are in forced labor, including 4.8 million in forced sexual exploitation. Women and girls are disproportionately affected by forced labor, accounting for 99% of victims in the commercial sex industry, and 58% in other sectors.

What can be done? In November 2016, a new legally binding Protocol by the International Labor Organization (ILO) designed to strengthen global efforts to eliminate forced labor, entered into force. A global campaign is underway – The 50 for Freedom campaign – which aims to persuade at least 50 countries to ratify the Forced Labor Protocol by the end of 2019. To date, 27 have done so – and their website invites you to help petition the leaders of the world.

The 2018 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report by the US State Department highlights community action as an essential component of this global challenge. It states “National governments cannot do these things alone. Their commitments to this issue are more effectively realized in partnership with the communities that face it, including local authorities, NGOs and advocates, and individual community members who are often the eyes, ears, and hearts of the places they call home.”  The TIP report notes success stories in Nigeria, Nepal and in the US where local communities were key in intervening to halt trafficking.

During last September’s #JusticeForAll campaign, Holly Burkhalter of the International Justice Mission (IJM) published the example of the Released Bonded Laborers Associations (RBLAs). Organized in five districts of Tamil Nadu, India, RBLAs are made up of survivors of modern-day slavery in India. Although bonded labor is illegal in India, Burkhalter reports that 13.3 to 14.7 million people are literally slaving away in brick kilns, rice mills, textile factories and rock quarries across the country. Many have been transported hundreds or even thousands of miles from their homes by the traffickers – a strong barrier to their escape.

Burkhalter writes that the RBLAs “make an inestimable contribution to helping reintegrate newly released men, women and children into their home communities, which is essential for the restoration of people who may have been enslaved their entire lives.  The RBLAs, who have received training and support from International Justice Mission, the Madras School of Social Work, the Foundation for Sustainable Development (a grassroots association of scheduled tribes and castes) and others, help newly-released laborers to secure livelihood opportunities, enroll children in school, and link their communities to government services.”

Namati is an organization that trains “grassroots legal advocates” – sometimes called “barefoot lawyers” or “community paralegals.” It supports a network of organizations like IJM that share this approach.

Child sex slavery is perhaps the most horrific aspect of modern slavery, and illustrates how international interventions like the TIP report and local community advocacy can work together to make a difference. In the book Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, they tell the story of “Svay Pak, a Cambodian village that used to be one of the notorious places in the world for sex slavery. On Nick’s first visit, brothels there had seven- and eight-year-old girls for sale.” After the US State Department strongly criticized Cambodia in its TIP report – and IJM opened an office there, he reported seeing only 10% as many. “This is a sign,” they write, “that progress is possible.”

HIV/AIDS is Gender-based Violence

Part 7 for 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based Violence

December 1, 2018 – World AIDS Day: In the 1980s, the first cases of AIDS were a shock to everyone. It took months for top researchers to understand it. In Africa, where the pandemic became most widespread, the campaign to halt the spread of HIV/AIDS forced both women and men in rural and urban communities to rethink gender roles and other traditions that had prevailed for thousands of years.

Gender fueling the spread of HIV. In Africa, while males do not necessarily have any more sexual partners in a lifetime than men in other regions, they tend to have them concurrently. And women were socially conditioned to not say “no” to sex. In addition, in some areas, sex was part of traditional rituals.

Communities take up the challenge. In such situations, and particularly in a largely rural society, mere “messaging” is never enough. Organizations such as those in the Movement for Community-led Development, needed to launch massive campaigns to provide accurate education about HIV/AIDS to grassroots community leaders – or “animators” – who in turn would educate all the members of the community.

Beyond the Facts: While having people know the facts is crucial, it has also been necessary to create spaces where community members can analyze their own situation – identify their own barriers to halting the spread of HIV (basically their own gender analysis) -and launching their own solutions. In some cases, community members created solutions that the NGO community organizers would have never imagined. Here are some examples from Malawi, which has a high infection rate:

  • One group of women complained that they needed a way to control the use of condoms themselves. The animators had no idea there were such things as female condoms, until they contacted the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) and discovered such things did exist but “nobody wanted to use them.” The women were provided female condoms and – since they had asked for them – they felt they had “invented” them. They publicized them throughout their communities – spreading the word that “sex was better with them than with male condoms.”
  • In another village, there was a closely held tradition of cleansing the “spirit of death” from a home after a man had died, by having someone have sex with the widow – an obvious disaster when the man died of AIDS. The elders said “we have to remove the spirit of death” but concluded they could create a “new tradition” of having a married couple of that family have sex in the home.
  • Campaigns were held to promote voluntary testing and antiretroviral (ARV) treatment, which was widely successful but was not taking hold in one community, with no explanation. The community members carried out some very private interviews, and learned that the local health workers was not being confidential about test results. He was fired, and the community animators informed everyone that in the other communities there had been no problem with confidentiality, and trust was restored.

Living Positively: Initially, microfinance groups in Malawi were reluctant to loan to HIV-Positive people, on the assumption these people would not have long to live – despite the fact that ARVs were becoming widely available. To overcome this stigma, “Living Positive”with HIV support groups were established, and microfinance organizations reserved a special part of their capital for loans to those groups.

Investing in Community Health. The massive international effort to fight HIV/AIDS initially had the unfortunate side effect of pulling the already-scarce health professionals out of the community health system to focus on HIV/AIDS. Now, the world is coming to recognize that even “single disease” campaigns must intentionally focus on strengthening the overall community health system, and engage community members every step of the way.

Ownership and agency. As Mahatma Gandhi wrote, whatever action we contemplate, we must think of the face of the poorest person we have ever seen, and ask ourselves whether the action we take will restore her to control over her own life and destiny. Applying this wisdom has proven invaluable in the fight against HIV/AIDS in Africa – it was proven again in the response to Ebola (link) and Malaria (link) – and it is a mandate we must apply to all development activities.

Women on the Front Lines of Peace and Security

Sixth in a series for 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based Violence. Photo: UN Peace Keeping.

Today, November 30, is Benin National Day. What does that have to do with Women, Peace and Security? Well – Benin’s history features the rather famous all-female military regiment of the Kingdom of Dahomey (now present-day Benin). These women warriors fought in wars with the French. The French eventually prevailed, and disbanded the regiment.

Rape as a weapon: Fast-forward to the 4th World Conference for Women in Beijing in 1995, held just at the end of the Bosnian war – a conflict that brought rape as a strategic weapon of war to television screens around the world. This kind of hideous war crime had happened since antiquity, but in the 20th century was carried out on a massive scale, including the “comfort women” sex slaves of the Japanese army in World War II, and the rape of hundreds of thousands of Bangladeshi women by Pakistani troops during the Bangladesh war for independence.

War disproportionately affects women. In today’s conflicts, 70% of casualties are civilians, many are women and children. Many representatives from organizations that now make up the Movement for Community Led Development attended the Beijing World Conference on Women, and met women who were survivors of the mass rapes in Bosnia. The effects of war on women became one of the 12 planks of the Beijing Platform for Action,

Women at the forefront in conflict-affected communities: Sarah Taylor of the International Peace Institute recently wrote:  “In many of the world’s most intransigent conflicts, women are mobilized to address the most urgent issues in their communities. Syrian women are negotiating humanitarian relief at the local level and are in the top ranks of the Syrian opposition negotiating team. Women in Central African Republic mediate between local armed groups… In Myanmar, Rohingya women are documenting the crimes carried about by the Tatmadaw [Myanmar armed forces] and women are negotiating ceasefires in Kachin State.” Yet, “women are also overwhelmingly excluded from efforts to prevent, resolve, and rebuild from complex crises.”

Women, Peace and Security: Just five years after Beijing, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1325, which is now the battle cry for women’s leadership on this issue.  It reaffirms “the important role of women in the prevention and resolution of conflicts and in peace-building, and stressing the importance of their equal participation and full involvement in all efforts for the maintenance and promotion of peace and security, and the need to increase their role in decision-making with regard to conflict prevention and resolution.” To date 79 countries have National Action Plans for implementing the resolution.

The time is now to step up action: Sarah Taylor concludes: “one of the boldest steps the global community can make is to truly upend how it approaches peace: to move away from ideas of merely including women in broken processes, and to move towards creating necessary systemic changes, built on and unleashing women’s leadership.” Each of us has a role – in every context – to ensure that women are in full and at least equal leadership roles in all decisions that affect people’s lives.

Women Human Rights Defenders

Fifth in a series for 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based Violence

I am always deeply inspired by each of the heroic women and men who have served as United Nations High Commissioners for Human Rights. The High Commissioner’s “To Do” list is horrific, dealing personally and skillfully with one brutal situation after another. (Many people confuse the High Commissioner with the Human Rights Council. They are quite distinct.)

Our newest High Commissioner is Michelle Bachelet – former President of Chile and the first director of UN Women. I first met Ms. Bachelet when she hosted “The World Women Want” at the Rio+20 Earth Summit in 2012 (my photo above). I found her to be immensely personable with everyone she encountered. She will need every ounce of that to make progress in our world!

Today, November 29, is International Women Human Rights Defenders Day. To mark this occasion, UN top experts issued this statement,  including in part: “The current global context of unchecked authoritarianism as well as the rise of populism, of corporate power and of fundamentalist groups are contributing towards closing the space for civil society. This is being done through the enactment of laws and practices that effectively impede human rights work…”

“In addition to the risks of threats, attacks and violence faced by all human rights defenders, women human rights defenders are exposed to specific risks such as sexual violence, defamation, intimidation, including against their family members, in order to deter them from continuing their valuable work. In 2017, Front Line Defenders recorded the killings of 44 women human rights defenders, an increase from 40 in 2016 and 30 in 2015.”

The group Front Line Defenders has been named winner of the 2018 United Nations Human Rights Prize. From regional offices around the world, it offers both long-term and emergency support for Human Rights Defenders.

In truth, though, each of us has the responsibility to defend human rights, and defend the defenders.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) – which celebrates its 70th Anniversary on December 10th – puts this squarely in each of our courts. “Every individual and every organ of society, keeping this Declaration constantly in mind, shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms.”

In his introduction to the 2015 printing of the UDHR, then-Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon wrote, “Let us ensure that those people who most need their rights protected (emphasis mine) are made aware that this Declaration exists — and that it exists for them. Let us each do our part to make these universal rights a living reality for every man, woman and child, everywhere.”

The victims of gender-based violence are clearly among those “who most need their rights protected” – in every community on earth. Indeed, it is at the community level where people must organize to demand and protect their rights. Our Movement for Community-led Development exists to develop the capacity of every community to succeed in this mission.

Denying Health Care is Violence

Third in a series for 16 Days of Activism against Gender-based Violence. Photo: The Hunger Project – women’s march at the Bissiga epicenter.

There is a heartbreaking scene in Christy Turlington’s documentary No Woman, No Cry (2010) as a rural woman walks 12 miles to a birthing center, and is then turned away because she had not eaten and the clinic had no food for her.

Turlington served on the US Delegation to the UN Commission on the Status of Women in 2012 and is the founder of Every Mother Counts. She has produced numerous documentaries on the lack of health care that currently leads to the needless death of hundreds of thousands of women each year.

If this isn’t gender-based violence, what is?

Fortunately, more and more countries are passing legislation ensuring universal, free access to safe childbirth and even some of the world’s poorest nations such as Niger and Ethiopia have trained tens of thousands of “front line” community health workers to reduce this egregious violation of women’s rights.

A key ingredient of Universal Health Coverage is for women in communities to know their rights and how to enforce them. An excellent example is at the Bissiga epicenter (a cluster of rural villages) in Burkina Faso. In 2016, the national government adopted a policy of free health care for pregnant women and children under five. The epicenter committee, trained by The Hunger Project, mobilized community members to further ensure awareness of this new policy, and women quickly began accessing these services.

However, in 2017, health center employees informed them that their funds had run out, and that if they wanted care they would have to pay for it. Community leaders contacted local health extension agents to assert the rights of women and children in their villages, and threatened to pursue the issue at the national level.

Thanks to empowered citizens willing to hold government accountable, they succeeded in halting what was essentially a demand for bribes by health agents. Women and children today exercise their rights to free basic health services.

Health is a human right. Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care…” Ensuring Universal Health Coverage, including universal access to sexual and reproductive health services, are targets of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.

Why tell this story today? Today marks two anniversaries that remind us that the quest for Universal Health Coverage is intimately tied to the quest to overcome patriarchy.

First: today Google’s home page “doodle” celebrates the birthday of Fe del Mundo, the first woman admitted to Harvard Medical School and founder of the first pediatric hospital in the Philippines.

Second: it was three years ago today that a mass shooting took place at a Planned Parenthood Health Center in Colorado Springs, killing three people and injuring nine. Planned Parenthood’s 700 health centers provide health care to 2.8 million Americans, mostly poor. Some 28 million Americans still lack health insurance in the wealthiest country on earth.

On this, the third of the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-based Violence, we all need the courage and determination of Fe del Mundo and the women of Burkina Faso to ensure that the right to health is guaranteed.

Decentralization, Health System and Gender Issues in Zambia

The Decentralisation Policy: In 2003, the Government launched the National Decentralisation Policy, which aims at devolving specified functions and authority, with matching resources, to local authorities at a district level. Under this environment, the role of the center would be to provide policy, strategic guidelines, overall coordination, monitoring, and evaluation while implementation and supervision of the programmes would be through the local authorities. The Decentralisation Implementation Plan was approved by the Cabinet in late 2009, and the country is heading towards a full-scale devolution.

Functions:- The new decentralized structure of governance that will be established by the law, through which services will be delivered. The new structure will comprise four levels namely National, provincial, District and sub-district.

Decentralisation will riot necessarily imply that all authority will be transferred to local authorities. The Central Government (including line ministries) will retain a core of functions over essential national matters and ultimately have the authority to redesign the system of government and to discipline or suspend decentralized units that are not performing effectively. Specifically, the Central Government will retain the overall responsibility of:

  1. general and legislative Policy formulation, monitoring and evaluation and provision of advice to Councils on their operations;
  2. setting national performance standards;
  3. controlling arms, ammunition and explosives;
  4. national defense and security;
  5. regulating banks and financial institutions, promissory notes, currency, and exchange;
  6. citizenship, immigration emigration. refugees, deportation, extradition, and designing of passports and national identities;
  7. copyrights, patents, trademarks and all forms of intellectual property, incorporation and regulation of business organizations;
  8. control of state land and minerals;
  9. declaration of public holidays, working and shopping hours;
  10. preservation of national monuments, antiquities, archives and public records;
  11. foreign relations and trade, regulation of trade and commerce;
  12. national and local government elections;
  13. guidelines on national census and statistics;
  14. control of publications of national surveys and mapping;
  15. control and management epidemics, pandemics and disasters;
  16. airports, aerodromes, and airstrips;
  17. national development projects and programmes;
  18. correctional policy and maximum security prisons;
  19. trunk roads and highways;
  20. prosecutorial functions;
  21. high school and tertiary education; and
  22. Any other functions delegated by Parliament.

Functions at the Provincial level, functions to be performed include:

  1. coordinating and consolidating district plans into provincial development plans for submission to the center;
  2. monitoring the utilization of resources and implementation of development programmes in the province;
  3. coordinating and auditing of local institutions; (d) preparing provincial progress reports for the central
  4. The government on the implementation of development programmes and projects;
  5. ensuring implementation of Central Government policies and regulations;
  6. implementation of National development projects and programmes which cut across sectors;
  7. ensuring proper utilization and maintenance of Government buildings, equipment, plant and other infrastructure; and
  8. any other functions delegated from the center.

The Government shall decentralize with matching resources, some of its function & to the district, which shall perform these functions through democratically elected councils. The Councils will raise part of their own revenue and receive grants from central treasury and line ministries to perform the devolved functions such as’.

  1. coordination of decentralized structures, including Health and Education Boards;
  2. disaster management;
  3. community development;
  4. primary health care;
  5. primary and basic education;
  6. water and sanitation;
  7. rehabilitation, maintenance, and construction of feeder roads;
  8. infrastructure development and maintenance;
  9. planning and implementation of development projects and programmes;
  10. mobilization of local resources;
  11. preparation of progress reports for the province;
  12. management, conservation of natural and wildlife resources;
  13. environmental services;
  14. provision and maintenance of public amenities; land
  15. allocation and utilization;
  16. trade and business licensing;
  17. agriculture extension services;
  18. bye-laws;
  19. community Police Service;
  20. community Prisons Service;
  21. youth and juvenile delinquency; and
  22. any other functions as delegated from the center.

Zambia’s Health System

Zambia’s health policy, created in 1992 and becoming operational with the Health Services Act 1995, is intended to ‘provide people of Zambia with equity of access to cost-effective, quality healthcare as close to the family as possible…’(MOH 2005:1). The aim of the policy was to provide a service that was responsive to local needs by decentralization of decision making to districts and promote peoples’ power through encouraging local representation on health management boards. The Ministry of Health (MOH) was given responsibility for policy, financing, and regulation, and a new organization, the Central Board of Health (CBOH), was tasked with service implementation (ACCA, 2013).

However, following 10 years of implementation, the health policy had become outdated and the Health Services Act was repealed in 2006 leading to the abolition of CBOH structures and creation of a unified four-tier health system under the MOH. The four levels as indicated on National Health Strategic Plan 2011-2015 document include:

  • The MOH Head Office at the Centre, responsible for policy guidance and oversight, regulation and defining standards;
  • The Provincial Health Offices (PHOs), responsible for coordination, monitoring, technical supportive supervision, and quality assurance and performance management at provincial level;
  • The District Health Offices (DHOs) at a district level, as the focal point for services delivery, providing supervision, coordination, planning and management support to Health Posts, Health Centres, and 1st level hospitals; and
  • The health service delivery facilities, which are the backbone of the system, providing “treatment and care services” to the general population at the community level.

In addition, national units were established to oversee specific health programmes, including the National Malaria Control Center, Reproductive Health Unit, Tuberculosis and Leprosy Unit, and National Aids Council.

Health Care is provided by a multitude of providers, including the MOH, church organizations, the private sector (both nonprofit and for-profit) and alternative providers. The vast majority of health facilities (1489) are owned and operated by the public sector. These are supplemented by 122 mission health facilities and 271 private health facilities (ACCA, 2013).

The health services delivery system in Zambia is focused on providing health services as close to the family as possible using a Primary Health Care approach. Zambia operates a pyramid classification structure of health care provision (National Health Policy, 2012):

  • tertiary or specialist care is provided in Level 3 hospitals
  • provincial-level care is provided in Level 2 hospitals
  • district-level care is provided in Level 1 hospitals
  • community-level care is provided through community services, health posts, and health centers.

The structuring of the health system suggests that a managed hierarchical referral system is in operation, but owing to undeveloped communication systems and limited availability of ambulances, referral systems between the different levels of care are often poor.

The Zambian health policy stipulates that every Zambian with an income should contribute to the cost of his/her health. However exemptions exist based on age (children under 5 and adults over 65), diseases (TB, HIV/AIDS, Cholera and dysentery; safe motherhood and family planning services; immunization; and treatment of chronic hypertension and diabetes) and other factors. This is aimed at enhancing equitable and appropriate delivery of health services to all Zambians, but in practice is not implemented due to lack of resources (1).

There is inequitable access to basic health services in Zambia between provinces and between urban and rural areas. In urban areas, 99 percent of households are within 5 kilometers of a health facility compared to 50 percent in rural areas. In Zambia, household expenditures on health vary according to location. Poor households spend the highest proportion of their income on health, which can be up to 10% of total expenditure when in-kind costs are included (2).

Many of the key determinants of health are outside the direct scope of the health sector. There is often poor access to safe water and sanitation, malnutrition accounts nearly half (42%) of all deaths in under five children; lack of education, particularly among females; gender discrimination; Climate variability and change. Other key factors include poor road networks (particularly in rainy seasons), an insufficient number of vehicles for transportation, and limited access to electricity (ACCA, 2013).

Organization and management structures;

Since 2005, the health sector has been undergoing a major restructuring process. Through this process, the sector has established a comprehensive organization and management structures at national, provincial, district and community levels, intended to facilitate efficient and effective management of health services. However, the organization and management structures have very weak linkages with the community that existed before the repeal of the NHSA in 2006, over the past two decades decentralization in the health sector has an increasingly familiar theme, commonly linked to a wider public sector and governance reforms. The intent was to bring decision making, responsibility, and accountability, closer to where health care services are provided, in order to realize increased efficiency (National Health Policy, 2012).

Gender situation in Zambia

Zambian Government Policies and Laws on Gender

  • At the policy level, there have been some improvements towards gender equality. In 2012, the Ministry of Gender became an independent ministry and the National Gender Policy was formulated in 2014. This policy lists the strategy and actions to be implemented by government ministries and agencies in 15 different fields to achieve gender equality, although there are no formal commitments in terms of indicators and annual budgets. The Ministry of Gender is in the process of drafting a monitoring report for this policy and there is no clear picture concerning the progress of this policy (JICA, 2016).
  • In 2005, the Penal Code was revised making the punishments for (sexual) violence against women and children stricter, and the Anti-Gender Based Violence Act was enacted in 2011. However, the actual enforcement of these laws and policies has been slow and acceleration of their enforcement is sought.
  • At present, deliberations on the Gender Equity and Equality Rights Bill are in progress along with those to revise the Constitution. The intended revision of the Constitution includes (i) revision of the text in line with the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and other human rights-related documents, and (ii) rectification of the dual structure of statutory law and customary law to realize gender equality. The bill in question aims at (i) incorporating the spirit of the human rights-related documents in national laws and policies, and (ii) establishing the Gender Equity and Equality Commission as an organization to supervise the implementation of gender equality

Population (UNDP, 2016)

  • The total population of Zambia is 16.2 million
  • Females account for 50.7% of the total population and males accounting for 49.3 percent.
  • 77.5 percent of households were headed by males while 22.5 percent were headed by females

Gender inequality index (UNDP GII, HDR 2016) 

  • The UNDP Gender Inequality Index (GII) reflects gender-based inequalities in three dimensions namely reproductive health, empowerment and economic activity. Zambia has a GII value of 0.526 ranking 139 out of 188 countries in the 2016 index assessment. This high level of gender inequalities arises because only 12.7 percent of parliamentary seats are held by women. However, the number of women who have reached at least a secondary level education account for 52.3 percent of adult Zambian women compared to 48.9 percent of Zambian men, this is the area where Zambia showed significant improvement in the last five years.  For every 100,000 live births, 224 women die from pregnancy-related causes; and the adolescent birth rate is 90.4 births per 1000 live births. Female participation in the labor market is 69.8 percent compared to 80.9 percent for men (1).


Statistics show that employment in Zambia is dominated by the informal sector with females being the majority. There has been an increase in the percentage of persons in formal employment from 11.0 percent in 2008 to 15.4 percent in 2012 (1).

  • The percentage of females in the formal sector increased from 6.0 percent in 2008 to 8.7 percent in 2012 while that of males increased from 15.0 percent to 22.3 percent.
  • There are more females (52 percent) than males (48 percent) employed in the Agriculture, forestry & fisheries industry (2).

In the Republic of Zambia, there exists a deep-rooted concept of an unequal gender relationship in which men are considered to be superior to women. This biased view regarding gender equality originates from not only traditional cultural and social norms but also from the dual structure of statutory law and customary law. Rights, which are supposed to be protected under statutory law, are not necessarily observed and women endure unfair treatment in terms of child marriage, unequal distribution of property, etc. Meanwhile, there have been some positive developments at the policy level, including the establishment of an independent Ministry of Gender, the introduction of specific gender policies and revision of certain provisions of the Constitution, which epitomize gender inequality (currently being deliberated) (Jica, 2016).  

According to a report published in 2015, Zambia ranks as low as 11th of 15 countries surveyed among Southern African Development Community (SADC) members in the areas of women’s participation in politics. In terms of political empowerment as a global gender gap indicator, Zambia ranks 102nd of 145 countries.  

While the net enrollment rate for girls in primary education is similar to that for boys, the dropout ratio for girls increases as they advance to higher grades (especially 7th grade and thereafter), mainly due to pregnancy (JICA, 2016)  

As 78% of women are engaged in agriculture, women constitute an important labor force for agriculture. However, their role is often to assist men in family farming or production for home consumption due to (i) their little access to production equipment and land compared to men and (ii) their prominent role in household work and child-rearing. Outside the agricultural sector, many women are employed in the informal sector (JICA, 2016)

Marriage at a young age, teenage pregnancy, and violence against women are quite common and the prevalence of HIV/AIDS is higher for women than for men. Because of women’s limited decision-making power, women are negatively affected regarding their sexuality and health.  The Zambia Demographic and Health Survey (ZDHS) for 2013-14 reported that 43% of women in the age bracket of 15 to 49 have experienced violence at the age of 15 or older (JICA, 2016)

Gender Index

In Zambia, marriage, child custody, property rights, and inheritance are governed by a dual legal system statutory and customary laws. The marriage act provides the minimum age of marriage at 16 for both men and women, with parental consent needed under the age of 21. These rules, however, apply to statutory and not customary marriages; under customary law, it is legal to marry a girl child who has attained puberty.

Regarding parental authority, there are no legal restrictions on women becoming heads of households and equally the new draft constitution grants women equality in marriage.

According to  ZDHS 2013-14,  

  • One in three currently married women who earn cash for their work makes independent decisions about how to spend their earnings.
  • Fifty-nine percent of currently married women whose husband receives cash earnings say that they decide jointly with their husband about the use of his earnings.
  • Seventy-four percent of women participate in decisions regarding their own health, as compared with 89 percent of men.
  • One in two (53%) women participate in four specified decisions pertaining to their own health, major household purchases, purchases for daily household needs, and visits to their family or relatives.
  • Empowerment is strongest among women who participate in all four specified decisions, who agree that wife beating is not justified for any reason, and who agree that a woman can refuse sexual intercourse with her husband for any reason.
  • Contraceptive use is positively associated with all three empowerment indices measured in the 2013-14 ZDHS.

Women Empowerment

  • According to the ZDHS 2013-14, 8.4 percent of women aged 15-49 years compared to 3.7 percent of men of the same age group had never attended any level of formal Education.
  • More males compared to females were literate, 82.7 percent and 67.5 percent, respectively.
  • 48.8 percent of the total number of women aged 15-49 years were currently employed compared to 72 percent of men in the same age category.
  • 34.7 percent of married women with Cash earnings decided how their earnings were used, 49 percent decided jointly with their husbands, 16 percent said that their husbands decided how their earnings were used.
  • The men (22.5 percent) were more likely than women (9.4 percent) to have sole ownership a house. 30.4 percent of women-owned assets jointly. 58.0 percent of men and 53.8 percent of women did not own a house (ZDHS, 2013-14).



ACCA. (2013, April). Key Health Challenges for Zambia. Retrieved from http://www.accaglobal.com/content/dam/acca/global/PDF-technical/health-sector/tech-tp-khcz.pdf

The Republic of Zambia. (2012, August). National Health Policy

The Republic of Zambia. Ministry of Health. National Health Strategic Plan 2011-2015. Retrieved from http://www.moh.gov.zm/docs/nhsp.pdf

Zambia Health System. Retrieved from. http://www.access2insulin.org/zambias-health-system.html

Zambia Demographic and Health Survey. 2013-14. Retrieved from https://www.dhsprogram.com/pubs/pdf/FR304/FR304.pdf

Zambia 2002. The National Decentralization Policy ‘’Towards Empowering People’’ Retrieved from https://theredddesk.org/sites/default/files/zambia_national_decentralisation_policy_1.pdf

Zambia Central statistics office. Gender Status Report 2012-14. Retrieved from https://www.zamstats.gov.zm/phocadownload/Gender/Gender%20Status%20Report%202012-2014%20290616.pdf

JICA. JDS. 2016. Country Gender Profile: Zambia Final Report. Retrieved from http://open_jicareport.jica.go.jp/pdf/1000026840.pdf