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Zambian women demand place in decision-making

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afrol.com, 28 March - Female Zambian politicians this week are holding a conference in Lusaka to define a strategy on how to rise the percentage of women candidates in the forthcoming Zambian legislative and presidential elections. Hurdles for women candidates are observed as being high.

The participants to the Women in Politics Forum at Lusaka's Mulungushi International Conference Centre agreed to hold political manifestations to assure the attention of the political parties. The parties need to nominate more female candidates, the participants maintained. "Man is a jealous animal and cannot send his daughter or wife into politics if he is not pushed," said retired Zambian politician Christine Mulundika. 

Women's representation in Zambian politics is poor. Of the total 158 deputies to the Zambian parliament, only 10 percent (16 deputies) are women. The representation in government offices is even lower, as only two of 25 ministers are women. This reflects one of the poorest gender equality statistics of the region. 

According to Gwendoline Koni, president of the Social Democratic Party, "Zambia's hard working women want to see a change in this situation." Mrs. Koni will be the first female presidential candidate in the disputed election at the end of the year, where incumbent President Frederick Chiluba's party recommends a constitutional amendment to enable the president to stand for a third term.

Candidate Koni said the struggle for gender equality in Zambia "has taken three times longer than the struggle for independence, mainly due to resistance to change by traditionalists in both gender camps." Koni went on saying that the 2001 elections should see the largest number of women politicians being elected to parliament and subsequently appointed to higher offices.

Addressing the Forum on behalf of President Chiluba, Presidential Affairs Minister Eric Silwamba assured that the government would develop a criteria for recruitment, appointment and promotion of more women to advisory and decision making positions to help address the current gender imbalances. "The importance of [this] forum cannot be overemphasised, considering the under-representation of women at all levels of decision making," said Silwamba, according to The Post of Zambia

Both the Constitution and the law entitle women to equality with men in most areas; however, in practice, Zambian women are disadvantaged severely in politics, formal employment and education compared with men. Limited access to education, employment and credits is the main reason behind the low occurrence of women in Zambian politics and other decision-making positions.

Presidential spokesman Silwamba confirmed this, stating that women's under-representation was "due to various factors such as low education attainment, traditional gender attitudes and prejudices, women's weak economic status, barriers in political parties."

However, also the public opinion in many cases goes against women candidates. Data from the ground suggest that many voters, including women themselves, are aligning strongly with male candidates.

Sources: RDP, US Stated Dept., The Post of Zambia and afrol archives

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