‘Equal Rights, Equal Opportunities: Progress For All’

IN order to build a great democratic, just, fair and humane society, it is of utmost importance to arouse the broad masses of our people to join the struggle that will ensure “equal rights, equal opportunities and progress for all”.

Genuine equality between women and men, girls and boys can only be realised in the process of a just, fair and humane transformation of our society as a whole.

There’s need for us to unite and enable women to take their rightful place in production and political activity to improve their economic and political status.

There is need to educate ourselves and others to take a more correct view of women and to actively redress the injustices done to women in all our institutions – the Church, state and family.

Women must not be treated as mere passive participants in national development. But they must enjoy fundamental rights and freedoms befitting all human beings, both in domestic and public life. Women need to be treated justly in families, workplaces, public life and the Church.

Women are a backbone of our families and play major roles in our economy, especially in rural areas. The life and health of women are of central importance to the future development of our nation.

This being the case, the calls for the true empowering of women to enable them to participate in decision making in our society need to be heeded.

Women bring special gifts to the progress of our country. If they are not listened to and are discriminated against, then we simply will not have sustainable and equitable progress.

And men should be more involved in promoting women’s rights. Advancement will not go very far unless women and girls are enabled to enjoy the same rights and opportunities as men and boys.

Women must be represented at decision-making levels in both economics and politics, to sustainably achieve development goals.

True empowering of women enables them to participate in decision-making processes in society. One effective strategy towards empowering women is to promote equal opportunity for women’s representation in decision-making positions.

Women also have the right and duty to take part in the political and administrative work of our nation. Women possess full equality and dignity and have a significant role to play in the affairs of our country.

This discrimination and marginalisation of women doesn’t make sense even biblically because we are told: “There is not male and female; for you are all one in Jesus Christ” (Gal 3:28).

Politically, women have contributed a lot in all our struggles. Women have thrown their lot, alongside men, with our struggle for independence and democracy. And women, alongside men, have fallen in that struggle. Here is the most profound equality of all: equality in suffering and in hope.

Clearly, woman is the protector of humankind. But she is the creator of humanity – of humanness and humaneness – as well, in a specific manner all her own: in the delicacy of her service, her limitless self-donation, her affective and effective contact with the people, and that compassion of hers that simply will not rationalise the suffering of the poor.

Woman is the creator of a courage that will never abandon the suffering. Woman is more defenceless physically. This fact points out the singular barbarity of their being subjected to domestic violence and to the criminal activities of rapists. It shows that barbarity for what it is.

We come back again to the theme of this year’s International Women’s Day – “Equal Rights, Equal Opportunities: Progress For All” – and analyse what’s happening. Not enough work has been done; more work still needs to be done to ensure equal rights, equal opportunities and progress for all.

The question that arises is why after so many years of struggle, so many years of commemorations, the women’s situation still remains what it is? Some people are even today asking if women can be equal partners with men in development.

A brilliant response to this question has been given by Macleod Nyirongo, the UN Resident/Humantarian Coordinator in Zambia, when he says: “This is a question that is still under debate, not surprisingly, protracted by men! In answering this question on my part, I am seizing the momentous occasion of the commemoration of International Women’s Day, to discuss gender, an issue much talked about but less understood, and also deliberately distorted by, particularly my fellow men! Gender refers to the socially constructed differences and relations between males and females. These vary widely among societies and cultures and change over time.

Gender characterises the differing roles, responsibilities, constraints, opportunities and needs of females and males in all areas and in any given social context. Hence, one can safely say that gender roles are learned behaviours in a given society, community or other social groups.

These roles condition which activities, tasks and responsibilities are perceived as appropriate for males and females respectively. This perception of roles and responsibilities has serious implications on power relations between females and males of all ages which in turn determine who has access to and control over tangible and intangible resources.

Arguments of why it is perceived that women cannot have equal opportunities as men abound. Again these are purported by men and, unfortunately at times supported by women who are themselves victims of the “African tradition argument”.

These include arguments that women are weaker than men; women are not good decision makers and hence cannot be in position of high authority and also that the whole discussion of gender equality is foreign and goes against the African tradition.

None of these are true! These perceptions have also resulted in some men insisting that women must remain subordinate and have sometimes treated them with ridicule and as sex objects.

I do not think you will be surprised that my response to the question, “can we be equal partners in development?” is a resounding yes: women can be equal partners in development.

I am supported by this, firstly by history. In many countries of this sub-region, including Zambia and my own country Malawi, women have held positions of power and decision making in the traditional governance structures, some of the very strong chiefdoms in Zambia today are headed by women.

In recent times, there have been a number of breakthroughs of women holding high offices in government, one example is Mrs Ellen Sirleaf Johnson, who is the first African female president; she was elected into office when Liberia was in ruins due to a war for power amongst men!

Today, Liberia is a country on the mend with a government administration that is mostly led by women. In Zambia, a number of women in decision making, including some in the private sector, are among the best performers if not the best.

Furthermore, the argument about women being weaker than or not as strong as men is negated by the numbers of women who fought alongside their fellow men in the liberation struggles of most African countries.

We must therefore move from the delay and sterile tactics of always questioning the ability of women, by embracing the realisation that we are equal partners in the development processes of our nations. Fellow men, I understand that we have held positions of power for a long time now, and it may be uncomfortable to share this power with our countrywomen.

We must realise that women as citizens have just the same rights that we do in holding positions of power, participating in their national development process and most of all, to be treated with dignity and respect just as we expect to be.

My final message to all men and women: the key factor in social transformation is education. So get all those girls to school. Do not marry them off early, for this is where they lose out against boys. It is the RIGHT thing to do!”

Today, as yesterday, there is no other formula for building our country into a prosperous, just, fair and humane nation: we must emerge from ourselves, we must devote ourselves to the cause of women – to the discriminated, very marginalised and poorest.

And perhaps this is the moment to take seriously something that theology has been telling us in its too spiritualistic and too academic way: salvation comes by way of a woman – Mary, the virgin of the cross and of the Magnificat. Salvation comes to us through all women who love truth more than lies, who are more eager to give than to receive, and whose love is that supreme love that gives life rather than keeping it for oneself.

Clearly, there is need for us to broaden our understanding of women’s situation in our socio-economic, political and religio-cultural realities and articulate faith reflections on women’s realities and struggles. And in this way deepen our commitment and solidarity work towards full humanity for all.

The discrimination and marginalisation of women is affirmed as a hard and abiding reality of life. Women have an irreplaceable role in society, yet their contribution is not acknowledged, nor are they accorded equal rights and opportunities with their male counterparts.

This oppression is felt in all sectors of life: economic, social, political, cultural, sexual, religious and even within the family itself. Having become conscious of their human rights and of the injustices perpetrated against them in all these sectors, there is need to team up with them and help them.

We should be aware that the liberation of women from these injustices is part and parcel of the liberation of all the poor and oppressed.

This realisation demands a total rupture with the prevailing patriarchal system in order to build an egalitarian society. The women’s struggle is deeply connected with efforts of all the poor who are struggling for their upliftment in all aspects of life.



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