Let’s start by saying that the new Minister of Gender has exceeded our expectations. Honourable Elizabeth Phiri is one such woman whom we felt got the position simply because President Edgar Lungu wanted to replace a deceased female minister from Eastern Province with another female from the same region. But it seems we were too quick to judge the book by its cover.
The Ministry of Gender seems to be awake now. It had been switched off for a long, long time, but we are glad that the new minister has started on a high. If we are wrong about Honourable Phiri’s enthusiasm to work, then it means she has a really brilliant public relations team. Indeed, there are a number of government ministries which seem to be performing exceptionally well in the eyes of the public simply because their public relations wings know how to do their job. Whatever the case, our point is that we are happy that the Ministry of Gender has launched itself back into the national discourse circle at such an opportune time.
But there is a message coming from the minister’s mouth that we do not agree with. Some organization calling itself “Men’s Network” has proposed that sex offenders must be castrated. According to them, this gruesome measure will help deter would-be offenders. We are shocked that Honourable Phiri has welcomed this proposal.
This gender based violence debate is very broad and we wish the minister had been more sensitive in responding to this demand. Anyone can propose any silly idea that comes to their mind, but before a person in Honourable Phiri’s position offers any solidarity to such calls, it is always advisable to exercise caution. It would have been very prudent for the minister to critically think of the implications of such a law and whom it may affect.
Castrating sex offenders sounds like a brilliant idea that would spell how serious government is in curbing the vice, but when you critically look at it, you find that it has a one sided view. This proposal was definitely conceived by a mind that assumes that all sex offenders are men. Otherwise, can the minister explain what equivalent punishment her government would mete out on female sex offenders? We ask this because justice must not be selective.
And let’s assume that Honourable Phiri is granted powers to castrate a male sex offender, and this culprit then repents or reforms, what does that man become after his set has been tampered with by the law?
Fellow countrymen, even as we observe the 16 Days of Gender Activism, we need to be very fair when dealing with matters which affect men, women and children. We must not propose laws which would come back to haunt our very society, especially since we claim to be a Christian nation. We have seen that in this country, our female leaders have so much pressure to impress, and we can’t blame them for trying to prove that they actually make better leaders; but our long held view has been that gender based violence and gender equality can not be won by women alone.
Those who defend Zambia’s position on gender equality always start by recognising the fact that the country’s key institutions are in the hands of women. The vice-president is female, The deputy Speaker of the National Assembly is female, the Chief Justice is female, the president of the Constitutional Court is a female, the Director of Public Prosecutions is female, the Minister of Finance is female, the Chief Government Spokesperson is female, the acting Auditor General is a woman, the head of the Financial Intelligence Centre is a female; the list goes on…
This is, no doubt, a perfect picture painted by a country that means business in appointing women into key decision-making positions. But the question we always want to ask those who are very proud about this record is; how much has changed in terms of protecting women and girls; in terms of giving equal employment opportunities to both men and women in the recruitment process of the civil service; in terms of promoting women entrepreneurship? How much influence have these women, listed above, imposed on government to change this ugly picture of our struggling daughters, sisters and mothers out there?
In our view, and we say this with all due respect to the females who have been privileged to serve in senior government positions, the real influence that these appointees have is over their own status in society. Society respects them but it ends there. Having a female Vice-President has not changed the fate of the poor girls in Nalolo Constituency where madam Inonge Wina comes from, let alone in Chadiza District. Our argument is that appointing more women into decision-making positions is not enough; it doesn’t immediately change the plight of women.
Realistically speaking, the social order of our society may not, anytime soon, defeat the ridiculous stereotype of women; and as such, the responsibility of protecting women’s rights must never be left to the victimized gender. It must be a fight for all; men and women alike. Yes, appointing women like Honourable Phiri to Cabinet is good, but it will take the political will of the entire Cabinet to effectively deal with gender based violence.