REFLECTIONS BY THE NON-GOVERNMENTAL GENDER ORGANISATIONS’ COORDINATING COUNCIL (NGOCC) FOR THE YEAR ENDING DECEMBER 31ST 2020

Mary Mulenga

We have come to the end of another years and once again, like everyone; Government, organisations, individuals and even families are provided with an opportunity to introspect and review the past year; identifying the challenges, successes and indeed some worthwhile lessons to learn from. As a learning organisations, NGOCC uses these reflections to learn from the challenges and successes. As it is said, history shapes the present and informs the future.


In many aspects, the year 2020 was another challenging year for many both at individual and national levels. Zambians continued to grapple with the high cost of living, inflationary pressures and indeed the effects of a downward free-fall of our currency – the Kwacha which mostly impacted negatively on women and girls.
The situation was worsened by the gassing incidences in the opening parts of the year followed by an outbreak of the Coronavirus, COVID-19, which has continued to ravage not only Zambia but the world at large. While serious strides were made to contain the spread of the pandemic, in many ways the world and Zambia in particular, were totally unprepared for such an eventuality which has left the entire globe in dire straits. The magnitude of COVID-19 will surely last a few years to come before the world’s citizens can resolutely mitigate the effects on our collective livelihoods.
Apart from the deaths and disease burden on families, COVID-19 has had devastating socio-economic impacts on countries. For instance, while the world coiled into the lockdown, increased cases of Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV) were also being reported, adversely affecting mostly women and children and further exacerbating gender and income inequalities. By and large, it is given that women stepped into the pandemic from an already vulnerable position.
The year 2020 will remain engrained among the many years in which populations of the world faced unprecedented threat on livelihoods as well as such loss of productive lives having succumbed to the effects of COVID-19. It remains a truism that women continue to be discriminated from both participating and benefitting from the various development processes.
Let us now reflect on some of the issues;

COUNTRY’S INDEBTEDNESS

NGOCC remains deeply concerned about the country’s indebtedness. According to the Finance Minister, Dr. Bwalya Ng’andu, Zambia’s external debt stock stands at US$11.2 billion at close of the year. This is an increase from the US$10.2 billion recorded as at end of July 2019. This high debt burden is now having a huge toll on the Government Treasury going by the recent reports of Zambia’s defaulting on debt repayment. It is NGOCC’s considered view that any debt distress affects the social sector spending especially on the health, education and agriculture sectors. For example, during the year under review, our members from across the country reported increased shortages of key drugs in the health facilities, such as insulin for diabetic patients, dialysis reagents for kidney patients, combination drugs for cancer patients as well as blood shortages in the Blood Banks. More and more people were given prescriptions to fetch drugs from alternative sources because the Government facilities didn’t have stock at most times. With regard to education, it was noted that the quality of secondary education services remained challenged due to inadequate teaching professionals and infrastructure (such as boarding facilities) to cater for the growing number of learners.
NGOCC, however, notes some of the steps being taken by the Government to address the debt situation through debt restructuring and dismantling mechanisms. We are also aware of the passing of the Planning and Budgeting Act as well as the recently launched Zambia Economic Recovery Programme 2020-2023, among other measures. It is our hope and prayer that such interventions as articulated in the said documents be implemented in a more DECISIVE AND TRANSPARENT MANNER. Zambians are looking for practical measures that will address the current socio-economic challenges. It is also NGOCC aspiration that the impact on the poor, especially the majority women and children will be ameliorated in the process. The poor, especially women and children depend on Government’s service delivery in both the health and education sectors.

HIGH COST OF LIVING

The cost of living for a family of six living in peri-urban/urban areas as measured by the Jesuit Centre for Theological Reflections for the month of November 2020 stood at K7,126.62. This was a K66.31 increase from K7,060.29 recorded in October of the same year. According to JCTR, the increase in the basket is attributed to increase in the prices of food items such as beans, vegetables, kapenta among other necessities. The situation is compounded by the prevailing inflationary pressures and indeed the free-fall of the Kwacha (as already alluded to) that have been witnessed throughout 2020. This has had negative implications on the cost of living which is way beyond reach for most average Zambians. The high cost of living in the country therefore remains a concern to the women’s movement.
It is at family level where the effects of high cost of living is mostly experienced with female headed households facing the high risk of increased poverty levels, including the ensuing effects of malnutrition, stunted growth in children, sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) and indeed death. We therefore our appeal that the Government that it should immediately address the socio-economic situation in the country which is pushing up the cost of living.

POLITICAL VIOLENCE

NGOCC has time and again condemned the continued political violence perpetrated by political parties especially the major opposition United Party for National Development (UPND) and the ruling Patriotic Front (PF) party. Both political parties continue to point fingers at each other and playing the blame game, at the expense of human life. In many respects, it is undeniably true that political violence has been one of the causes of the low number of women participating in politics – a reality that keeps impacting on Zambia quest for 50:50 gender parity at all levels of development.
During the year under review, the country continued to witness increased incidences of political violence during By-elections. The levels of this political violence are degenerating to levels where lives are now being lost. In 2020 the country recorded the death of a member of the opposition political party and many injuries from various political parties during the By-elections. It is very unfortunate and saddening that to this date there has been no convincing public statements from the political party leadership to condemn this evil that is being perpetuated by unruly political cadres. NGOCC wishes to reiterate that life remains sacred and it is a serious violation of human rights for anyone to end a person’s life. We are particularly saddened by the events of the 23rd of December 2020, where lives were needlessly lost. We therefore appeal to the Zambia Police Service to resolve to act professionally and decisively in dealing with political violence regardless of who is perpetrating the vice. Most importantly we would like to appeal to the Ministry of Home Affairs to provide much needed leadership to the Zambia Police. We also appeal to the Zambia Police to mop up the guns that are everywhere and sometimes seemingly in wrong hands.

SEXUAL AND GENDER BASED VIOLENCE (SGBV)

Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV) continues to threaten women’s health not only in Zambia but across the globe as it adds to the global burden of disease. SGBV has a harmful impact on reproductive health. Among the adverse outcomes associated with SGBV are: early teenage childbearing, rapid repeat pregnancies during adolescence for sexually and physically abused teenagers, abortion (most of which is unsafe), and sexually transmitted infections for women with abusive partners.
In 2020, Zambia continued to record increased incidences of Sexual and Gender Based Violence especially against women and girls.  According to the Zambia Police Victim Support Unit 7,640 cases of Gender Based Violence were reported countrywide during the third quarter of 2020 as compared to 6,788 recorded in the third quarter of 2019. This was an increase of 852 cases translating to 19.8% increase. Generally, the trends in SGBV have continually showed that the scourge has been on the increase having been compounded by the Coronavirus, COVID-19.
As NGOCC, we continue to call upon all Zambians to join hands to address SGBV. The fight against SGBV should not only be left for the Government and Civil Society, but that everyone should play a role in ensure that we end the vice.

GOVERNACE AND WOMEN’S LEADERSHIP

Women have over the years lagged behind in terms of their participation in decision making and generally the governance of the country. While women constitute well over 50% of Zambia’s population, their participation in the decision-making processes of our country remains low. As we prepare for the 2021 General Elections, it is NGOCC’s expectation that political parties will commit to adopting more women to stand as Members of Parliament and as Councillors. We also would like to appeal to women to offer themselves for public service through the political arena.
In the meantime, we have noted the efforts by His Excellency President, Edgar Chagwa Lungu’s administration in appointing women to some key decision-making positions. During the last six months of 2020, a number of women were appointed to strategic positions such as: Dr. Emily Sikazwe who was appointed as Vice Chairperson of the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ), Ambassador Ndiyoyi Mutiti as one of the Commissioners of the Electoral Commission of Zambia, Reverend Agness Chongo, as one of the Commissioners of the Human Rights Commission.
Even as we recognize the various efforts at appointing more women, NGOCC however, wishes to appeal to the Government and indeed President Lungu to domesticate the various regional and international protocols on gender which Government has signed and ratified. We bring to the fore our consistent calls to prioritize the operationalization of the Gender Equity and Equality Commission (GEEC) as provided for in the principal Act. We remain confident that once operationalised the GEEC will help in enhancing women’s participation in governance and ultimately narrow the existing gender gaps. Further, we appeal to the Executive to strictly adhere to Article 259 of the Republican Constitution which provides for equitable appointments and nominations to decision-making positions. NGOCC reiterates that Article 259 remains a very progressive provision in promoting women’s participation in the governance spaces.

MEDIA FREEDOM AND CIVIL SOCIETY SHRINKING SPACE

While Zambians continued to enjoy some relative freedom of expression and indeed of the press during the year under review, NGOCC remains deeply concerned about the closure of some key media Houses. The role of an independent and critical media in a democratic dispensation cannot be over emphasized. In 2020, the Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA) withdrew the operating license of Prime Television, while many others resorted to self-censorship when it came to reporting on critical governance issues.
NGOCC also witnessed worrying trends with regard to freedom of expression by civil society organisations and the general citizenry due to the selective application of the Public Order Act. This was further compounded by the absence of the Access to Information legislation that should facilitate regular information access by both civil society and media in their role of providing alternative thinking and checks and balances. As it were, we continued to witness little or no action on matters of serious public accountability aspects as reported by the Financial Intelligence Centre, the Auditor General’s Reports, among other public reports.

PREPARATIONS FOR THE 2021 ELECTIONS

Zambia goes to the polls next year to elect a President, Members of Parliament, Mayors, Council Chairpersons and indeed local Councillors. As provided in our national Constitution, the elections will be held on Thursday, 12th August 2021. In this regard, most of the preparations for the elections were undertaken in 2020. Below are our reflections on two very critical processes as the country prepares for the elections next year;

Voter Registration

NGOCC noted the number of mixed reactions with regard to the inadequate period allocated for the voter registration exercise by the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ). In this regard we held consultative meetings with the Commission where we submitted some of our observation and issues of concern from our network members. By and large, it can be said that going by the challenges experienced with the voter registration process, a number of eligible Zambians, especially women, may have been disadvantaged given the long queues that were an everyday occurrence during the whole period of the voter registration exercise.  The Commission definitely missed an opportunity to ensure that they register as many people as possible to vote in the 2021 General Elections. Going forward it is our appeal to the ECZ to actualize the inherent right of every eligible citizen to participate in voting by ensuring that they implement the continuous voter registration process. Our hope is that the Commission will conclude the registration process in a more transparent manner and instill confidence in the public on the voting process.

Issuance of National Registration Cards

There has been misinformation and seemingly lapses in the issuance of National Registration Cards which has been a source of concern and remains a potential source of conflict. NGOCC recognizes the importance of safeguarding this identity related process in order to ensure that all eligible Zambians are facilitated to obtain their cards. NGOCC wishes to appeal to the Ministry of Home Affairs to address some of the lapses that have found themselves in the public domain as a matter of urgency and safety of the Zambian people.

CONSTITUTION MAKING PROCESS

In 2020, Zambia yet again missed an opportunity to enact a Constitution that would embody the fundamental principles of good constitutionalism. It is our hope that both our Government and as a people we learnt some lessons that consensus building remains critical in any constitution making process. There is need for all key stakeholders such as the church, civil society, Government among others, to agree on the process. ZAMBIANS MUST NOT ONLY BE SEEN TO OWN THE PROCESS BUT THEY SHOULD ACTUALLY OWN it because the Constitution belongs to them. It is therefore NGOCC’s expectation that, going forward into 2021, Government will provide a clear road map for the Constitution making process, complete with the expanded Bill of Rights, as we still have a number of lacunas in the current supreme law of the land.
CONCLUSION
As we close the year, we appeal to all Zambians to put the country first and remain united especially as we go towards the General elections in 2021. We appeal to our leaders, both in the ruling party and the opposition, to put an end to political violence and ensure that there shall be peace everywhere. It is in the interest of all of us to work at a Zambia that will be good for all.
May I, on behalf of the network members, the Board, management and staff of NGOCC wish the Zambian people a Happy 2021.
I THANK YOU

MARY S. MULENGA
CHAIRPERSON