UN resident coordinator in Zambia Kanni Wignaraja says no country can attain higher levels of human development where many of its women citizens lag behind, cannot fully participate in the economic or political life of the country on equal terms or feel disempowered.
Wignaraja, who is also UNDP Resident Representative, says Zambian women are underrepresented in political decision making spheres.
She says the current Zambian parliament has a very low representation of women at 11%, which is even lower than before and lower thanRwandawhich is at over 54%.
Wignaraja was speaking Thursday morning atLusaka’s Pamodzi hotel during a gender session between donors and the Zambian private sector under the theme “view from top”.
Wignaraja said there was need to see a significant increase in the number of girls completing secondary school and even going on to higher levels of education.
‘Only 25 per cent of adult women have reached a secondary or higher level of education compared to 44.2 per cent of their male counterparts. And drop-out rates are still high, too high, for girls,’ she explained.
Wignaraja said the gender disparities in the educational system carry over into the labour market. She said that women’s participation in formal employment continues to lag behind that of men, with a 20 point differential.
She said there is need therefore for an increase of women’s participation in the labour force, where equal work gets equal pay.
The UN coordinator inZambiaimplored the private sector to actively contribute to redressing these gender gaps.
She hoped to see a vibrant public-private partnerships ‘that also engage the international community, to take those bold steps needed, such as supporting clear legislative, policy and investment measures to reducing such persistent inequalities.’
She also called for commitment of leadership, ideas and experience, funding and institutional change to invest in girls and women’s education and literacy which will have a big pay-off.
She said Legislation is also needed and must then be enforced by all to ensure a decent work agenda and to remove wage differentials.
She said this commitment should also extend to creating an enabling environment for women to participate in formal sector employment and “big” business, through measures to improve access to affordable credit and to ensure the continued ownership of land, for women.
She said affirmative action through a progressive quota system is needed to enable women to enter into a currently heavily distorted political playing field.
‘It also includes fair rules of the game around campaign finance, supporting leadership skills development and the space and opportunity to gain such in other spheres of leadership, such as in the corporate world,’ she said.
She said a visible role and engagement of more women in politics and in the economy is a clear signal of a country’s good health and level of prosperity.
She advised the private sector that this 51% (women) of the population inZambia, is their growing market and potential middle class that will drive the growth of business forward.
“So, it makes very good sense, no matter whether one looks at it from the lens of justice and equality, or good business and market potential that we all pull in the same direction on this score!”
Among those in attendance were Gabriel Kaunda, Permanent Secretary for Gender and Child Development Division, Buleti Nsemukila, Permanent Secretary for Ministry of Commerce, Freddie Kwesiga, Country Representative of African Development Bank, Mizinga Melu, Chairperson for the Bankers Association of Zambia, Ambassadors of Ireland; the Netherlands; and Norway, UN teams