By Tabitha Mvula
Published March 9th 2005 in The Post
POVERTY reduction strategies must be centred around women, Women In Law in Southern Africa regional coordinator Matrine Chuulu said yesterday. And lands minister Judith Kapijimpanga has called for a recommitment to gender equality by world leaders. Commemorating International Women's Day at the Freedom Statue in Lusaka yesterday, Chuulu said the escalating poverty levels, especially among women, were a great source of concern that required prompt action. "The rising cases of poverty, especially among our women folk, are very worrying to us. That is why there is a need to make poverty reduction strategies centred around women because women are the most affected by high poverty levels in the country," she said. Chuulu said the high number of HIV and AIDS cases, especially among women and children, needed stronger strategies that would save lives. "There is a need to put in place post-exposure prophylaxis at all health centres so that we can save women and children," she said. Chuulu also called for free antiretroviral therapy (ART) for women and children, adding that women continued to encounter problems accessing the drugs. She said it was sad that 70 per cent of the people who were currently accessing ART were men, yet the majority of those infected were women. Chuulu expressed concern at the escalating gender violence against women and observed that the year 2005 was seeing an increase in husbands murdering their wives. She called for the enactment of a gender-based violence act that would protect women and children from various inhumane acts. Chuulu commended the government for the efforts it was making in the formulation of policies that would protect women. The celebration, which included traditional dances, was attended by several prominent Zambian women. And at the same occasion, Kapijimpanga said that due to political will and a policy-enabling environment, women's situations in the country were improving. She said the government had established the parliamentary committee on legal affairs, governance, human rights and gender matters to ensure that the executive wing of the government remained accountable for gender mainstreaming. She praised non-governmental organisations for the role they were playing in empowering both men and women. Kapijimpanga called for the inclusion of women in decision-making positions so that programmes put in place would benefit the whole nation. She said the government had accepted recommendations from the Electoral Reforms Technical Committee regarding proportional representation in political participation. "This system will ensure that the women of Zambia are automatically represented in politics. I am confident that the women of Zambia will take up this challenge, and we will give them the necessary support," Kapijimpanga said. She said illiteracy, particularly among women, and limited school places at higher institutions of learning, had contributed to the low levels of female participation at tertiary levels. Meanwhile, United Nations Population Fund country representative Margaret O'Callaghan said that since traditional practices seemed to be stronger than the law, there was a need to put measures in place to empower women and men using culturally sensitive approaches. O'Callaghan called on leaders to question and ignite debate as to whether practices that discriminated against women and girls were contributing to the well-being of communities. She said reproductive health and rights were key to women's empowerment, gender equality and development. She called on governments to re-affirm and reinforce their commitment to the Beijing Platform for Action as they worked towards reducing poverty and achieving the millennium development goals.