Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Half the sky?

Women hold up half the sky – Chinese Proverb. Pie in the sky more like! Of course they do, but it is still a glass ceiling!

On Saturday evening Ida received the following text from the Nursing Officer:

'Good afternoon, how are you and the family? I am asking for cleaning materials which you can spare. Women’s Day is on Tuesday and women will come and clean the hospital but up until yesterday I have not been issued with anything. Please, cleaning is on Monday morning at 0830h. I won’t be around, as I will be on the salary trip. If possible women are supposed to work on Monday, freeing men then, so that the women will be free on Tuesday for their activities. Contributions for Women’s Day is K50 000 Thanks.'

Not a lot of warning, but we managed to get a driver who was on an airport run to buy some mops, Windolene, and Surf on Sunday in Livingstone. On Monday morning we cut up some rags for cloths. Early in the cool of the morning regiments of women, Zambian Molly Weirs to a woman (sic), from various Church and other Associations clad in chitenges and headsquares and shouldering rakes and hoes marched onto the Hospital premises and immediately got down to much needed and appreciated business of tidying up the grounds, washing windows, mopping floors and cleaning beds and lockers.

There was none of the annoyance that women from more developed countries may have felt at undertaking such ‘demeaning and menial’ work but there was a pride in doing this women’s work for the common good. The fundamental divisions of labour apportioned to the two sexes here are not yet a great issue. Women still are expected to do most of the child care and tidying up after their menfolk.

Women’s Day on Tuesday will begin with a March from the outskirts of town to the Basic School. The theme: Equal Access to Education and Training: Science and Technology: Pathway to Decent Work for Women. A speech from the MP’s wife will open the programme . Next will be some ice-breaking activities followed by traditional dances, a drama, a tug-of- war and an educational talk for women and girls,. After lunch a netball tournament will be held, comprising of teams of teachers, hospital, OVC staff and women stallholders from the market.

The ideal girl in Zambia is passive and submissive, serving others and speaking only when spoken to. This is not to say that girls are especially maltreated they are loved and treated humanely within the family. It's just that cultural norms are different. It is not that she doesn't count, it's just that she counts less than her male relatives. This is reinforced at initiation ceremonies.

A problem in rural areas are young girls being 'married off' at an early age despite this being illegal. There is a local case at the moment of a 12 year old being pregnant. There are also a number who fall out from school because they get pregnant. This is allowed to happen because insufficient value is given to girls' education. Why waste your money, she's only going to get married and be a housewife anyway? Your boys'll - (actually their wives!) -look after you in your old age.

Much status for a woman comes from being a wife and mother. After the birth of your child you no longer publicly keep your childhood name but become someone's mother, i.e. Fiona is Bo-Ma Sepo (Mother of Sepo).

Girls of school age are often their Mother's right hand and are burdened with childcare and household chores and duties such as drawing water, fetching firewood, cooking, sweeping, washing clothes and gardening. Many have worked 2-3 hours before they turn up for school, so it is no wonder they are often late. They may have had to walk a considerable distance as well. When they get back it's not homework that is a priority but more housework. With HIV and Aids prevalent, they may be the head of the household or be living with an elderly granny so again a large load falls on the young shoulders.

Many parents, and sadly teachers (male and female), continue to have the expectation that girls will not do well. They, by their attitude, encourage the stereotypical behaviour: the male teachers through prejudice and their perception of what makes a good girl; the female teachers as well because they were brought up in the same way also tend to perpetuate the system. You find this typically in Maths & Science. Home Economics after Grade 7 is purely a girls' subject while the boys do woodwork! Unfortunately too, a number of male teachers also see their female students as fair game.

40% of Mwandi households are woman or child-headed. A lack of economic opportunity and any other alternative make many of these local women look to selling fish, beer brewing and unfortunately these activities often go hand in hand with casual prostitution. Education, training and decent work is certainly a must.

When you can see all this coming through culture and the education system, it is not surprising that you end up with rather a negative self-image and inferiority complex from the attitudes of parents, teachers and the wider community.

There are a number of organisations in Zambia attempting to address this issue, such as GEMS(Gender, English, Maths & Science) and FAWEZA (Forum for African Women Educationalists of Zambia).

Mubita’s great-aunt, resting on her hoe met and greeted me on the way back from school. The maize crop will be a disaster this year with dry periods and rain at the wrong times.

We saw that on our visit to Kamusa Church on Transfiguration Sunday. It was harder to get to than normal now that inland flood water has started to spread. We were invited after the service for lunch. The people have little maize left from last year so the portion of buhobe that was served was much smaller than usual, the green vegetable was pumpkin leaves. There was sour-milk as dessert and warm milk to drink but no tea-leaves…

International Womens' Day, 8 March 2011

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