Talking Gender: With Esanju Maseka

Q How should gender roles be changed to balance the status of both men and women? 
A The International Labour Organisation defines gender roles as the “learned behaviours in a given society or community or other social group that condition which activities, tasks and responsibilities are perceived as male or female.” Caroline Moser, an urban social anthropologist and social policy specialist, recognised that “in most societies, low-income women have a triple role: women undertake reproductive, productive and community managing activities, while men primarily undertake productive and community politics activities”. Due to the different demands of these roles, Moser notes that men can often play their roles sequentially, while women must play their roles simultaneously. The tasks which actually make up these roles differ, depending on factors such as geographical area or boundary. This in itself poses a challenge in trying to strike a balance between the roles as there are a number of factors which influence them.
The answer, I believe, can be found in promoting gender equity. Gender Equity, as defined by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, means “fairness and impartiality in the treatment of women and men in terms of rights, benefits, obligations and opportunities”. As the world becomes more of a global village and opportunities arise for marginalised groups to have a seat at the table, an improved narrative must be defined on what gender equity means for the societies in which we live in. This narrative must promote gender equity at all levels, respecting the roles of both men and women, yet at the same time creating the space for them to move beyond these roles if need be. So in seeking to strike a balance, I believe the answer lies in not necessarily in changing the roles, but changing the environment around these roles to promote equity.

Q Are the rights of women in your country respected and protected well enough? 
A As in many African countries, Zambia has faced challenges in trying to promote women’s rights. This can be attributed to the patriarchal nature of the society, the cultural beliefs held and various traditional practices. A number of women face significant challenges in their inability to enjoy their basic social, political and economic rights due to certain traditional practices such as early marriages and gender based violence. This is common, mostly in rural areas, where there are significantly lower literacy levels and fewer platforms for expression.
Nonetheless, commendable strides have been made in Zambia towards ensuring the rights of women are protected and respected. In 1985, the country ratified the UN Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the 2008 Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) Protocol on Gender and Development in 2012 and the 2003 Protocol of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa in 2006. Furthermore, towards the end of 2015, after much deliberation, the Gender Equality and Equity bill was passed into law by parliament.
There are a number of other key players, such as civil society and the United Nations, who have also joined efforts to not only educate women across Zambian about their intrinsic rights but also to empower them. The value of their efforts is already being felt nationwide. I believe that there is still much work to be done, but the expected results from all these joined efforts will surely put Zambia in the right direction, with regards to Women’s Rights.

Q In your opinion, what should be the priority for resolving Gender issues in Africa? 

A Personally, I think, one of the main priorities for resolving gender issues is promoting gender equity. For the most part of Africa, the society is predominantly patriarchal, as I mentioned earlier. Others may argue that this has been passed down from generation to generation and forms part of our cultural mix. However, I believe that as important as it is to preserve culture, we cannot ignore the fact that times have changed over the last generation and there are more factors at play now than ever before. My particular focus on women by no means suggests that gender issues should only be focused on women for gender comprises of both male and female. It is just that in Africa in particular, the female gender has been the most suppressed over time.  
Presently, it is not a rare occurrence to see a woman holding a key role in society and or women being encouraged to pursue the highest levels of education, feats which were considered almost cultural taboos in our recent past. As much as we have begun to see the results of women empowerment initiatives, there is still much work to be done. Gender equity needs to be inculcated into our systems, even from basic education level, so that it becomes a norm. Not only will this empower more women at all levels, it will also encourage men to see women as equals, as there will be equal opportunities for all.