THE appointment of Kanyama Member of Parliament Elizabeth Phiri as Minister of Gender is welcome and well deserved, but for her there is little time for celebrating. There is a lot of work to be done and so she has to hit the ground running.Evidently President Lungu has confidence in her living up to the challenge. She also shoulders the responsibility for the womenfolk who deservedly should be getting more decision-making positions.
This is in tandem with President Lungu’s commitment to promoting gender parity in Zambia.
The President has given the cabinet slot back to the womenfolk. This is what many gender activists wanted in the spirit of maintaining the gains made in as far as women representation in political leadership is concerned.
Ms Phiri comes in to fill the void left by Victoria Kalima who died two months ago. Ms Phiri has been handed the button to continue from where Ms Kalima left.
It is good that Ms Phiri, through her portfolio as Kanyama Constituency lawmaker, has proved to be a hard worker who deserves such an appointment.
Ms Phiri, who is a social worker, has initiated many projects in her constituency aimed at empowering the poor.
Unlike some lawmakers who after being voted into office abandon their constituencies or rarely visit, Ms Phiri has proved to be a pragmatic leader who constantly interacts and attends to the plight of the constituents.
During the cholera outbreak last year and into this year, she was in the forefront in trying to safeguard the lives of people.
Now that Ms Phiri has been appointed Minister of Gender her tasks have grown significantly more.
The Zambians she has to attend to are in millions and not the hundreds of thousands in her constituency.
The expectation, therefore, is that she will deliver on her national tasks with the same passion and commitment she has shown for the Kanyama constituents.
Ms Phiri has a bigger responsibility to help Government address the many gender issues facing the country.
While it acknowledged that Zambia is making steady progress in some areas like getting more women in decision-making positions, the gender battles are still numerous and far from being won.
As noted by the head of State, Zambia wants to achieve 50-50 gender parity without leaving anyone behind. Anything less is not good enough.
Government’s vision on gender is in line with the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development and ‘Vision 2030’ aimed at achieving gender equity and equality in the socio-economic development process by 2030.
Zambia has been listed as having one of the highest child marriage rates in the world. According to the ‘Girls Not Brides’ website, Eastern Province has the highest rates of child marriages, standing at 60 percent.
The new minister needs to start thinking of strategies and partnerships vital in fighting this scourge that is threatening the future of this country.
The new minster must run with the vision of President Lungu who is a champion of ending early marriages in Africa to halt this scourge.
In Zambia, like other developing countries, those most affected by poverty are women and yet these are the pillars of families and society as whole.
This is why President Lungu has implored Ms Phiri to take keen interest in women empowerment.
“It is my hope that you will take keen interest in issues of women empowerment through clubs and cooperatives to bring to fruition our party’s (Patriotic Front) vision of empowering the less privileged,” President Lungu said.
Certainly economic empowerment through access to finance is key to bridging the gender inequalities that exist.
Research has established that when women are empowered, the well-being of the family is also improved.
The Gender minister will also do well to address the gender inequalities, especially among rural women employed in the agriculture sector. These women constitute 76 percent of the agricultural labour force. The inequalities include limited access to and control over productive resources, services and markets.
Gender-based violence is still an issue of high concern with both men and women dying at the hands of their spouses.
The list is not exhaustive.
This all indicates that the minister has to hit the ground running, because there is still a lot of work to be done.
All this, however, is not a one-person challenge. Ms Phiri will need the support of all stakeholders. We believe she will get it and get the job done to the satisfaction of all citizens.