Yesterday I marched along with my Zambian sisters for ‘equal rights, equal opportunities, progress for all’. It was International Women’s Day, which in Zambia is taken seriously enough to be made a national holiday. I am sure there were far over a thousand women taking part in the parade, most dressed in some form of the chitenge, the bright African patterned cloth which is a strong symbol of the Zambian woman.
It is fitting that my first march for women’s rights should take place in Zambia. It was here that I first realized the privilege of equal rights and opportunities that I enjoy as a Canadian woman. We forget easily the battles women before us fought so that we can vote, own property in our own name, take public and executive office, and stand as equal partners with our spouses.
Grace Mikunga, chairwoman of the organizing committee of the Woman’s Day parade, said in her opening address, “A lot more needs to be done and it needs to be done at lightning speed.” As long as men still call in to the radio open lines and dare to say, choked with emotion, that women should not be equal, that they shouldn’t be fighting for such rights; as long as men lined up along the sidewalks still taunt us women as we march past saying, “so you won’t wash for us, don’t worry, we’ll find someone else!”, or “In the evening prepare yourself, don’t say you are tired” (in other words, be prepared to do your duties), there is still work to be done.
As long as it is still commonplace that men beat their women; that they come from the bar at midnight and expect them to get up and start a fire and cook them something to eat after the women have worked hard all day – there is work to do.
Zambian women have the right to vote and actually turn out in larger numbers than men to do so. There are women in ministerial positions in government, and in executive positions in companies. But the lot of the common woman is still closer to that of a servant than that of an equal.
I am privileged to be allowed to march with these women, to for a few moments support their struggle towards equality with men. They are pleased that I marched with them.
Vivienne Mutale, when I asked her if there wasn’t a worthy woman for President among this large group said: “Wait another ten years.” I hope she’s right.