A Gender Justice Project changes lives in Western Province in Zambia

"I didn't know that in the event that my husband dies, I have the right to go my own way and not be inherited like a piece of furniture," Mulima Akapelwa

Mulima Akapelwa; photo Bellah Zulu

By Bellah Zulu
The Joint Country programme, NCA-DCA-CA, in Zambia and European Union co-funded, Access to Justice Project has empowered women in Mwandi and Sesheke Districts of Western Province of Zambia with knowledge on their rights and how to claim them.‘Canvassing Contours and Ridges: Towards Gender Justice in Eastern and Western Provinces of Zambia,’ is a deliberate integration of interventions seeking to improve access to justice for women, survivors and victims of Gender-Based Violence (GBV) in the target areas. It is implemented by NCA Zambia partner organisation, Women and Law in Southern Africa Research and Education Trust (WLSA) Zambia.
"I didn't know that in the event that my husband dies, I have the right to go my own way and not be inherited like a piece of furniture," said Mulima Akapelwa, one of the residents from Sawmills area in Sesheke District who is among the men and women trained as paralegals in the area. She revealed this during a joint monitoring trip conducted by NCA Zambia, WLSA Zambia and the Zambian Governance Foundation (ZGF).
However this project would not have been a success without recognising the important role that religious leaders, traditional leaders and the Zambia Police Service among others play in contributing to increased access to justice in Zambia. It is for this reason that the project was designed with utmost consideration of their strength and added value.

Combating old traditional practices

It's hard to attain Gender Justice in Zambia without interrogating the role that some traditional cultural practices play in perpetuating gender injustices. This is because some forms of GBV are inherent in negative old traditional cultural practices such as Female Genital Mutilation, early marriages and generally practices that relegate the woman’s role to the kitchen.
Therefore one thing worth noting in this project is the support and enthusiasm shown by the members of the Barotse Royal Establishment (BRE) in Mwandi in addressing issues of GBV in their chiefdoms. For instance two female ‘Indunas’ (traditional court members) were among those availed by the ‘Kuta’ (traditional court) for training as paralegals by the project.
“So far the project in our area is going well especially that two of the female Indunas have been trained as paralegals to help advance gender justice aspects within the chiefdom,” said Induna Afungateka, a female Induna whose actual names are Nakatindi Akatama. “Now we are able to help others access legal help in our chiefdom and address other cases ourselves which has led to saving marriages in some cases.”

Religious leaders show the way

Another key player in the fight against GBV are religious leaders because some people misinterpret church doctrine and the Bible in their relationships or marriages which may encourage GBV. This is why the Pastor’s Fellowship in Western Province is among those organisations and institutions included in the local anti-GBV committees in Mwandi and Sesheke Districts.
“Sex is a gift from God but unfortunately a lot of people are abusing it resulting in GBV. As a church we have handled three GBV cases which we ended up referring to the Victims Support Unit (VSU),” said Rev. Moses Yamba from the Evangelical Church in Zambia. “Even within church circles some self-ordained prophets have slept with young girls claiming they’re chasing away the evil spirits preventing them from getting married, and others have accused people’s husbands as being occultists which has perpetrated GBV.”
Sesheke based Magistrate Kebby Sebitwane’s gave a final reflection on the nature of GBV in the district and Zambia as a whole. “GBV may be rife in Zambia but it comes from our own homes and hence challenging for us to effectively deal with it,” he said. “There is need to find common solutions to GBV because of economic consequences. When the victim is a wife and a case proceed to court, she would usually ask to withdraw the case.”