4 June 2002


Press Release

Committee on Elimination of

Discrimination against Women

Twenty-seventh Session

551st and 552nd Meetings (AM & PM)



Praise Frankness of Reports in Presenting Problems,

But Express Concern Over Conflicts Between Customary, Statutory Law

The expert members of the Committee on Elimination of Discrimination against Women warned Zambia's Government representatives that pervasive traditional stereotypes and prejudices regarding women, as well as across-the-board discriminatory provisions in the country's legislature and common law, were undermining most of the country's efforts at ensuring gender equality and equal representation.

The Committee -- charged with monitoring States parties’ compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women -- took up the reports of Zambia in two meetings today.  While experts praised the frankness of the reports, which had honestly presented the problems that the country was facing, they expressed grave concern at the many violations of women’s rights, covering a wide range of issues, among them in education, health and marriage.

Zambia is the first of eight countries scheduled to present reports on the implementation of the Convention during the Committee’s current three-week session.  States parties should submit their initial reports within one year after ratifying the Convention, and subsequent reports at least every four years thereafter.  Examining Zambia's combined third and fourth periodic reports today, the Committee was troubled that the provisions of the Convention had not been effectively incorporated into the country's domestic law, even though the Convention became effective in the country in 1985.

Introducing her country’s reports, Mary Grace Nkole, Zambia’s Permanent Secretary of Gender in Development Division, said that her Government had demonstrated commitment and political will in eradicating discrimination against women.  Zambia had acceded to and ratified conventions and instruments that guaranteed human rights without distinction based on sex or other grounds.  

Zambia, she continued, had joined the international community in endorsing several plans of action and conventions for the full, equal and beneficial integration of women in all development activities.  At the national level, the

Government had put in place a number of political and legislative measures aimed

at eliminating discrimination against women.  In particular, condemnation of various acts that caused physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women and children was enshrined in the country’s Constitution, commonly referred to as the “bill of rights”. 

In response, a Committee expert said that careful analysis of the country’s reports had failed to produce a single example of the Government’s commitment to its international obligations under the Convention.  In each section of the report, contradictions with the Convention could be found, and she was concerned and disappointed that, although frank, the report did not provide any information about the Government’s plans to remedy that situation.

In an article-by-article discussion of the country’s compliance with the Convention, experts proposed various legislative and educational measures, as well as the means of raising the people’s awareness of women’s issues.  It was pointed out that education, information and training could become instruments to eliminate discrimination against women and negative stereotypes.  It was also stressed that uniform marriage laws were needed in the country.  Polygamy was recognized by the State under customary law, although under statutory law only one wife was allowed.

Addressing the experts’ concern about the conflicts between the country’s customary and statutory law, several members of the delegation acknowledged that the Convention had not been comprehensively domesticated, although some Zambian laws made provision for certain standards provided in that important instrument. However, they pointed out that the wider Zambian population would not necessarily agree that all customary law was bad.  It was essential to identify the good and the bad in traditional law, and a current legal review intended to do just that.

The delegation also pointed to constraints affecting Zambia’s compliance, among them poverty and a difficult economic situation in the country.  Also, Joe Kapembwa, a specialist in the Zambian Ministry’s Gender and Development Division, cited the recent change in Government.  Some of the proposed legal reforms had been delayed, because the process had been interrupted by elections last November.  However, the new Government was beginning to study the proposed reforms.  

Zambia’s delegation also included Ester Sinkala, Principal Inspector of Schools in the Ministry of Education.

At 10.30 a.m. Wednesday, 5 June, the Committee will take up the combined initial, second, third and fourth reports of Saint Kitts and Nevis.


According to Zambia’s combined third and fourth periodic reports (document CEDAW/C/ZAM/3-4), despite the fact that the country’s Constitution proclaims every person’s fundamental rights and freedoms, the challenges there are not in the letter of the law alone:  many changes are required in the area of customary laws, cultural practices and attitudes.  It is equally important to create awareness of women’s rights and ensure their representation at all decision-making levels.

The Convention became effective in the country in 1985.  Although it is Zambia’s third and fourth combined report, the document before the Committee is being presented as if it were an initial one, as it will form the basis for subsequent reports.  It covers the period from 1964 to the end of 1997.

According to the document, the country has over 73 tribal groups, the majority of which are matrilineal.  Despite ethnic diversity, the status and position of women have remained low in all Zambian cultures, however.  Even in matrilineal societies, it is the uncle or brother who is mandated to make decisions.  Girls are socialized to become wives, mothers and care-givers and to be submissive, while boys are groomed for the leadership role of providers. Christianity is widespread in the country, and Zambia’s Constitution states that it is a Christian nation.

Zambia’s national machinery for the advancement of women includes a Gender in Development Division under the Office of the President.  It is headed by a Permanent Secretary and has its own vote in the national budget.  Gender focal points at fairly senior level have also been established in all ministries, provincial administrations and other organs of government.  There is also a fairly strong women’s movement in the country, and several non-governmental organizations (NGOs) pursue programmes that advance women’s development.  Non-governmental organizations have also formed a committee on the Convention which monitors activities and reports to a related government committee.

The country’s Constitution recognizes a dual legal system, whereby local courts administer customary or traditional law.  On such matters as inheritance, marriage or compensation for property, these courts uphold customs that discriminate against women by considering them to be subordinate to or property of men and their families.  To address the problem, the Government has developed a draft national gender policy intended to strengthen gender focal points in nine ministries, which are better placed to address gender-related issues within Government and other institutions.

The report further states that while certain discriminatory laws remain on the books, the Ministry of Legal Affairs is currently reviewing existing legislation to amend laws that discriminate against women.  The coexistence of customary and statutory law, as it applies to marriage and inheritance rights, was legally addressed through the Intestate Succession Act of 1989, which gives spouses rights of inheritance and supersedes customary law.  To assist women in negotiating current legal provisions, the Women’s Rights Committee of the Law Association of Zambia has set up a women’s legal clinic, which provides legal advice and counselling to women.  It also takes up cases on behalf of women who cannot afford legal fees.

Regarding women’s participation in the political system, the document states that they represent only 12 per cent of elected officials in the country.  The absence of women in politics translates into their reduced participation at decision-making levels.  This has been the subject of an ongoing debate, with the women’s movement demanding that there should be a quota system in Zambia.  In general, women participate in both formal and informal sectors of the country’s economy, but their contribution is considerably more evident in the informal sector, where they spend long hours with little economic gain.  In recognition of the need for women to be prepared to participate in Zambia’s economic development, the Government has introduced a Programme for the Advancement of Girls’ Education and put in place deliberate policy measures to advance women economically through such projects as a micro-finance trust and the provision of hammermills to assist women’s groups in generating income. 

On sex roles and stereotypes, Zambia reports that a number of traditional practices reinforce the inferior status of women.  In many groups, for example, men are expected to pay lobola, or bride price.  Such payments render the women subordinate as she is regarded as the man’s property.  In some instances, she is not free to leave her marriage until lobola is repaid.  Another negative tradition is polygamy for men, which is recognized under Zambia’s statutes.  Initiation ceremonies and pre-marriage counselling also emphasize sex roles and encourage stereotyping.  Gender stereotyping is also evident in the country’s folk art and misinterpretation of religion and holy books.  Witchcraft is almost always associated with women and, of late, an alarming number of elderly women have been killed, sometimes by members of their own families.

Also according to the report, the country has identified the need to strengthen its legislation against prostitution, exploitation of prostitutes and trafficking in women.  A few organizations in Zambia run programmes that try to reform prostitutes and protect orphaned girls from resorting to prostitution.  Regarding nationality, the document states that under the country’s legislation, the rules for acquisition of citizenship for those born in Zambia, those whose parents are Zambians, and those who become citizens through naturalization, apply to all Zambians, regardless of gender.  However, there is no equality of the sexes as far as those who marry a Zambian are concerned.  A foreign woman married to a Zambian requires a letter of consent from her husband if she wants to become a citizen.  Since 1989, any foreign spouse irrespective of gender qualifies for citizenship after 10 years.

On freedom of movement, the document states that it is assured for those in possession of a passport.  However, the passport office requires that women have written consent of the father of their children to travel.  Although overturned in the courts, this practice is still in place.  There are also gender imbalances in the education system.  While at the primary school level there is parity between boys and girls, disparities emerge in secondary schools and grow wider afterwards.  Girls are consistently less likely than boys to finish primary school.  The private sector, churches and NGOs are involved in teaching, secretarial and trades training, as well as basic education.  In 1991, the Government established the National Alliance for the Advancement of Literacy and a related secretariat at the Ministry of Community Development and Social Services.   Among the goals was to promote awareness of the rights of women and ensure basic literacy for them.

In the field of employment, several laws have been repealed that banned women from certain types of work.  Zambia has ratified the International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention on equal pay for men and women.  However, gender income disparities still exist, and some employment practices are still discriminatory.  The Employment Act provides for maternity leave with full pay after completion of two years of service.  Although there are attempts by employers to undermine full women’s enjoyment of these rights, the courts have upheld those rights.  In general, women’s participation in the economy remains insufficient, with 54 per cent of women not working.

Customary law has a major role in governing marriage and family relations in Zambia, the report states.  Customary marriages are potentially polygamous, and unite two families as opposed to two parties to marriage.  Although in certain ethnic groups a girl may find that she has been given away in marriage by her parents without her consent, this is not the norm.  Customary laws also look at biological maturity as more relevant to the girl’s readiness for marriage than age, and child marriages do exist.  Traditionally, women are denied any rights to family property or maintenance on dissolution of marriage.

Introduction of Reports

MARY GRACE NKOLE, Permanent Secretary for the Gender In Development Division in the Office of the President, introduced the Zambian delegation and presented the country’s third and fourth oral reports.

She said that the results of the 2000 census showed that Zambia’s population was 10.3 million, with women constituting 50.7 per cent of the total.  The Zambian Government had emphasized and demonstrated commitment and political will to eradicate discrimination against women.

In this regard, she said, Zambia had acceded to and ratified conventions and instruments that guaranteed human rights without distinction based on sex or other grounds whatsoever.  Zambia had joined the international community in endorsing several plans of action and conventions for the full, equal and beneficial integration of women in all development activities.

She said that at the national level, the Government had put in place a number of policy and legislative measures aimed at eliminating discrimination against women.  In particular, the condemnation of acts which caused physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women and children was enshrined in the constitution.  It bestowed upon all persons in Zambia, regardless of race, place of origin, political opinion, colour, creed, sex or marital status, the rights and freedoms enshrined therein.

Despite a number of legislative and policy provisions, Zambia, like most Commonwealth jurisdictions, operated a dual legal regime implying that international instruments ratified or acceded to by the State were not self-executing at domestic level, and required enabling legislation to be enforceable, she said.  However, the Convention on the elimination of discrimination against women had not been comprehensively domesticated, although there were certain provisions within the Zambian corpus of laws that acknowledged the standards promulgated in the Convention.

However, Zambia had developed an assistance framework for 2002–2006, one of whose priority areas was the domestication of international human rights instruments ratified or acceded to by the State.  Furthermore, Zambia in 1999 had passed the Zambia Police (Amendment) Act, which, provided among other things for the establishment of the victim support unit in the Zambian police service, resulting in the installation of such units at all police stations and posts.  Their functions were to provide protection and counseling to victims of crime, particularly of gender violence, as well as to offenders.

To enhance the representation of women in politics and decision-making, the Zambian Government in 1997 signed the Southern African Development Community (SADC) declaration on gender and development, committing governments to ensure a minimum of 30 per cent participation of women by 2005.

Ms. Nkole cited statistics indicating that women’s representation in Parliament had been fluctuating:  in the 1996 general elections the total number of candidates was 593, of whom 49 were female.  Out of the 569 female candidates, 13 were elected to parliament.  On the other hand, in the 2001 general elections, 202 women stood for election out of a total of 1,198 parliamentary candidates.  Of those, 19 were elected to Parliament.

The Zambian Government had noted with concern the disparity in status between women and men, she said.  That was largely due to historical and cultural factors, which encouraged men to participate in the productive sector while women were encouraged to work in the traditional sector.  The Government had also realized that despite the existence of matrilineal cultural groups, Zambian society was overwhelmingly patriarchal and customs were male-dominated.  Stereotyping with distinct division of labour between men and women was a feature of society, with traditional practices tending to reinforce the “inferior” status of women.  Stereotyping was also reinforced through songs and arts:  it was common for artists to sing about women in derogatory language.

The report noted that the issues of prostitution and trafficking in women had not been overlooked.  Though prostitution generally referred to a woman or man who engaged in sexual activity for payment, in the context of Zambian beliefs and values, men were not associated with prostitution.  Although there had been no concrete evidence to support claims of trafficking in women, the Government intended to undertake a study to establish the extent to which it occurred in Zambia. 

The report noted that the participation of women in political and public life was limited, and that women had been underrepresented at all levels of decision-making in Government, Parliament, political parties, the private sector and public service committees.  Available statistics indicated that of senior Government officials involved in policy formulation, women accounted for less than 10 per cent.

In order to correct that anomaly, the Government had embarked on a decentralization policy with a view to ensuring that decisions were made closer to the beneficiaries at village, district and provincial levels.  It was envisaged that once this process began, more women would be involved and would benefit from the decision-making process.  Additionally, the Government had adopted a public-service training policy whose policy objectives included affirmative action in training women employed in the civil service.

The Zambian Congress of Trade Unions had also emphasized the need for its affiliates to ensure that women were involved in the decision making process, she noted.  Non-governmental organizations were encouraging women to participate in public and political life.  Moreover, the Zambian Government had a non-discriminatory policy with regard to representation in its foreign missions.  Formerly forbidden to represent the Government in foreign missions, married women could now be posted to serve in missions abroad accompanied by their spouses and children.

On nationality, Zambia’s constitution and citizenship act framed the rules for acquisition or loss of citizenship, and those rules applied to all Zambians regardless of sex.  However, prior to 1989, the law stipulated that a foreign spouse of a Zambian man could apply for citizenship after three years of residence in Zambia, while the foreign spouse of a Zambian woman qualified for citizenship after 10 years of residence.  In addition, the requirement that women obtain written consent from their husbands before their children were included in their passports had been abolished.

According to the report, some of the policy measures and interventions aimed at addressing the plight of girls in the education system included the following:  setting aside 25 per cent Government scholarships for female students at universities; introduction of lower cut-off marks for girls at grade eight and ten; turning boys-only technical schools into coeducational institutions to ensure that girls also acquired technical skills.

The issue of employment continued to constitute a challenge; in consequence, the Government recognized the equal rights of men and women to participate in the economy and to enjoy fair labour practices and safe and healthy working conditions.  In that regard, Zambia had ratified the International Labour Organization convention on equal pay for work of equal value by women and men.  In addition, the Government had repealed laws banning women from securing certain types of work.

Despite such policy measures, women continued to encounter difficulties in gaining access to training and employment.  There had been a slight improvement in access to health services, which rose from 72 per cent to 85 per cent in 1993, but despite that improvement, the health status of the population remained low.

HIV/AIDS had taken its toll on human, financial and other resources, and it was now evident that the epidemic was beginning to have a major impact on Zambia’s social and economic performance.  Recognizing that it could not provide health services in isolation, the Government had been working in collaboration with stakeholders to initiate and implement a number of measures which included:  training of traditional birth attendants to supplement the efforts of medical personnel, particularly in rural areas; introduction of family life education in schools; early detection and management of sexually transmitted diseases; provision of voluntary counseling and testing for women in maternal and child health and family planning clinics; and the introduction of youth-friendly areas in all health centres, whose objective was to handle the reproductive needs of youth, particularly girls.

The report indicated that the dual legal system practiced in Zambia allowed the coexistence of statutory and customary laws.  It stated that customary law was predominantly patriarchal in nature, and largely biased against women.  That bias emanated mainly from the fact that customary laws were unwritten and administered by a male-oriented local court system.  In response to this, the Government and stakeholders had initiated sensitization campaigns targeting violators, victims and law enforcement agencies.

In conclusion, the report noted that the implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) had not been without constraints.  Those had ranged from embedded traditional beliefs, a lack of appreciation of gender issues, and limited financial and human resources.  In many instances, limited collaboration between the Government and civil society had negatively impacted the implementation of the provisions of the convention.

Experts’ Comments

Several speakers in the ensuing discussion praised the frankness of the report, which had honestly presented the problematic areas regarding the implementation of the Convention.

At the same time, serious concern was expressed about the stereotypes and prejudices that still prevailed in the country, and discriminatory provisions of both public and customary law.  There were many violations of women’s constitutionally mandated rights in Zambia covering a wide range of issues, including education, health, marriage, divorce and economic situation.  The provisions of the Convention had not been incorporated into domestic law, and that question required instant attention.  Had the Government attempted to address, through legislation or other programmes, the modification of customs and practices that resulted in discrimination against women and perpetuated such discrimination?  Questions were also asked about the time frame within which the Government intended to take action in that regard.

Legal reforms should not be connected to the issue of the lack of resources, but should be set in motion immediately, one expert said.  One of the constraints in prohibiting customary law, according to the delegation, was the fact that some ethnic groups associated their identity with those customs and traditions.  Did the Government intend to start an education campaign to change such attitudes?

In the country’s presentation, another speaker said, there was not enough emphasis on the fact that the provisions of national law should clearly outweigh the discriminatory provisions of customary law.  According to article 5 of the Convention, continuation of severely discriminatory practices against women should not be allowed.  There should be no exemption for customary law in the Constitution of Zambia.  It was important to prohibit violence against women, which was exacerbated, in some cases, by the existence of customary laws.

In general, violence against women emerged as a serious area of concern.  The country’s next report should contain a special section on that issue, said an expert, expressing grave alarm over the seriousness of the problem in Zambia, with 263 women murdered by male partners or family members in one recent year alone.  What was the country’s policy on violence against women?  Also of interest to the experts were measures in support of female victims of crime.  Were perpetrators of violence against women prosecuted by the courts, and what measures were being taken against them?

Regarding measures to overcome stereotypes in education, a speaker said that it was important to increase awareness of the Convention and the outcome of the Beijing Conference on Women.

Also noted was the need to provide training to legal and other specialists.  Were human rights issues taught at the university level?  Were there women police officers who could deal with female victims of violence?  Were there any cases when violence against women was prosecuted in domestic courts?

Country Response

Responding to the experts’ questions, Ms. NKOLE said it appeared that the major concern was over conflicts between customary and statutory law.  That was also a major concern for those in her Government who were concerned with the emancipation of women.  The Zambian population would not agree that everything in customary law was bad, just as it could not categorically state that everything in statutory law was good.  It was important to distinguish between the good and the bad, and that was in fact what the current review of Zambia’s legal framework was aiming to address.

There was a need to see that the provisions of the constitution were gender-sensitive, she added.  In order to accomplish that, what was required was an education campaign to sensitize the public.

In a separate response, JOE KAPEMBWA, a Specialist in the Gender and Development Division, said that a task force to look into a number of conventions that Zambia had signed but not ratified was being led by the Zambian Ministry of Legal Affairs.

Ms. NKOLE, responding to a further question, said that the other concern regarded the police and their role in the establishment of victim-support units.  The only real concern was the failure to give due emphasis to the need to staff such units with women experts and people to provide the police with gender-based training on human rights and similar issues.  That way, she said, the police officers would not victimize anyone, as had been the case in the past.  Further, the penal code now provided for the punishment of violators.

She said that Zambia had a number of NGOs, including the Permanent Human Rights Commission, which were working on issues of rights abuses and were constantly monitoring the situation.  There was also a lot of political support from the President, who had indicated in his inaugural speech that he was very concerned about gender issues.  It was the intention of all within and outside the Government to see to it that the Convention was implemented, she said.

Women were stigmatized because cultural and traditional practices allowed men to do whatever they pleased whereas women could not.  She cited the example of both men and women having outside affairs -- with only the woman being labeled as a prostitute.

On the rising number of children being forced into unpalatable activities, Ms. Nkole admitted that it was true that more and more children were now found out on the streets and near bars, selling odd items and goods to supplement family incomes, sometimes with the tacit approval of parents.  She added that prostitution among girls who came as refugees into Zambia was just as bad as among Zambian girls, because most of them were illiterate and ignorant of what they were doing.

Regarding women’s access to land and health services, Ms. NKOLE said that efforts were being made to improve the situation of women’s and girls’ health.  Not all efforts were successful, however, and, in many cases, women had to travel a long way to reach a clinic.  The Government’s efforts to improve women’s access to land had started with a 10 per cent allocation of land to women.  Now, that quota had been raised to 30 per cent.  However, under the traditional system, it was the man who owned the land, and most of the land was already rented.

As for the number of women killed, she was not aware of the figure quoted by the expert.  However, even if it was only one woman that was killed, it was bad enough.  Still, among the challenges that the country was facing was the situation of older people.  In many places, older women were blamed for the poor economic situation and killed as witches.

In accordance with the Beijing Programme of Action, she continued, the areas of special concern were being identified.  The education of the girl child, health against the backdrop of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, empowerment of women and the situation of rural women were among the Government’s concerns.

As for violence against women, it was necessary to look into the root causes of the situation and raise public awareness that it was a crime to beat a woman. The Government was in the process of enacting laws on domestic violence and child protection.

Mr. KAPEMBWA reiterated that many problems stemmed from traditional attitudes.  Now, the problems were being documented and measures were being put in place to make sure that they were eradicated.

Further Comments from Experts

As the Committee members continued posing questions to the delegation, concerns were raised regarding women’s health, the trafficking of women and the status of the law on violence against women.  An expert expressed concern about the lack of information regarding trafficking in people in the country, for it was a growing phenomenon all over the world.

The issue of human rights should not be viewed as a purely legal question, an expert said.  Those rights should become a way of life in Zambia.  Education in that field should be part not only of university curricula but of school programmes at the elementary level.  That was the only way the country could achieve justice and equality.  Human rights were every human being’s birthright, and everybody in society should be aware of their existence.  Also needed was the Government’s political will, another speaker added.

Regarding prostitution, an expert noted that according to the report, cultural values encouraged male promiscuity, while any woman engaged in sexual relations with a man other than her husband was considered a prostitute.  Social stigma associated with this situation was a cause of concern, as was the sexual abuse of minors.  What were the legal procedures against prostitution?

Also addressed in the debate was the situation of refugee women, who were particularly vulnerable in a foreign country.  Speakers wanted to know what naturalization procedures were in place in Zambia and whether refugees had a right to work.

Questions were asked about the national machinery to improve the situation of women and the work of women’s NGOs.  In connection with legal reform, how enlightened were the politicians who were in charge of legislative approval of new laws under consideration?  Were they aware of the provisions of the Convention?  How would the laws of Zambia be harmonized with the Convention?

Mr. KAPEMBWA also explained that some of the proposed legal reforms had been delayed because the process had been interrupted the elections of November last year, which ushered in a new administration.  That had caused the process to be shelved until now.  However, the new Government was beginning to study the proposed reforms. 

He said that there was very little trafficking in women in Zambia at present.  He ascribed this in part to the landlocked location of the country.  However, that issue could be taken up again once further evidence had been gathered, he said.  Public awareness needed to be spread about the Convention, and people were calling for its complete review.  It was hoped that what resulted would be better for the country and for the public.

Experts’ Comments

Before giving the floor to the experts for further questions, the Chairwoman urged Zambia’s representatives to study closely the issue of exploitation of prostitutes.  On trafficking in women, she recommended that the representatives look beyond transborder trafficking and examine the effects of the phenomenon within the country.

On the realization of Zambia’s proposed goal to enhance women’s participation and responsibility in decision-making organs by some 30 per cent, several experts wondered what had been done to lobby the country’s political leadership towards achieving that objective.  They stressed that in traditionally patriarchal societies, it was the ethical responsibility of patriarchal bodies to ensure equal representation, but women should make every effort to ensure that gender issues were mainstreamed at all levels of political and public life.  The experts championed the role of women’s NGOs in that regard, but they also emphasized the importance of employing the expertise of all civil society actors.

Another expert asked for clarification on the role the Gender in Development Division played in formulating policies and programmes in all other sectoral ministries, particularly those overseeing efforts towards judicial reform.  She expressed an added concern about the effectiveness of monitoring and evaluation of gender mainstreaming activities.  Was there a specific body that focused specifically on that issue?

Country Response

Ms. NKOLE said that following recent elections, wide consultations had been conducted to identify women to be appointed to ministerial positions, and three ministers and four deputy ministers had been appointed as a result.  She added that affirmative action was needed to improve women’s representation in general.  Certain measures were being taken, however.  For example, women could now go on diplomatic missions, and their husbands could follow them as dependents.

Regarding the national machinery for gender equality, she explained that a single strategic plan for the advancement of women in the country, and there was a special division responsible for coordinating national efforts.  Gender focal points within ministries had recently been turned into directorates for planning.  The only ministry that had not done that was the Ministry of Education, where the principal inspector remained the gender focal point on women’s issues.  Guidelines and checklists had been provided to various ministries and departments to help them in implementation of relevant policies.  Now, she said, it was important to make sure women were prepared to accept the new measures that were being introduced.

Mr. KAPEMBWA said that certain ministries had established community management units, trying to involve women in decision-making.

Experts’ Comments

An expert applauded the fact that the Government had put a quota in place as far as land leases and ownership were concerned.  However, the implementation of that quota was impeded by the fact that women had to put up a collateral and had difficulty in accessing credit.  For that reason, some accompanying measures needed to be associated with the introduction of the quota, for it was important to take into account the actual circumstances in the country.  Was there a gender dimension in the work of the new marketing authority?  What measures were being taken to establish women’s cooperatives?  Were international donors involved in supporting such cooperatives?  Did women have a right to inherit land?

Employment issues also received significant attention from the experts.  One of them said that the Convention required States parties to eliminate discrimination on the grounds of sex, but there was no evidence that there were employment discrimination laws in place in Zambia, which would empower women to take legal action in cases of such offences.  Was the Government considering introducing such legislation in the future?  What was being done to stem sexual harassment in the working place?  Legislation was also required to ensure equal pay for equal value, in accordance with both the relevant ILO convention and the anti-discrimination Convention. 

An expert also wondered about the custom of “sexual cleansing”, asking if it involved sexual mutilation.  Was it prohibited?  Were laws being considered to impose punishment for sexual offences against minors?     

Addressing maternal health issues, another expert stressed that the global trend towards privatization of social services had made provision of adequate health services particularly difficult in developing countries.  Still, that did not mean that women had to die as a result of giving birth.  With that in mind, she was very disturbed by the extremely high maternal mortality rates in Zambia.  She asked for clarification on the country’s initiatives to address the issue, particularly the large number of women who died during or immediately following childbirth.  She also expressed concern about the situation of HIV/AIDS in Zambia.

She went on to urge Zambia to take a second look at the role older women played in perpetrating some traditional discriminatory practices, especially regarding women’s reproductive roles.  She felt it was important for education programmes to note the effect of such practices on other generations.  She proposed that in addition to sensitizing the media, health-care advisers, educators and others, older women needed to be made more aware of the effects of traditional discriminatory practices. 

Another expert expressed deep concern about the high proportion of Zambian women who gave birth before the age of 19.  Among other things, she wondered what sort of social services those women and their children received.  What allowances were being made to ensure the education of pregnant teens?  Did Zambia have effective and capable family planning services?  She asked for clarification on the programmes aimed at allowing rural women to own land.  She felt that the initiatives outlined in the report actually appeared to hinder such ownership.  She also asked Zambia to give statistics on literacy rates, particularly among women.  Another expert asked about Zambia’s drop-out rates.

Country Response

On the issue of land rights, Ms. Nkole explained that traditional land was categorized differently from central government land.  Rural marketing strategies were being enhanced to improve the capacities of rural women to market.  She added that cooperative structures were planned to enhance agricultural skills and diversify crops.  That initiative was particularly important, because in the past, droughts, pestilence and other natural disasters had been particularly devastating to traditional “mono-crop” farming activities.

On sexual harassment in the workplace, she said that complaints of such activity could be brought before the Human Rights Commission, among other bodies.  She added, however, that such behaviour was very difficult to root out as accusations were considered to be mere “he said, she said” situations.  So the problem was to ensure that actual evidence of harassment was verified.

She said that “sexual cleansing” was the belief that a family member must sleep with a widow in order to free her –- and the rest of the household -– from the spirit of the deceased.  The traditional intention of that practice had been to keep the family together.  But now, particularly because of the prevalence of HIV/AIDS, it was being vigorously discouraged.  She added that the Government was aware of light sentences for rape of girls, and that attempts to strengthen laws governing punishment were under way.  The issue of marital rape was very difficult, she said.  The most effective way to curb the practice would be to drastically enhance education.

ESTER SINKALA, Principal Inspector of Schools, Ministry of Education, said that the Government’s goals in the area of education were to increase enrolment and completion rates for all children and improve the quality of education.  The enrolment rate had lately increased to 50 per cent for girls, and efforts were being made to remove stereotypes regarding gender roles.  Girls were encouraged to take science classes. 

Regarding girls having children before the age of 19, she said that girls were expected to get married and have children at an early age.  There were very few role models that differed from the traditional ones, especially in rural areas.  More information was being provided to girls regarding sexual behavior and the danger of HIV/AIDS.  Efforts were also being made to improve their self-esteem.  To address the issue of early pregnancy and marriage, the Government was working with non-governmental organizations and other partners.  Female school drop-out rates fluctuated between 30 and 35 per cent.

To increase access to education for various groups of children, community schools were opened in rural areas and in the regions where vulnerable populations could be found.  Vagrant children and AIDS orphans who were being brought up by their grandparents, as well as poor children, were also targeted.  Regarding the efforts to address the problem of HIV/AIDS, she said that women were more vulnerable than men, and an inter-sectoral programme was in place targeting women. 

Experts’ Questions

Uniform marriage laws were needed in the country, an expert said, encouraging the Government to accelerate its efforts in that area.  Polygamy was recognized by the State under customary law, although under statutory law only one wife was allowed.  Had there been any case in the Zambian courts when a man with more than one wife was prosecuted? another member of the Committee asked.

Education, information and training could become instruments to eliminate discrimination against women and negative stereotypes, a speaker pointed out.  Careful analysis of the country’s reports had failed to produce a single example of the Government’s commitment to its international obligations under the Convention.  In each of the sections of the report, contradictions with the Convention could be found, and she was concerned and disappointed that, although frank, the report did not provide any information about the Government’s plans to remedy the situation.  What was it going to do to educate men and women of all ages to make them understand what real equality meant?  Women should not continue to be subject to clear-cut discrimination in Zambia.

Country Response

Responding to that round of comments from the experts, Ms. NOLKE stressed that customary law was not easy to codify, particularly in a country like Zambia which was home to 73 ethnic groups.  On issues related to persons with disabilities, she said that the Handicapped Act and been amended and now, as the Persons with Disabilities Act, the policy gave women in special circumstances particular consideration.

In most societies where traditional laws were practiced, polygamy was generally accepted.  She agreed that it was unacceptable, particularly in light of the HIV/AIDS pandemic.  A new marriage act was under consideration.  She added that there had been cases in which a man taking more than one wife under statutory law had been prosecuted.

Expert’s Comments

Opening the next round of questions, two experts asked for clarification on the status of the recently formed National AIDS Council.  Was the organization a non-governmental organization, or was it a part of a specific government ministry? Another returned to her previous concern as to whether the President of Zambia could indeed nominate eight members of the country’s Parliament?  If so, had that been done in a way that demonstrated a commitment to ensuring that women made up 30 per cent of decision-making bodies, particularly the Parliament?

Another expert asked for clarification on the apparent grave disparities between customary and statutory marriage laws.  She wondered what percentage of Zambians were married under either marriage law.  How would customary laws be affected by the creation of a new marriage act?  Would customary laws be prohibited or superseded by the new legislative act?

Several experts expressed concern that there appeared to be no clear intent to implement a national action plan for women in Zambia.  One of those experts went on to say that a major national effort and broad expression of political will on behalf of women was absolutely necessary in Zambia.  She added that Zambia’s Constitution allowed preferential resource allocation and she urged the Government representatives to utilize that unique provision to ensure equality at every level of Zambian society.  Time was running out, she said.  If Zambia’s aim was to achieve equitable and sustainable development, allocation of adequate resources and broad legal reform were absolutely necessary.

Another expert expressed profound shock at hearing that older women were being murdered by family members.  She stressed that the right to life was the most basic of all human rights and urged the Government to ensure that practice was immediately dealt with.  Stopping that heinous practice went beyond excuses about the lack of resources.  If the right to life could not be guaranteed for people that could not even protect themselves, then there were particularly grave human rights violations occurring that must be dealt with.  She hoped the Government could assuage the Committee’s concerns as soon as possible. 

Country Response

Ms. NKOLE said that the national AIDS Council was accountable to the Cabinet of Ministers.  HIV/AIDS was a cross-cutting issue, which was dealt with by various ministries, members of the private sector and non-governmental organizations.  It was not only the infection that affected the women of Zambia, but also the fact that they had to care for the sick and take care of the orphans.

There was no quota system as far as the elections of female members of Parliament were concerned.  The President, who had the power to nominate some members of Parliament, had not nominated any women, so far. 

She did not believe that customary law could be completely eliminated in the country, she said.  As the customary law was very strong, even when people got

married under the statutory law, they underwent a customary ceremony first.  As there were 73 ethnic groups in the country, each had its own priorities, and wide national consultations were now taking place to come up with a national implementation plan, which should take into account local traditions and points of view.

Old people were custodians of wisdom, and it was not a common occurrence that older women were killed, she continued.  However, there were cases in which people became suspicious of them as witches.  Some women were stigmatized, and it was important to take action to stop such practices.  She agreed that Zambia needed to do more for the advancement of women and accelerate its legal reform. Budget resources needed to be allocated for gender issues.

Mr. KAPEMBWA reiterated that a comprehensive legal review was being undertaken in the country concerning such issues as the crime of rape.  He hoped that it would produce far-reaching results.

In conclusion, the Committee’s Chairperson, CHARLOTTE ABAKA of Ghana, thanked the delegation for its participation in the frank exchange of views and expressed hope that the delegation would bring the experts’ views to the Government and disseminate the Committee’s concluding comments as widely as possible.

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For information media. Not an official record.