Are you thinking what I'm thinking?

If words alone, regardless of intention, could change circumstances then March 8 would be salvation day for many women. You can fault this day for many things but definitely not for failing to produce high profile speeches, lots of media coverage, widespread praise (both realistic and romantic) for women and their abilities, resilience and great importance, and just generally keeping women front of collective mind.

This year’s International Women’s Day on March 8 was no different. There was marching in different parts of the country, marchers were in new uniform outfits according to the organisations they represented, there were speeches and there were speeches, there were appeals to government and there were assurances by government, there was eulogizing of women on different platforms, there was celebration, there was entertainment and of course there was media coverage, lots of it.

I support the idea of commemorating International Women’s Day; its relevance needs no justification. I think the type of expression it generates is also good, including the one by those who join in simply because “everyone else is doing it”, because it contributes to entrenching a culture of celebrating women.

One of my main reservations about this day though is that I sometimes feel it encourages an amount of contentment that we as a country should not yet feel. I feel it creates an impression that gender has now arrived at the top of the country’s agenda and it is a foremost priority for millions of citizens. If it were so, I do not believe we would still see the attitudes we see towards women. We would also not see the very marked reduction and even disappearance of gender as a subject in the media and in many citizens’ conversations as we do once March 8 passes.  It is as if “gender” is an event to attend at a particular time and having fulfilled that on March 8, people can move on to other things until the next event probably the 16 days of activism against Gender Based Violence.

What if the impression created during Women’s week and Women’s Day was where we really are, can you imagine the possibilities? I think we would still be committing much time and passion to raising issues and ensuring something is done about them. I think it would bother us more that even straight from progressive events like the commemoration of Women’s Day, many women go back home to their limited means, to their toxic relationships where intimate partners double as their emotional abusers, batterers and killers, to their desperate poverty, to being ladders for political climbers who never return once they cross over to the plentiful land of public office, to illiteracy, to never ending lack.

We would be diligent in calling things as they are: for example we would not call women and children who walk long distances to draw water for daily use strong, we would call them deprived. If service delivery was as it should be, no one would have to do this. We would adjust our expectations and stop believing deep down that poverty and lack are an acceptable state of being; that it is meant to be this way for some people.

I think if all the people who raise their voices on March 8 could carry on without waiting for another event before they talk again, we could do a lot. The day to day discussion around women could significantly shift from blanket statements that do not reflect the varied nature of our realities as women, to well researched specifics. Specifics that we can confidently use as a checklist when the government talks about the services it has delivered; we can easily see how much the progress on paper reflects the progress on the ground. Specifics that can guide our own interventions as citizens; we would know better where we can make a practical difference.

If the visibility that women enjoy in the media for example and indeed the popularity among many politicians is not just lip-service, where does it go when there is no event? It is not possible that we exhaust all issues during these ‘peak’ periods. We can never run out of things to talk about: the lack of capacity that excludes many women from the possibility of having meaningful income or competing for high positions; the lack of opportunities for that same capacity building; the poverty that makes it impossible to plan as far as the next meal; the death of great ideas due to lack of access to finance; the needless suffering and deaths due to lack of access to quality health care services; the avoidable maternal mortality; the illiteracy that enables gullibility during elections; the economic dependency that makes women stay in abusive relationships; the lack of satisfactory representation in politics and other decision making roles…I will not even try to exhaust this list because I cannot. The issues are clearly too many, too complex and too urgent to be limited to a few designated days.

It is imperative to mention of course that women cannot live any better than their environment allows. If inequality, poverty, lack of opportunities and general hopelessness remain widespread in the country then surely women cannot be expected to be exceptions; they will continue bearing the brunt of these unfortunate circumstances.

It is, however, still not too much to ask that we as a country should take care not to be comfortable with treating women like a convenient category that can be sidelined for as long as we want then called upon to be fussed over and romanticized in order to complete the March 8 script or whatever occasion where a “gender quota” needs to be filled.


When it comes to issues of “morality”, there is quite something to be said about male immunity against being tried and condemned in the courts of public opinion…and women’s lack of such immunity. And so when consensual sex finds itself being categorised as a scandal, you can be sure you will hear the woman’s name much longer after her partner has even forgotten he was ever part of the case.

I suppose some context is in order here. For several days now, Zambian cyberspace has been abuzz with reactions to a “sex tape”, featuring a college couple from the Zambia Centre for Accountancy Studies (ZCAS) that has been leaked and circulated online. The comments, which are well in their hundreds or even thousands if you count across different online platforms, are varied yet their recurrent theme is the censuring of the young woman. She has been called lots of names, some of which even professional hookers would take offence at. I went through some readers’ comments on a few sites and I was so struck by the inequality in apportioning blame; the woman was taking all the flak, lots of it, while there was heavy silence about her partner. It was as though she was all alone in the video.

So last evening, I shared this observation on twitter and pointed out how all the reactions to the video were stark reminders of the fact that what is condemned in women is often tolerated and even glorified in men. I cited how 99% of the reaction (read condemnation) is targeted at the young woman and the 1% where the young man is mentioned is largely comprised of marvel at his anatomy and praise for his sexual prowess. As it turned out, a number of Zambian tweeple (twitter users) spread across the world shared my exasperation and within minutes, a whole conversation was going and it carried on beyond an hour.

The reactions around the said video confirm quite a number of things many of us already know about patriarchal logic. One quick example is how the 1 % affirms the dominant narrative that sexual prowess equals real manhood…so the readers in this category have interpreted the encounter as being about submission and conquest. Their comments are about this real man and what he did to her and so on. This is the logic that inspires that rather unfortunate pursuit by some men to assert or realise their manliness through sexual intercourse with a woman who is then almost always considered a conquest afterwards. So while, in the public’s eyes, the young woman in the video is being widely stripped of her femininity, her partner is walking away with an enhanced masculinity.

Remember the biblical story of the woman who was caught in adultery ALONE and brought to Jesus for him to judge? The woman whose situation motivated one of my favourite quotations in the Bible “let he who has no sin cast the first stone”? I have always wondered how this woman’s partner managed to so neatly stay out of the picture. He was never named and shamed and definitely he was never considered deserving of judgement and the anticipated punishment that would have followed had Jesus not set a new standard on the inappropriateness of a flawed human being judging another. The times, technology etc may have changed from the days Jesus walked this earth to now but some thinking has remained constant through the thousands of years. And if the people that dragged that woman before

Jesus were to be miraculously brought to life today, they would be positively overwhelmed by how much their own mindsets would resonate with those of most of the people commenting on the video.

I find it interesting, the gendered way in which “morality” is generally invoked. Consider how when a baby is dumped, the focus is on a “negligent mother who has abandoned her baby”. Men disappointingly fail to make an appearance on the societal blame sheet even when biology firmly puts them in the picture. And in the days when pregnancy in school resulted in expulsion, did any of you hear of any boy who got expelled alongside the girl?

Sometimes women seem to be the most intolerant of fellow women’s supposed failings. Consider concurrent sexual partnerships and what happens when some married men are discovered by their wives. A married man is discovered to be cheating by the wife, she goes after the woman he is cheating with, roughs her up, calls her all those colourful names and leaves her with a stern warning of what she will do to her if she dares go near her husband again. Then she goes back home, cooks for her husband, cleans up after him, laughs at his dry jokes and just pretty much preoccupies herself indulging her amnesia. She feels satisfied that she has sorted out the enemy who was trying to separate “what God had put together!” From where I stand, it looks like leaving the fire in the house to go and tackle some smoke outside. The ‘jezebel’ you have tackled was a simple manifestation of the real problem – your partner’s infidelity – which you are busy nursing like a favourite child. It is most likely just a matter of time before you have to go and beat someone else.

Finally, if you have ever witnessed a woman being called out for ‘improper dressing’ you will know who leads the pack and speaks loudest even encouraging unruly call boys to “teach these women” a lesson or two.

All my many digressions aside, my point is if you are going to bash the young woman in the video for “loose morals” or whatever it is, then extend it to the young man. If you are going to praise the young man for his prowess then by all means extend the honour to his partner.

et cetera