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February 21, 2014 4:44 pm
It is the start of Zambia’s 16-day annual national campaign against gender-based violence, and in Lusaka there is a march and a rally. I wait with a small delegation from Oxfam in a vast arena before a stage draped with banners – “Be Smart. Be Zambitious”. There are armchairs for the dignitaries. A group of traditional dancers helps to pass the time. The marchers are outside the gates. They must wait for the arrival of the First Lady, Christine Kaseba-Sata, before they can enter the stadium. It’s hot. An hour passes. African time. African patience. And then a woman walks towards us. She is dressed in black and she holds a placard. On the placard is a photograph of a beautiful young girl, her daughter, murdered – we later discover – as she nursed her child. Grief cascades from her. And anger, too. Her daughter’s boyfriend was the murderer. She wants the world to know.
The First Lady arrives, with marching bands behind her. Scottish piping mingles with African drumming, soon drowned out by the trumpets and cymbals of the army band and the twirling of the majorettes. A woman from the United Nations talks passionately about how, in this peaceful and prosperous country, there is so much violence against women and children. It is estimated that 50 per cent of Zambian women have been violated in some way, with married women at most risk from their husbands. And then there are the attacks on children, the beatings and defilement and, most horrifying, the rape of babies as a superstitious cure for Aids.
The First Lady takes to the stage. “I am wearing red to signify the blood that has been shed,” she says. “Enough is enough. Our passion for ending gender-based violence should not end with this march. Take action each day of the year.”
I am in Lusaka to talk to two men who have taken action. Oxfam’s Emmanuel Ngulube and Raymond Havwala, from the YWCA Men’s Network, are spearheading a campaign called “I Care About Her”, and although only in its second year, it is already gaining momentum. I meet up with Havwala and Ngulube and they tell me how they have watched in dismay as the attempts to change men’s violent attitudes have fallen only on the ears of the converted. There have been church meetings, leaflets, changes to the law, this annual 16 days of activism, now in its fifth year, but still the violence keeps rising. So they decided to turn their attention to the men. “Who are the women in your life you care about?” they asked men from Lusaka to Livingstone, the Copperbelt and beyond. And the answers came back: “My mother.” “My sister.” “My daughter, I care about her.”
Wives were sometimes included on this list, but in a culture that encourages men to view the beatings they give women as a sign of love, these relationships are complicated.
“Every wife,” Ngulube explains, “is someone’s sister, daughter, mother, too. If we re-educate the men, appoint them champions of this campaign, each woman will be cared for.”
Later, in the foyer of a large hotel, I meet Juliet Kaira, the director of Zambia’s national women’s lobby. We begin an impassioned conversation about the mindset of Zambian men, how “bad” men are celebrated, how entrenched the issues are, how difficult it is to protect women when there is still the dual legal system of traditional and state law. Many women marry under traditional law and are afforded no protection when they are mistreated or divorced. Kaira tells me how cultural traditions are bound up in many of Zambia’s problems. The dowry system means girls are married off too young, “bought” by the husband’s family, which shortens their education and condemns them to a life of poverty. And then there is the understanding that a man’s infidelity does no damage, while a woman’s destroys the family.
A man sitting nearby looks at us, shakes his head and laughs.
Kaira’s eyes blaze. “This is why women can’t make a difference with these men – but the champions, there is a chance that they can change things.”
. . .
Zambia is a country of 13 million people and the first men to become champions are from Linda Compound, a township with the bare minimum of water, sanitation and electricity. Havwala has a friend there, Benjamin Lungu. We drive out to meet him, our car rocking and scraping over the dust-red streets, nosing its way through reams of children, young couples, boys playing football, women sitting in the doors of breeze-block huts. “We were so amazed to hear about this programme,” Lungu tells us when we finally arrive. “So many issues were raised. So much talk about violations against women and girls.” His 10-year-old daughter leans against his arm, his young son stares up at him.
“I was asked to find five good men who could care for their families. We went on a training course and, afterwards, we were asked to recruit five more. Then we approached 20 problem husbands.” These men, initially resistant, eventually agreed and, after their training, all 30 prepared the community for the launch of the campaign. “It has been a success here,” Havwala says. “Each week there is a meeting, men come, they sit around a fire, talk about the problems they are having.” There is practical advice, too: how to write a will, how to protect their families, how to tackle violence. Already there is less violence. Boys are being taught to share the chores. A year ago there was an average of four deaths a month. Women killed – beaten or poisoned. “Poisoned how?” I’m told the most common way is with a bug eradicator called Doom. Now the death rate is down: one woman a month.
Another of the champions, Francis Mbuluma, lives nearby in a small house with a half-built extension attached to the back. He is responsible for 13 children – three of his own, the rest the orphaned offspring of his brothers and sisters. “If the father is violent, the sons will be violent,” he says. He also tells me that the last time he saw a man beating his wife, he intervened. “What if this was your sister?” The man paused. “And then a week later his sister was beaten. I think he is beginning to understand.”
We meet a pastor in a small, dark church opposite his house. “Since this training, since this programme, men feel they can express themselves,” he says. His wife sits beside him. “We talk more openly between us now,” she tells me and she smiles.
The church has a key role in Zambia and still holds much influence. It is also responsible for a large proportion of the country’s healthcare. In a very different church, in the centre of Lusaka, I meet a bishop, Joshua Banda, who among his many duties – working for the Aids Council, running a clinic for sex workers – is also a champion and features in an advertisement for “I Care About Her” on television. A tall, handsome man in a silver three-piece suit, he has been preaching since he was 14. He runs programmes to mentor men, and gives seminars on fatherhood and a man’s role in the family. He has been married for 26 years and says he saw, early on, in the scriptures, that a man’s role is to support and empower his wife. “A man and a woman,” he quotes, “are equal heirs to the grace of life.” His warm, animated face testifies to the theory that the more you do for others, the happier you are yourself.
The Zambian people on the whole are blessed with beauty. Their teeth sparkle, their skin glows and they speak in low, alluring voices. None more so than the deputy inspector-general of police, Solomon Jere. I stand in the garden of the police headquarters and catch him between meetings, our conversation interrupted by greetings from passing officials.
“It is time to change,” Jere tells me. “This is our chance. We have to learn new ways. We have always been taught that to be loving is to be weak. If I am kind to my wife, people will ask, what has happened? Has she put lizards in your drink?” He laughs, and then is quickly serious. “The strength of a man has been measured by the violence he inflicts. The first thing a man feels he must do when he is married is to exert his superiority.”
It was a young woman, Doreen Mazuba Malambo, who brought the campaign to his attention. She has spent her working life in police gender relations, is the daughter of a policeman, and the wife of one too – until she divorced him for beating her.
“If the country is to change,” Jere adds, “the police must change first. Charity begins at home. And now the army is involved too. We are all being trained.” He laughs again. “And on Sunday we will march.” For a second year there is to be a men’s march and buses have been arranged to bring men from far and wide.
The day before the march, I travel with Ngulube to Nkholoma, a village in the countryside, to talk to six farmers who have become champions. We meet in the garden of a Polish mission hospital, sitting in a circle under the shade of a rush screen. “I am Timbo,” says the first man. “I am a champion.” And he smiles.
Each champion has 40 people for whom he is responsible – 20 men and 20 boys. “When I am out,” says Thomas Ngama, another farmer, “I speak to everyone I meet – in the street, the church, the pub, the shop. I tell them about ‘I Care About Her’. I tell them, and they listen. Now if there is violence, one of the champions will intervene. They won’t condemn, they try and understand.” “The women have lost trust in us,” Timbo adds, “so we men need to remake our image as protectors, not as abusers.”
An older man explains that his parents were married for 62 years, and respected and supported each other – he knows it can be done. There is one man who has remained silent. “Why did you choose to become a champion?” I ask him. He explains that his daughter was raped when she was 14. He takes a moment to gather himself. It is not an easy thing to tell to strangers. “I do not wish this to happen to any other family.”
The men’s march couldn’t be more different from the official government rally. It runs through Rufunsa District, a poor suburb of Lusaka, the streets thronged with women and children watching, curious, as campaigners wearing white “I Care About Her” T-shirts stream by waving placards. They congregate on a dusty lot where, true to their promise, the police and the army have come out in force. There is an army band and the police put on plays, re-enacting scenes of family disputes, violence and resolution, with jokes, cross-dressing and much hilarity. There are speeches, dances and then a conga of policemen in campaign T-shirts and combat trousers, swivelling their hips.
I try to imagine the Met taking to the streets in such a way. Charity begins at home. I catch sight of the deputy chief-inspector, and I hope that next time I visit Zambia there will be champions on every corner, stopping men and boys, girls and women too, and telling them: “I Care About Her”.
Esther Freud travelled to Zambia with Oxfam. To find out more about Oxfam’s projects, go to oxfam.org.uk
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