In this article I will present a descriptive picture of the life situation of women in Zambia from my experience of having lived for six months in that country, traveling to different areas of the territory. I will begin with an economic and political contextualization of the country, followed by the body of the text in which the social conditions that impact women of all ages will be established.
Edgar Lungu, the current president of Zambia, governs a peaceful country in which 64% of the population lives under conditions of poverty, ranking him 139th in the HDI as one of the poorest in the world. The 2011 elections placed Michael Sata, a member of the Patriotic Front party, as president. Once dead, in 2014, the current president took over the government. However, the fear of locals to talk about politics shows that their mandate is not democratic. One of my colleagues closed the door of his room so that no one could hear what he was about to tell us. It is a dictatorship, he said, anyone who speaks ill of the government or who joins the protests of Lusaka -the capital- is murdered, everyone knows it and everyone is silent out of fear. When he finished, he opened the door and we continued a talk about work.
In Lusaka nobody walks after sunset because "children own the streets". It is a common behavior among teenagers to leave their home to live in the streets and take place in acts of vandalism and theft. The country of 752 618 km2 has a population - according to the 2015 census - of 15,203,315 people and has an overwhelming presence of NGOs, including the Peace Corp of the United States. However, the people most affected by common diseases, malnutrition and anemia do not have the means to treat themselves since the medical centers lack aqueducts, basic medicines and personnel.
The question that arises refers to the absence of the government and the ineffectiveness of the entities that provide economic, voluntary and free aid. The response continues to be extreme poverty despite the loans and development projects of entities such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. By receiving these loans and cede power to large foreign entities, the government power of the country is reduced and loses ability to intervene in matters of the nation.
The NGOs have their own land and do not pay taxes, in addition, they have the right to establish businesses to sustain themselves economically. These warehouses sell used merchandise, that is, they sell below the prices of the national market. The consequence is easily seen when making a comparison between the existence of national companies before and after the appearance of these sites. While in the past Zambia had 7 leather and fabric companies, today only 1 of them remains: it was impossible for local merchants to compete with the prices of foreign used clothing. However, these entities do not make large-scale projects with the high profits they receive.
Typhoid fever, which comes from consuming food or water contaminated by excrement, is one of the most common and lethal diseases, as is malaria transmitted by the bite of infected mosquitoes. Despite having a simple treatment, the number of deaths given by these two conditions reach an alarming number of people.
People who live outside the city do not have any access to drinking water or means of transport. Also, the land where they live does not belong to them. Every person who wants to build a hut should talk to the chief of the region and ask permission to settle in the place he chooses; You must also pay a tribute, usually in kind, as a way of thanking.
Girls start going to schools, but rarely reach the sixth grade. Basic education is a privilege despite being free, since it represents a loss of personnel for the job. Yes, everyone works from an early age as workers, harvest collectors, keeping the huts tidy, feeding the animals, taking care of the small children, selling vegetables and river fish in the precarious trading posts, among other tasks.
The payment for a daily workday of a worker is 20 kwacha, that is, 2 dollars. Money that is spent, in a large number of cases, on alcohol once the day is over. The vegetables and fruits that are planted around the huts are sold at approximately 5 kwacha, 50 cents. Fleeing the poverty of their primary homes, adolescents settle down in their own hut and begin to work without education: the vicious circle of ignorance, the lack of credentials and the multiple children that will come.
Zambia is the first country in the world with more young marriages. One of the reasons is forced marriage. The girls are sold for approximately 100 kwacha, that is, 10 dollars, to the family of the child or man who wants to marry her. Once married, the husband has the right to abuse his wife in any way and force her to have sex without any contraceptive method or prevention of sexually transmitted diseases.
Although condoms cost 5 kwacha, the equivalent of 50 US cents, women who use or buy them are labeled as promiscuous and impure. This leads to 59,000 new infections, 21,000 deaths related to HIV-AIDS and 8900 transmissions of the virus between mother and child in 2016; 1100000 people are currently living with the virus (UNAIDS, 2018). An approximate 95% of the deaths of women between 13 and 15 years is the result of the inability to give birth to the biological conditions of their bodies at this early age. Given the absence and precariousness of medical centers, many babies die in a short period after childbirth.
The use of contraceptives is far from being an established reality throughout the population. Additionally, all medications are supplied by the government and, therefore, are not available most of the time. Women commonly suffer from anemia due to constant pregnancies and children from malnutrition, since the food on which their diet is based consists of nshima, a mixture of corn flour and water.
Now, foreign women suffer from constant harassment of men every day; not only are they persecuted in the streets, they also try to be touched or raped because they are conceived as trophies. Daily harassment causes a sense of vulnerability that, in my particular case, was transformed into an aggressive paranoid state. Wearing a wedding ring is a way to prevent harassment from being so excessive. I was traveling with a colleague whom men constantly harassed; I opted to prevent any possibility of sexual assault by carrying a knife with a blade about ten centimeters on my belt, so that I could face the men or threaten them if needed.
One of them, a powerful person in one of the areas where we live for more than two months, told me one day in a malicious way that he did not know that I had feelings towards my friend. This generated me a question whose answer paralyzed us from fear of both during our trip: homosexuality is a crime in Zambia. Only a denunciation is necessary to condemn the person, given that public or private homosexual relations are condemned with five years in prison. The constant questions they asked me were if I was a man or a woman, why did I smoke if I was a woman, why did I wear a tie, why did I have a knife if women were not supposed to wear them and why I dressed like a man.
The prejudices of that society lead millions of people to suffer unnecessarily in too many aspects of life: repression and political persecution of dissent and homosexuality, economic scarcity, lack of health care, violence against women, violation of children's rights, violent deaths and deaths due to lack of supplies and medical personnel, among others.
For me, it is still unknown what to do to help. The work gives profits to the workers, however, the payments for the work are ridiculously small. Without university studies -which only the richest people in the country can access- it is impossible to hire a local to manage a business or efficient staff that has the necessary knowledge for certain specific tasks. I firmly believe that what the poorest countries in the world need is a well-paid job, which is only possible through private foreign investment. However, it will not be sufficient or probable without social education.
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