The Blog

Meaningful Inclusion of Zambian Women’s Voices at the Commission on the Status of Women

By: Bailea Tayler based on interviews with Bertha Mukonda and Veronica Nyirongo

Stepping into the virtual space of CSW, there are extraordinary opportunities for learning, relearning and unlearning. It’s a space for individuals to gather in the name of equality and empowerment – and it is a cherished space to engage in the complexity of life as a woman on planet earth. Bertha Mukonda and Veronica Nyirongo are two delegates from Zambia who have taken the time to reflect on their learning and share their lived experiences. 

Veronica Nyirongo is VIDEA’s international Indigenous youth internship (IAYI) facilitator. She was born in 1997 in Chasefu-Lundazi, eastern province in Zambia and currently lives in Lusaka, the capital city of Zambia. Veronica is a role model to her community, being the first woman to reach tertiary level (post-secondary) education. She holds a diploma in English and Art in secondary teaching and certificates in life skills, critical thinking and problem solving, entrepreneurship and information communication technology. Veronica is a strong advocate of gender equality, and through her work seeks to promote women’s leadership, and prevent and respond to sexual and gender-based violence, including early marriages. Veronica has advocated for gender equality through local radio stations, and in person meetings in schools, churches and communities. She has also been serving her community by translating important information on gender equality into local languages to help increase community knowledge and empowerment. 

Bertha Mukonda also works at VIDEA as an IAYI facilitator and Team Lead, and is based in Lusaka, Zambia. Bertha graduated from the University of Zambia in 2019 with a Bachelor of Education in Special Education and is passionate about creating supportive and inclusive spaces for young people with disabilities. She was a 2020 Spur Change Youth Champion and participated in the Coady International Institute’s Women’s Leadership in Community Development program. Bertha is passionate about gender equality, inclusion and learning more about global issues. During her time in secondary school, she served her community by sharing knowledge about women’s role in the care economy. Considering the disproportionate burden of care on women in Zambia, Bertha has been encouraging women and their male allies to rethink the demanding gender responsibilities and pressures which women face.  

veronica and her family
Photo of Veronica and her family
bertha
Photo of Bertha

The impact of climate change on rural women in Zambia


Climate change is impacting most, if not all, of daily life for many of the globe’s communities. Veronica has personally been affected by climate change due to rising prices and reduced availability of food and other basic needs. These impacts are especially pertinent for women, particularly rural women, who depend on agriculture for their livelihoods. 
 

 Bertha shared how the fluctuation in rain seasons has drastically affected her and her community. “We’ve been experiencing rain differently each year. Last year we experienced the rains very late, so we did not have enough food and what we did have died. Then when the rain came it was so heavy that many crops were washed away.” Bertha goes on to discuss the devastating reality that Zambians may find themselves experiencing increased hunger and starvation this year nation-wide as crops are depleting. The reality of starvation as a result of climate change is unacceptable and destructive to Zambian empowerment and stability. 

In Bertha’s community “women have also been experiencing different disasters like malaria, and diarrhea due to low water quality as a result of climate change.” The inconsistent and heavy rains happening across Zambia result in contaminated water, which have increased sickness and suffering for women and children. 

Women as agents of change


Climate action is the responsibility of all. This global issue is creating damaging realities and ill health for women and children, not only in Zambia, but in many rural and Global South nations. Yet, women demonstrate time and time again their ability to be agents of transformation and change in the face of adversity. 

Women in Veronica’s community are “trying extremely hard to be innovative with how they can reduce climate change.” For example, women have been experimenting and developing crops with focus on resilient agriculture. This season, Zambia has had heavy and inconsistent rain, such that the harvest has either been washed away or died, leading to heightened levels of poverty and food insecurity. Despite this, women have not given up on farming. For them, it is more than a means of income and sustenance, it is a way of life, and families and communities depend on agriculture to survive. Women are now advocating for more programs related to collective tree planting and they have introduced village banking to help one another financially, and increase their small business capacity.

Men and Boys as Allies


In Zambia, as a result of the cultural gender roles and social norms, both Veronica and Bertha advocate for the inclusion and education of men and boys as allies in gender equality. Veronica states that “men and boys are equal partners for development, this means they can take a proactive non-patriarchal and feminist approach in advancing gender equality.” Men have an important role to play for the empowerment of Zambian women as supporters and advocates for gender equality, equal rights and equal opportunities. Veronica sees the need for men to promote and include women in leadership and in decision-making. 

Bertha encourages men to be more active in climate change and support women’s initiatives. Climate change brings a lot of suffering in women’s lives, and men and boys need to be supportive and consider the compounding impacts on women. “By educating men and encouraging them to be more considerate and involved in gender equality,” Bertha believes “there will be a decrease in gender-based violence, human-trafficking, and battering of women.”

Call to Action and Advocacy Message 

 

There is much to be done, and many ways local communities and the international community can support gender equality in Zambia. This includes through gender-responsive micro grants, small business support and social protection, as well as general life skills and mental health support centred specifically on women and other marginalized groups. “Be it financial support, management skills, life skills or business skills we can support women to overcome this vulnerability of hunger, poverty and violence as climate change continues to worsen it.” - Veronica Nyirongo 

During her time at CSW66, Veronica has focused her learning on topics of gender equality and the impact of climate change on violence against women. She has raised her voice especially against early marriage as a result of gender inequities which are exacerbated by climate change. “More women and girls need to be empowered to avoid early marriage, and we need more women in leadership.” Often early marriages happen as a result of poverty and food scarcity, and the girls who are married become increasingly illiterate and economically dependent upon their husbands, which enhances their vulnerability to intimate partner violence. By participating in CSW, Veronica is taking back with her an increased knowledge of women and girls’ empowerment, which she believes is the key to an equitable food system in a changing climate, in line with the indivisible and interlinked nature of the Sustainable Development Goals. 

Similarly, Bertha advocates for women and girls in all their diversity to have access to and gain an education especially those with disabilities, who need additional support and food security, to be able to access education systems equitably. Women and girls are often removed from the education sphere for a plethora of reasons, including food scarcity. “If there isn’t enough food, they won’t be able to go to school, they will need to spend their time searching for food.” This perpetuates the education gap for women and prevents them from participating in decision-making and equitably in the economy and society.  

Both Veronica and Bertha share the sentiment that women in Zambia lack self-confidence and access to important information or knowledge to assume leadership roles, especially in rural communities, because of inequalities within the education system and limited access to the internet and technology. They call for the international community to create accessible spaces, share information in local languages and provide tangible resources and opportunities for women. Bertha says that “the best way to partner is to provide women with potential resources – provide crops, animals, and entrepreneurship ability.” Focusing on capacity-building for small business development and improving women’s ability to act as decision-making agents is a major gap in Zambian women’s empowerment programs.  

In addition, meaningful partnership is required between international organizations, local civil society organizations and women themselves. This involves working together in decision-making and coming up with solutions that suit the realities of Zambian communities through a decolonized approach, as is advocated by VIDEA. The commitment to ‘Leave No One Behind’ must be upheld in a respectful, reciprocal and meaningful manner. 

Sources of Power and Motivation  

Looking back, Veronica has found her source of power in her education and particularly her mother. “I am a role model to my community because I am the first female to attain high level of education.” Veronica’s journey has been quite a tough one, but since childhood she has always wanted the best out of herself to help her community fight early marriages and violence against women and girls. Veronica’s mother would constantly motivate her to work hard, and she would always tell her that “she can do it.” Her mother was an empowering force for Veronica. Alongside these core motivations, Veronica has appreciated the help of VIDEA and Women for Change, an organization working in gender equality and rural empowerment in Zambia. They have increased her confidence and through them she has deepened her understanding on gender equality and climate change. 

For Bertha, she has found empowerment and sources of power in interacting with people at Rural Youth Exposure conference hosted by Women for Change, where communities gather and talk through various challenges. In this space, Bertha has been motivated and encouraged by different speakers. She encourages young women, especially rural women to “dream high, dream big so that you one day can become a doctor, lawyer, anything you want.” Today Bertha is completing a Master Degree in Special Education. Bertha is proud to be a part of the VIDEA team. It has changed her way of life by exposing her to various advocacy activities and creating opportunities for her to interact with incredible people, who are determined and successful as they overcome barriers in their lives. After exposure to empowered women at the Commission on the Status of Women, she is motivated to continue her studies and inspire her community to bring about change, promote inclusion and change harmful social norms.  

These two delegates leave young Zambian women with these final thoughts and encouragements: 

“Always believe in yourself that you can do it, be courageous and confident. Every problem has a solution. Let’s continue working hard for the betterment of our community.” 

Veronica Nyirongo 

“I encourage you to continue to learn about drought resistant crops to create more sustainable agriculture. I encourage you not to give up when there are floods and encourage men to bring out ideas on how to help women access education.”   

Bertha Mukonda

Meet the Author, Bailea Tayler

Bailea Tayler, CSW66 Delegate

As a passionate student of justice and diversity, Bailea (she/her) is in her third year completing a BA in Global Development Studies. Bailea is passionate about the progress of gender equality and the empowerment of women. Baileas’ past experience has involved working alongside non-profits in supervisory roles. Primarily supervising the safe housing for vulnerable women in Calgary. She has been involved in various initiatives which promote gender equality in both India and Canada and is eager to continue learning about ways to meaningfully engage in intersectional gender equality. Bailea’s name means “peacekeeper” and she has been honoured to be able to participate in opportunities that are so closely tied to who she is. On her paternal side she is Guyanese and her maternal side is colonial French. 

Bailea is currently working as an intern at BCCIC directly under the Policy Director & Gender Specialist. She is assisting in the coordination and organization of BCCIC’s CSW66 delegation and is excited to be working alongside a delegation of such amazing and inspiring individuals.