Basic Needs and Enabling Environment

Women for Change

Zambia is a land–locked country located in the Southern African sub–region. It is rich in such resources as arable land, minerals, water, human and other resources which can generate much needed capital. Ironically, Zambia is ranked as one of the poorest and least developed countries in the Third World.

Poverty is widespread, and is increasing both in the urban and rural areas, although it is more severe in the later. Poverty studies by the World Bank unanimously conclude that "the prevalence, depth, and severity of poverty is greater in rural Zambia". Overall poverty has been increasing since the 1980s. It was estimated at 40% in 1975, but increased to about 50% of the urban population in the 1990s.

Women are worst hit by poverty due to high levels of unemployment, lack of access to such resources such as credit and land. The priority survey of 1992 indicates that poverty is higher or more severe among female–headed households. The survey found 70% of the female–headed household to be extremely poor compared to 60% of male–headed households.

The situation has been worsening since the re–introduction of the World Bank and IMF Structural Adjustment Programme1 in the 1990s. Out of the 10 million people in Zambia, about 5.5 million live in absolute poverty. Widespead poverty has had a negative impact on the access of people to basic needs such as education, health, water and sanitation, etc. There is no "enabling environment" to assit the poor, (especially women), to overcome these.


Generally, in Zambia, very few children have access to various levels of education. Recent data compiled by UNICEF depicts the situation as follows:

"While Zambia once achieved Universal Primary Education, now only 56% of 7–13 year olds are in Primary School. Nearly 700,000 children are not, and only 44% of Primary School aged children actually complete Grade Seven. As is to be expected, adult illiteracy rates are high and rising. One third of the adults are illiterate and two thirds of these (66%) are women."

Fewer children trickle up through to junior or senior secondary education. Since the advent of theThird Republic in 1991, the progression rate of Grade 7 candidates has been less than 35% each year.

Of the half million (528,633) Grade 7 children who sat for examinations between 1991 and 1993, 68% did not make it to secondary school. The drop–out rate is much higher than the progression rate at this level. (See Table 1 and Graph. 1)

Graph 1

Grade 1. Selection Figures and Progression Rates 1991-93

Year of Examination Nº of candidates Nº selected rate Progression out Drop-Grade rate
1991 166,746 58,188 34 66
1992 168,182 57,044 33 67
1993 193,705 53,348 28 72
Totals 528,633 169,577 32 68

Girls have less access to education than boys. More males than females enroll at various levels of education. Girls constitute about 38% of secondary school enrolment, 23% of total enrolment in vocational and technical colleges and about 25% at University Level. In ALL the nine provinces of Zambia, there are more boys than girls in Secondary Schools. (See Graphs. 2 & 3)

Graph 2

1 = Copperbelt
2 = Central
3 = Lusana
4 = Southern
5 = Luapula
6 = Northen
7 = Eastern
8 = North Western
9 = Western

Graph 3

Illiteracy rates in Zambia are quite high. 33% of the population cannot read and write. The illiteracy rates are much higher among women than among men. 66% of the illiterate are women.


The health status of the Zambian people is deteriorating with the life expectancy at its lowest level in several decades (44 years).

Zambia has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the Southern African sub–region. The national average rate is 202 deaths per 100.000 live births. In rural districts such as Mongu, it is as high as 889 per 100.000 live births.

Infant and under five mortality and morbidity rates are even higher as is evident in the Table 2.

Infant and Maternal Mortality

Infant Mortality

113 pr 1000 live births

Under Five Mortality

202 per 1000 live births


40% of Under 5 years

Iodine deficiency

46-82% of School children

Vitamin A deficiency

25-50% of Under 5 years

Major causes of child death

Malaria, Diarrhoea and Malnutrition

Maternal Mortality (202 per 100,00) live births

34% women 15-49 years


children first

More than 40% Zambians have no access to safe water and adequate sanitation. Again, the rural areas are worst hit. As a result water borne diseases such as diarrhoea and malaria are on the increase. Available data indicates that on any day 12% of children have diarrhoea and the incidence of this killer disease is rapidly increasing.

There is a high incidence of disease such as anaemia among women. 34% of women aged 15–49 years are reported to be anaemic. This is partly due to the fact that as haulers of water, women tend to be in constant contact with breeding places for the deadly malaria–carrying mosquito. Malaria contributes to the high incidence of anaemia in women (see Table 3).

Access to Water and Sanitation

  Total Urban Rural
Access to safe water 53% 70% 28%
Access to sanitation 37% 75% 12%

Food Security

Many Zambians especially in the rural areas are threatened with famine. Except for the 1995/96 rain season, Zambia has suffered prolonged drought in most parts of the country since the late 80s. Worst affected has been the maize producing belt in Southern Province –maize is the major staple food for Zambian people. Another contributory factor to poor food production is existance of the Structural Adjustment Programme. Certain pre–conditions for government to access World Bank and IMF loans have had devastating results on the agricultural sector – measures such as currency devaluation and high interest rates have led to increase in the cost of farm inputs while the high interest for agricultural credit have scared farmers from borrowing. The worst hit are women who are the major producers of food for home consumption and form the majority of the small scale farmers in Zambia. The priority survey of 1992 found 81% of them to be extremely poor.


During the change–over from one–party to multi–party rule in 1992, it was the hope of all Zambians that the "winds of change" would usher in democratic governance. Unfortunately, the new wind of change once again blew for men only, as was the case in 1964 when Zambia became independent. The so–called democratic environment has not embraced women. Women are still grossly under–represented in Parliament, Cabinet, local government and the civil service, as Table 4 indicates:

Women and Men in Decision-making

  Female Male
Member of Parliament 5% 95%
Cabinet Ministers 8% 92%
Deputy Ministers 3% 97%
Permanent Secretaries 15% 85%

This situation in Table 4 indicates that there is a great deal of sexism in Zambian politics. Women, who constitute the majority of the population in the country are not participating meaningfully in decision–making policy processes. There can be no democratic governance as long as long as the majority of people are not participating equally.

Social Status: Marriage and Family

The vulnerable position of women politically was clearly but shamelessly demonstrated in February 1996, when Parliament tabled a Bill wich sought to repeal the Marriage Act. Parliament is seeking to reverse the clause that prohibits polygamy. If the Bill goes through, polygamy in Zambia will be legalized. This means that men will be able to marry more than one woman legally!

Polygamy is oppressive and discriminatory. It enables men to engage indiscriminately in sexual activities against the wish of women especially married women. It also denies women the right to choose the kind of marriage a woman wishes to contract. It denies women the right to full family life that is of proper partnership between spouses and their children. Women’s lives will be in greater danger than ever before from the deadly disease AIDS if the Bill is passed.

Another aspect of Zambian culture is the tolerance of negative practices such as wife battery and other abuses committed by husbands against their wives. There is no law directed specifically against this practice. There is need to outlaw wife–battery so that husbands can be brought to court not only for assault (as is currently the case) but for beating their wives.

Is the Environment Enabling Enough to Change the Situation?

The Structural Adjustement Programme

In 1991, the new government promised to remove the socialis–oriented structures of the Second Republic and create a more "enabling environment" for development. In line with this policy the new government put in place a macro–economic and financial policy framework, along lines recommended by the IMF and World Bank. The Policy Framework contained fiscal and monetary measures for stabilization and for liberalizing the economy in line with the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP).

The policy reforms under SAP have included privatization of the means of production. This has entailed mainly the sale of parastatal companies to individual citizens.

The reforms have been more beneficial to rich capitalists who include mostly foreigners and a few Zambian men, who are able to buy companies and trade freely with foreign countries.

The policy reform measures under SAP have, however, resulted into a lot of social and economic problems for many Zambians, both women and men. SAP has actually contributed towards the creation of an environment which is very disenabling for the majority of the people.

The majority of the people cannot afford basic needs such as food, eucation and health because of SAP. The policy reforms under SAP for instance require the government to take certain cut–throat measures for the economy to survive. These measures include cutting expenditure on such social services as health and education and the re–introduction of user fees in these areas. This means very few or no new social services like hospitals, schools, etc. can be provided. This has consequently led to a lack of places in scools and medical facilities (especially in rural areas where pregnant women have to walk long distances to clinics).

The reform measures also require the government to reduce the work force in the public sector through staff reductions and massive retrenchments of the work force. This has resulted in massive unemployment. Many people can no longer afford their families. Many people, both in rural and urban areas, cannot afford food both in qualitative and quantitative terms.

Goverment Anti-NGO Stance

The lack of an enabling environment is further compounded by government stance against the demands, advice and suggestions of the non–governmental organizations on measures that can bring about social, economic and political change.

The government has used state machinery such as the police to arrest peaceful demonstrators on the mode of adopting the new constitution; the ruling party has been threatening to disrupt peaceful demonstrations. It has also disrupted NGO meetings by force, using the youth wing of their party.

Lack of Awareness of Poor Status of Women by the Government and its Agents

The majority of government officials, ministers, Members of Parliament are not aware of the low status of women. This is evident from the actions or statements made by members of the Legislative Body (Parliament) and of the Executive wing (Cabinet). In December last year, a Member of Parliament from the ruling party announced in Parliament that ‘women cannot be equal to men’.

Not a single male minister or MP raised a point of order against him. Only the few female MPs in the house showed concern. However, the female MPs were ruled out of order by Mr. speaker!

Lack of Effective Machinery to Articulate Problems Affecting Women

The available machinery for articulating women’s issues and problems remains inadequate. The Direcorate of Women in Development at NCDP is too junior, as the Director has to work through too many people above her rank, e.g. the Permanent Secretary, Deputy Minister, etc. There is need to give women’s issues a higher status in a body where the head will sit in Parliament to initiate legislation and be a "watch dog" in both Parliament and Cabinet.