“Women For Change doesn’t want to speak for rural women, but to amplify their voice—to teach skills and strength so they’re able to stand up for themselves.”
Lumba Siyanga is the executive director of Women For Change, a gender-focused non-government organization in Zambia that works to build the capacities of rural women to climb out of poverty. In 1994, shortly after Lumba received her university degree, she took a government job as a research and documentation officer with the assignment to write about the realities of life in her country—five years after the establishment of multi-party democracy. During that time, Lumba and fellow researchers came upon a woman who had given birth by the side of the road because there was no transport to a distant hospital. The government refused to include this story in the final report—it was too negative—and an activist was born.
Why does Women For Change focus on working with rural women?
In rural Zambia, most people are poor—and women are the majority of the poor. This poverty is not simply about income, but social exclusion. Pregnancy and delivery is very risky, and we have high levels of maternal mortality. Accessing health care requires travel over long distances, and even clinics that are accessible have perhaps one health provider, who is always overwhelmed. Since roads are bad and there are no ambulances, sometimes you’ll find expectant mothers camping at the nearest rural health center a month before their deliveries. Education is another problem. Even though we know that for each year of education a girl receives, her life-long income rises by 18 percent, rural girls do not access education adequately. Women also carry a disproportionate burden of the daily workload. They spend hours each day, walking perhaps 10 kilometers, to fetch clean drinking water and gather firewood to use as fuel for cooking. Finally, there is cultural and social injustice. Socialization teaches women not to speak out, even when they’re being abused or burdened with work. They just carry on.
How do you work to change that?
Poverty and disempowerment is a multifaceted issue that needs a multidimensional solution. We reach out to rural communities using sketches, songs and dance to communicate. At times we put women in small groups to have discussions and learn leadership skills. Later, we will bring in the men, and by then, the women will have clarified their issues and learned how to negotiate confidently and without fear. Sometimes we use role-playing, for instance to illustrate a situation in which a woman is being abused. We use tools like the gender profile, where both men and women list what they do each day, and then discuss who does the most work, and why that is so. We also work with traditional leaders, who enjoy high levels of respect in the community, and who are important for bringing about change in attitude and behavior. Often, they’re the first to know about problems in rural communities.
What is the overall goal of Women For Change?
Women For Change doesn’t want to speak for rural women, but to amplify their voice—to teach skills and strength so they’re able to stand up for themselves, and take collective action to address the problems that they face. We want to challenge the cultural practices that inhibit women from progressing in life.
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