We welcome news that the Marriage and Child Code bills are expected in Parliament shortly and support in particular any measures contained therein to address the problem of early marriages.
We have a shameful record on this front to date. In fact Zambia has one of the highest child marriage rates in the world with 42% of women aged 20 to 24 married by the time they are 18. This figure stands at closer to 60% in some areas, notably Eastern Province. It is clear we have our work cut out to deliver change. The question we need to ask is what drives these families to marry off their daughters at such a young age? The simple answer is poverty.
In 2015 13,000 girls below the age of 18 left school early because of pregnancy or child marriage, and female literacy rates remain at around 12% lower than those for boys.
These figures tell a sad story for our girls, one in which their struggle to reach their full potential is often doubly hard than that of their male counterparts. There are terrible costs of such inequality even beyond the obvious, with maternal mortality rates higher among young mothers, and those who are forced to leave education early more likely to struggle to find work in later life.
Equality in theory is not enough. We must have equality in practice. The UPND is strongly committed to 50:50 opportunities in the work place and equal pay for equal work, but this will be a hard dream for us to realise as long as the road ahead for girls is more challenging than that for our boys.
We are convinced of the transformative potential of empowering women in society. At home we have some truly inspirational success stories of young women who have grown up and been educated in Zambia and have gone on to start their own businesses, providing employment and a means of making a living to many of their fellow citizens. Internationally there is research to support claims that empowering women accelerates economic growth, and because women are more likely to reinvest their earnings in productive areas, such as education and healthcare for family members, that the benefit to society when women succeed, is bigger.
The approach we take to delivering equality in practice must work across many sectors but it starts with education. Education is the key to making sure women have the same opportunities as men. Our ambitious plans for education in the UPND will always be evaluated in terms of what they achieve for girls specifically and extra resources will be provided to level the playing field.
In the UPND’s plans to support local businesses and entrepreneurs among our youth we will make specific targets and assessments based on gender. A top priority for us in this respect will be to address the unequal access to financing that currently holds too many women back. The majority of women are in agriculture, this is the reason we have deliberately been talking about making this sector the major driver of manufacturing through value addition.
I always say the youth are the ones who carry the weight of our future on their shoulders. Just think how much we could all benefit from future generations of girls and young women who can advance without the additional burdens that those before them have had to bear.