As many African states struggle to increase the number of women on the bench and in leadership positions, one country in particular can boast of the substantial progress it has made in this area. Zambia’s Chief Justice Irene Mambilima spoke about the issue in a speech she delivered last week. She disclosed that all of the three top judicial posts are now held by women.
Chief Justice Irene Mambilima of Zambia, invited to address the country’s women accountants, said that the theme of the symposium which focused on women in leadership roles, was one dear to her heart.
The judiciary as an institution in Zambia ‘fully embraces’ the policy of having as many women as possible in leadership positions. This was partly in response to the Southern African Development Community’s Declaration on Gender and Development, to which the government of Zambia is a party.
Initially the aim of the declaration was to ensure that the decision-making structures of member states included at least 30% women – a figure now revised to 50%.
Zambia’s own national gender policy and legislation also pushes all public and private bodies towards a 50% representation of women.
The CJ was particularly pleased by the advances made in the judiciary: She was the first female Chief Justice of Zambia, she said. But in addition, the President of the Constitutional Court and the Judge President of the Court of Appeal were also female. So is the chief administrator of the judiciary.
‘In terms of gender parity on the bench, out of 76 judges of the superior court, 40 are female, representing 52% and 36 are male. Of the 17 Registrars in the various court, eight are women, representing 47%.
There were a total of 218 magistrates, 79 – or more than 36% - of whom are female. And she was confident that these figures would improve across the judiciary, she said. There were four women on the Supreme Court; four of the seven judges on the Constitutional Court were female; the Court of Appeal had seven women out of 12 judges and of the 45 high court judges, 25 are female.
Women were also well represented in Zambia’s other public institutions. The Cabinet had nine women out of 21 members, among them the country’s first female Vice President. The 40% of women in national government leadership figures is up from 12% in 2011 and 25% in 2016.
But women still faced problems in taking their rightful place. These problems ‘include discrimination on the grounds of sex, lack of resources to pursue an education, gender stereotypes and cultural beliefs. Chief among these is the patriarchal culture fueled by cultural beliefs.’
‘Male dominance is often entrenched by cultural values and inculcated into children from a very early age. These beliefs make women believe that they can only play a subservient role in life.’
‘Over the years, it resulted in many girls giving up on school. The net result was that there were more educated men than women. This was the justification for affirmative action to enable more girls to attain higher education. In this respect, efforts to stop early marriages of girls are highly commendable: Education is the key. It can open many doors. It certainly opened the door for us.’