Monday, July 18, 2011

A look at women's rights in Zambia, a christian nation by Constitution

The law prohibits rape, and courts have discretion to sentence convicted rapists to life imprisonment with hard labor. However, rape was widespread. The government did not enforce the law effectively and obtained few rape convictions. In 2008 the ZPS's Victim Support Unit (VSU) recorded 229 cases of rape, 34 cases of attempted rape, and 141 cases of indecent assault; 72 defendants were convicted, four were acquitted, and three cases were withdrawn. The law does not specifically prohibit spousal rape, and penal code provisions that criminalize rape cannot be used to prosecute cases of spousal rape.

Domestic violence against women was a serious problem, and wife beating was widespread. There is no specific law against domestic violence, including spousal abuse, and cases of domestic violence were prosecuted under the penal code's general assault provisions. Penalties for sexual assault range from two to 25 years in prison, depending on the severity of injury and whether a weapon was used during the assault. The VSU was responsible for handling cases of domestic assault, wife beating, mistreatment of widows, and property expropriation (grabbing) by the deceased husband's relatives. In practice the police were often reluctant to pursue reports of domestic violence and preferred to encourage reconciliation.

The government and NGOs expressed continued concern about violence against women. Fear of retribution and cultural considerations deterred women from reporting domestic violence cases, and the VSU stated in a June report that this meant the true extent of sexual and gender-based violence was unclear; however, increased public awareness resulted in more reporting of such incidents to police and other authorities than in previous years. The VSU reported that victims often refused to cooperate and that the unit lacked equipment to analyze forensic evidence. The government operated gender-based violence shelters, a toll‑free hotline, and six one-stop centers to provide comprehensive assistance to victims of sexual and gender-based violence. During the year the government provided gender-based violence training to more than 120 police officers.

Although prostitution is not illegal, the penal code criminalizes certain conduct associated with prostitution. Police routinely arrested street prostitutes for loitering. Prostitution was prevalent in major cities. Sex tourism occurred but was not prevalent.

Sexual harassment was common. The law prohibits sexual harassment in the workplace, and the government has successfully prosecuted persons for such actions. The government has also successfully prosecuted persons for other forms of harassment under other sections of the penal code.

Although couples and individuals enjoyed the right to decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing, and timing of their children, they often lacked access to information, and that lack effectively led to discrimination against women in the exercise of reproductive rights. Many women lacked access to contraception and skilled attendance during childbirth, including essential obstetric and postpartum care. Women generally did not experience discrimination in terms of diagnosis and treatment for sexually transmitted infections. The number of women who received HIV testing and treatment increased substantially in recent years, and many more women than men sought treatment.

The law generally entitles women to equality with men. However, the government did not adequately enforce the law, and women in practice experienced discrimination in employment, education, and land and property ownership. Women who were employed often suffered from discriminatory conditions of service, including pay inequity. Although the Ministry of Lands set aside special land quotas for women to redress the imbalance in property ownership, women lacked adequate access to credit to purchase land or property. In most cases women remained dependent on their husbands or male members of their family to cosign for loans. As a result few women owned their own homes or businesses, although some financial institutions allowed women to sign independently for loans. The government was proactive in improving the status of women through legal protections and public awareness campaigns. The Gender in Development Division in the cabinet office is the government's agency especially charged with promoting the status of women.

Local customary law generally discriminates against women. Despite constitutional and legal protections, customary law subordinates women with respect to property ownership, inheritance, and marriage. Polygamy is legally permitted under customary law if the first wife agrees to it at the time of her wedding or both families agree and the man has paid a dowry. The practice of "sexual cleansing," in which a widow is compelled to have sexual relations with her late husband's relatives as part of a cleansing ritual, continued as a practice under customary law. However, many local leaders banned the practice. The penal code prohibits "sexual cleansing" of children under the age of 16

So rape often goes unpunished, spousal rape cannot be punished. Domestic violence is widespread because there is no law on it. Women face much discrimination in public. And polygamy is legal.

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