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The Coronavirus pandemic is a challenge that was not anticipated by the global economy.  At the dawn of the year 2020, nations planned their economic growth strategies with hope of attaining development but the pandemic is upon us and counter measures have since been instituted which are aimed at;  (1) protecting the health of the citizenry, (2) minimizing the spread of the virus as much as possible and (3) ensuring that the economy is shielded from adverse effects. As of April 6, 2020 there have been more than 1,275,037 COVID-19 cases reported globally with 69,501 deaths and 265,887 recoveries. Zambia has recorded 39 cases with 1 fatality and 5 recoveries.  The impact of the pandemic has been both extensive and severe, including but not limited to, a health and an economic strain characterized by financial market stress and a collapse in commodity prices in several countries. The outbreak has led to disruptions in supply chains, created uncertainties and significantly dampened near-term growth prospects. Around the world, the COVID-19 outbreak is putting significant strain on countries’ health-care systems, economies, and social fabric. The global economic damage from the COVID-19 pandemic is largely tangible and in response, nations have turned to fiscal and monetary policy adjustments among other measures to cushion the effect of COVID-19 on the economy. This has been coupled with other measures such as non-essential travel restrictions and cancellations of large gatherings coupled with a campaign for social distancing.

The 7th National Development Plan (2017-2021); under Pillar 4 clearly; provides guidelines on strengthening public health programmes in Zambia and commits towards investments in primary healthcare to strengthen the health system. The Plan emphasizes that primary health is the pillar of the health system and is central to preventing epidemics and controlling major infectious diseases among others. Anchoring on this, the Government has instituted several measures aimed at containing the spread of this scourge and as a nation, we have been informed of various strategic measures from the Republican President, the Minister of Health, the Minister of Finance and the Bank of Zambia; aimed at ensuring that the citizens and the economy are protected.

Some of the key measures that have been implemented include:

(A) The Fiscal Side

  • An Epidemic Preparedness Fund has been set up;
  • A COVID-19 contingency and Response Plan has been set up; and
  • To support the easing of liquidity, Government is to release K 2.5 billion and this is aimed at (a) reducing domestic arrears owed to domestic suppliers of goods and services (b) reducing outstanding arrears to pensioners and retirees (c) reducing outstanding third party arrears and other employee related commitments.

Tax Relief

In order to provide relief to businesses, Government will:

  1. Suspend excise duty on ethanol for use in alcohol-based sanitizers and other medical-related commodities;
  2. Remove provisions of SI 90 relating to claim of VAT on imported spare parts, lubricants and stationery to ease pressure on companies;
  3. Suspend export duties on the export of concentrates in the mining sector to ease pressure on the sector; and
  4. Suspend export duty on precious metals and crocodile skin.

The Monetary Side

To complement the measures taken by other arms of Government, the Bank of Zambia (BOZ) has put together a set of comprehensive measures to safeguard financial systems stability, promote the greater use of digital financial services and mitigate the negative effects of this shock to the economy.  BOZ has established a Targeted Medium-Term Refinancing Facility with an initial amount of K 10 billion to provide medium term liquidity. This is a 3 to 5 years facility that will be available to eligible Financial Service Providers (FSP) in the country to enable them to restructure of refinance qualifying facilities or on-lend to eligible clients. BOZ has also scaled up open market operations to promote short-term liquidity support to commercial banks on more flexible terms than those obtaining before the outbreak of COVID-19.

Handling of cash has also been discouraged at this point and this is timely in Zambia as we are witnessing a growth in digital financial services. The aim is to promote contactless mobile payment mechanisms aimed at preventing the spread of the disease by minimizing person-to-person contact, decongesting banks and other financial institutions.  Some of the measures that have been instituted to promote non-handling of cash include;

  1. Increasing transaction and wallet limits for individuals;
  2. Waving charges for person-to-person money transaction values of up to K 150 by all electronic money issuers; and
  3. Urging commercial banks to remove transfer fees on the bank account to electronic wallet transactions for an initial period of (3) months and to reduce the Merchant Discount Rate (MDR). MDR is a fee charged from a merchant by a bank for accepting payments from customers through credit and debit cards in their establishments.

Regional Strengthening Towards WinNing The COVID-19 Fight

Regional strengthening and coordination response is key towards winning the COVID-19 fight. In our view, this response must consider 3 elements; as follows;

  1. Public Health institutions in SADC must consider sharing information and resources, including data on the spread of the disease, details of their response plans, capabilities such as epidemiological modeling, and health-care equipment.
  2. Regional and sub regional institutions need to ensure that movement of food and essential supplies continues even if some borders are closed, since these actions will support food security and help minimize the disruption to economic activity along supply chains. We have recently observed this development and it is commendable.
  3. Governments and regional institutions must maintain their commitment to social progress, enhancing social safety nets including ensuring human rights and sustaining advances made on key sustainable development goals in the health sector.

We observe that the SADC Council of Ministers has commenced discussions on best practices. This is commendable and indeed a huge component of the three-dimensional approach and other institutions also need to follow suit so as to strengthen our concerted collaborative approach.

CONCLUSION

PMRC commends Government for the concerted efforts and measures that have been instituted this far to fight COVID-19.  As an Institution, we are also playing our part by collaborating with Government agencies to recommend implementation modalities to some of these measures. We are also contributing with widespread dissemination of information to increase awareness and also challenging the citizenry to play their part. It is also laudable that Government has ensured that movement of goods is not affected by putting in place logistics to allow for market reach. This among other things also reaffirms that agriculture production and marketing are uninterrupted in this difficult period. The Government is doing its part and this is, therefore, a call for all citizens to also be responsible and endeavor to adhere to all the guidelines as provided by the Ministry of Health. If we are to win this fight, we should endeavor to all come on board with our different institutional expertise, to complement efforts being led by the Government.  The citizens are therefore called upon to be responsible and support the Government efforts by exercising concentrated adherence to all provisions as stipulated.  Further, the Ministry of Labour has provided guidelines on how workers should be treated henceforth. It is understood that many sectors have been affected especially the Tourism, Aviation among others, which have resulted in workers being laid off temporarily. This is a call for the Government to continue engaging all heads of Institutions, Private Sector and Cooperating Partners to develop further strategies that will ensure that the workers are protected even as several businesses are facing difficult moments. This will ensure that households are also cushioned.  In conclusion, PMRC further calls for massive sensitizations so as to equip the citizenry with adequate information that will allow them to exhibit precaution and also contribute to flattening the curve. At this stage, we should employ all innovative mediums that will allow us to reach as many citizens as possible.

The Coronavirus is not just a public health crisis; it is a crisis that has affected every sector and therefore every institution and individual must be involved in the fight. Together we shall win

Mrs. Bernadette Deka-Zulu – PMRC Executive Director

The commitment of the current Government in promoting gender equity in its National Development Agenda is evident from the concrete steps taken by the leadership in ensuring ‘no  one  is  left behind’  and expresses the conviction that boys and girls, men and women should benefit equally from development in Zambia. This has been demonstrated to a large extent by Government’s strong will and commitment to empowering women and the youth into high positions of responsibility in the public sector and the support provided to those in the private sector. It believes women are key stakeholders in decision making. They play a huge role in providing unique perspectives into various issues that not only impact their socio-economic spheres at individual level, but also at community and national development level. Women’s participation in the overall development agenda is not only a fundamental human right but it is also a marker of good governance. In spite all of this, gender power dynamics still shape many parts of society. Globally, women continue to be under-represented in formulation of national policies as well as in the political and economic decision-making spheres. Women’s participation in policy formulation is critical to achieving greater equality and giving women a voice in national issues.

Participation refers to the extent to which one’s voice is heard, respected and applied in decision-making, planning, implementation and monitoring of actions. Undermining women’s voices could lower levels of participation in policy formulation even further. There are several factors that converge to impede women’s participation in policy formulation. These factors can be intersectional in nature and recognizing how they influence each other is vital in addressing participation levels. These impediments could include but are not limited to: education levels of women, physical ability, age, culture, religion, location (i.e. rural/urban, high density/suburb), socio-economic class, among many others. Hence, it is important to take into consideration the factors that impede women’s participation during the policy formulation process in order to make the process more gender inclusive and responsive.

Several regional and international instruments have been drawn to support women’s participation at various levels of decision making. These frameworks have been crucial in improving the status of women globally as well as in mainstreaming a rights-based approach in governance and policy discourse. Zambia is signatory to and has ratified conventions and frameworks that include; The Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), The Beijing Platform for Action, The Sustainable Development Goals, The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, The United Nation’s Framework Convention for Climate Change, The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, The International Conference on Population and Development, The Protocol on the Rights of Women in Africa, The SADC Gender Protocol among others.

Achieving gender equality across all sectors is a goal that Zambia aspires to. Over the years, some progress has been made in creating an inclusive labor force with policies such as Affirmative Action and the Labor Act that prevent the discrimination of women in accessing various fields of employment. More and more women have risen to top positions in their fields as well as in what were previously considered male dominated work-spaces. However, women still face various challenges that prevent them from accelerating as fast as their male counterparts and in some cases having to put in more effort in order to gain recognition in some fields. The ‘glass-ceiling’ has continued to be a reality for many women. In Zambia, the Judiciary has taken progressive steps in appointing more women at top ranks. However, progress in the Public Service and Parliament has been relatively slow with men holding most of the top positions. For instance, in 2015 a female Chief Justice was appointed at the highest level of the judicial hierarchy. In addition, the number of women appointed as Judges is relatively proportional to that of men and has been increasing over the years. As of 2018, the gendered representation of the Judiciary was recorded as; Chief Justice 1 female with no male; judges 31 males and 32 females; magistrates 201 male while 105 were female. This represents a healthy gender-balance in the judicial system. However, there are more men appointed as magistrates than women which poses a challenge for achieving greater representation and equality at that level.  On the other hand, Parliament and the Public Service seem to be lagging behind in achieving greater equality as key players in policy formulation. The representation of members of Parliament by gender stands at; Men hold 81.9% of the seats in Parliament while women hold the remaining 18.1%. Similarly, in the Public Service, women holding various top positions stands at; Permanent Secretaries 13 out of 56 positions; Deputy Permanent Secretaries 2 out of 12; Directors 103 out of 344 and Head of Departments 722 out of 2319 positions. These statistics highlight the need for radical reform to increase the number of seats women hold in Parliament as well as at various decision making positions in the Public Service.

It is vital to note that women can and do play an important role in policy formulation. These include: giving unique insight and experiences that could shape policy in a more holistic approach, highlighting the need to recognize social diversity in various policy issues brought to the fore, assist in advancing principals of equity, equality and social justice that shape policy, draw attention to women-specific issues that may be overlooked by other parties. There are several ways women can be empowered to participate in the policy formulation process. Generally, women tend to feel more confident when they are in large numbers. Converging with other women that share similar interests may not only boost their confidence but it could also positively influence other women to participate in policy formulation. Some enablers of women’s participation include: (i). Providing safe spaces to consult, share knowledge and experiences with other women and increase their social power, (ii). Increasing civic education, technical knowledge and skills of women as well as their general education, (iii). Improving access to information on political issues in order to boost the confidence needed to articulate and challenge policy discourse as well as actively participate (iv). Improve media outreach and influence to change perceptions on what roles women must play in the policy landscape (v). Strengthening partnerships with men as agents of change and dismantling gender stereotypes could influence change in how both genders perceive the participation of women. Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs) and Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) are ideal strategic partners that aim at giving women a voice and often offer solidarity and a platform for women to express their needs and concerns on important national and personal issues affecting them.

Recommendations

  1. PMRC proposes that Zambia adopts a customized quota system that will increase the representation of women in decision making as well as strategically place them in positions of power within party structures with increased exposure to leadership roles.
  2. There is need to raise civic awareness and increase access to information among women in order to advance their participation in policy discourse.
  3. Zambia must address the structural and intersectional barriers that impede women from exercising their agency on political issues to improve the participation of women and protect their overall interests.
  4. In view of implementing the quota system, Zambia needs to find ways of avoiding an artificial representation of women or tokenism across all sectors. It needs to ensure that women assert real power and influence in their respective capacities.

Mrs. Bernadette Deka Zulu – PMRC Executive Director

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