By JOHN CHOLA
Sweden stands with the Law Association of Zambia (LAZ) National Legal Aid Clinic and will continue to pursue a feminist foreign policy as long as gender inequality persists.
As Zambia joined the rest of the world in commemorating the International Women’s Day under the theme Gender Equality Today for a Sustainable Tomorrow, Swedish Ambassador to Zambia, Anna Maj Hultgard, bemoaned persistent gender inequalities.
She said as long as gender inequality persisted alongside the stifling of women’s and girls’ rights, the Scandinavian state would continue to pursue a feminist foreign policy.
Hultgard said this on March 3, 2022 ahead of the commemoration on March 8, when she toured the Law Association of Zambia’s National Legal Aid Clinic for Women (NLACW) Lusaka offices.
Ambassador Hultgard said gender inequality continued to impact women and girls every day through lack of access to justice, legal structural obstacles and discriminatory gender norms.
She however expressed happiness that her country had been partners with LAZ’s NLACW since the 1990s and that the current support to the Clinic runs from 2019 to 2023.
With the development cooperation amounting to approximately US$5 million annually, Sweden is the second largest bilateral donor in Zambia with much of the funding going towards human rights, democracy and gender equality, access to health and sexual reproductive rights, environment among others.
Ambassador Hultgard further noted that the NLACW’s overall focus on equal and fairness access to justice was clearly contributing to improved capacity and increased democratic space to promote and strengthen human rights, democracy and the rule of law.
This was ultimately reducing poverty among women and children by protecting their property rights and economic wellbeing, all in line with Sweden’s goal to end gender inequality.
“Gender equality is an end goal, but it is also absolutely essential for achieving any other development objective, such as peace, security and democracy.
“With the Clinic’s central focus on access to justice for women and girls, as well as the focus on increasing awareness of the law and human rights for women and children, tackling harmful customary practices, and advocating for changes to law and policies related to women, children and GBV, the programme is very relevant for gender equality,” the ambassador said.
She commended the hard work of the Clinic which involved LAZ lawyers taking up pro-bono work. Each of the 2500-plus LAZ members offered free legal representation to the vulnerable in society especially women and children.
During the visit to the facility, the Law Association of Zambia (LAZ) leadership and NLACW Board informed Ambassador Hultgard that through Sweden’s support to the Clinic, the organization had made great strides in recent years.
NLACW Board member Kondwa Chibiya said her organization had seen an increase in the number of cases reported to the clinic in 2021, totalling 2,941 compared to 2,330 recorded in the previous year.
Chibiya noted that most of the cases reported were marital disputes resulting from economic and physical abuse.
“A total of 782 cases were filed into court in 2021 compared to 715 in 2020. The success rate of judgments secured on behalf of clients remains good at over 95 per cent, thus building confidence in members of the public. NLACW continues to enjoy good relations with both state and non-state partners and this can be seen from the high number of cases referred throughout its offices.”
Chibiya said NLACW remained committed to its vision of a Zambian society where under-privileged women and children enjoy their human rights through the provision of appropriate and timely legal services, legal literacy and advocacy for policy and law reform.
Such attainments would ensure that the country’s legal framework protected the rights of women on an equal basis with men.