Glimpses into the Spirit of Gender Equality: Mwinilunga, Zambia

Glimpses into the Spirit of Gender Equality: Mwinilunga, Zambia

The following is part of a series exploring how Baha’i communities have seen the principles of gender equality outlined in the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action begin to take form in neighborhoods and villages around the world. 

Efforts to empower young adolescents have been central to the advancement of girls and women in the Mwinilunga area.
Efforts to empower young adolescents have been central to the advancement of girls and women in the Mwinilunga area.
New York—4 March 2020

The path towards a more gender-equal society can take many forms. In the red-earth environs of Mwinilunga, a town in the northwest corner of Zambia, that path has centered on the spiritual empowerment of young adolescents. 

“With the arrival of the junior youth program, parents began to see that whatever the boys could do, the girls could also do,” says Teckson, coordinator of an initiative called the junior youth spiritual empowerment program. “They began to question themselves about what was said to be only for boys or only for girls.”

The program he refers to helps “junior youth”, aged 12–15, analyze and recognize the influence of positive and negative forces operating in society, understand and describe with clarity the world around them, and build capacity to make meaningful contributions to the well-being of their community. 

“It helps them think about whatever they do and how it will impact others. It helps them to act with moderation,” says Vahid, a 20 year-old who facilitates a group of junior youth in a village in the area. “The texts they study encourage them to be patient and steadfast in the face of challenges. They grow in their ability to persevere and overcome problems over time.”

Changing perceptions of the capacity and contributions of adolescents—girls in particular—are impacting norms in areas ranging from education, to marriage, to choices about relationships. 

“Often our girls would cut short their education to get married or because they were pregnant at an early age,” explains Josphine, a mother of junior youth in the program. “But now the girls themselves are able to say no to negative forces. There are fewer early pregnancies, and the girls can complete their education. Now we see girls at the forefront, even outranking the boys in their performance.”

With junior youth and the older teens and young adults that often work with them leading the way, views and norms are transforming across the community. “Men used to have all the say in family decisions,” says Emeldah, another mother of junior youth in the community. “But now these roles are not so strict. Now the woman is free to share her ideas in the house, and the husband is able to listen and learn from the wife.”

Transformative as the empowerment of women can be on an individual level, it is equally critical to the progress of society as a whole. “For a country to develop, we need the contributions of both boys and girls,” says Loloji, headmaster of a primary school in one of the villages surrounding Mwinilunga. 

“Previously more boys were educated than girls,” he explains. “But we need to include more girls, so they also can participate in the development of the country. We need more women to participate.” 

Junior youth understand well the role that is theirs to play in such development. Indeed, a growing sense of their own ability to make meaningful change in society is a key ingredient of the process under way. 

“Members of the community take us more seriously now. They no longer wait for us to become adults to help in the community,” explains Scovy, a junior youth in the program. 

“We now engage more actively in service to the community. And we find service to be wonderful.”