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Women’s journey to ‘strong and shining’ in Zambia

25 November 2023

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Salma was just 14 when she was forced to marry. Her husband was 46. 

This was the reality of life for some girls in Kabwe in Zambia. But not anymore. 

SCIAF has been working in Kabwe, Zambia, the world’s most polluted town, since 2017. 

SCIAF programme officer Aisling Gallacher said:

“The Kumena project started off as a livelihoods’ project where we were teaching people to find ways to make a living and feed their families. But it became so much more than that.” 

The project team found that deeply rooted in the social and cultural beliefs of Kabwe was gender-based violence, mainly in the form of physical, mental, emotional, social and economic abuse against women. 

Aisling said:

“'In some cultures there is a belief that if a husband does not beat his wife he doesn't love her.' 

“Not only were women beaten and abused, they were considered unequal to men and tragically girls under 12 were being sold off to older men for marriage. This was done as a last resort, in times of greatest need.” 

SCIAF, through its partner Caritas Kabwe set about trying to improve the lives – and the standing – of Kumena women. 

Aisling said:

“To make life better for the whole community, we had to tackle some of the deep-rooted problems they were experiencing. We worked with both men and women, husbands and wives; we created gender champions and started teaching children in the schools of the power and worth of women.” 

Women were also trained in literacy and numeracy skills, crafts, business skills and even helped to set up their own small enterprises. 

Aisling said:

“The transformation has been incredible. Gender- based violence has been reduced and the men in the community now know it is wrong and won’t be tolerated. One of the most positive results is we know that there are now no marriages happening to girls under 12. The whole community now know it cannot happen.” 

Today marks the beginning of the annual ’16 days of activism against violence towards women’. 

It’s an international campaign to challenge violence against women and girls. The campaign runs every year from 25th November, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, to 10th December, Human Rights Day. 

We will leave you with some of the thoughts of the women of Kumena….. 

“We feel we can stand on our own two feet; we couldn’t have done it without the Kumena project.” 

“Now we are strong and shining!”