Our society makes it difficult to make our own decisions

"During the Decisions for Life meeting I also learnt that there was a minimum wage law which protected our conditions of work but this information is not known to many of us young people in employment."

This is the second of a series of stories written by young women involved in the Decisions for Life campaign.

My name is Ngaitila Mvula [1] , I am an accountant by profession and working in Chipata, Eastern Province, Zambia, for an HIV/AIDS Project. I am single and still living with my parents. I received an invitation to attend a Decisions for Life meeting at Eastern Comfort Lodge, through a friend of mine. I must admit that the meeting was well facilitated, and I learnt that the objective of the campaign was to encourage girls like myself to make their own decisions concerning when to start a family, education, personal life, work and also minimum wages in Zambia.

However, in my view I think it is not possible for a girl living in Chipata to make their own decisions on such matters. This will not be accepted by society. For example, having a child when you are single, moving out of your parents’ home or deciding to stay single when 30 years old will aggravate society’s portrayal of one as an outcast or social misfit.

"Difficult for single women"

I have lived and worked in Lusaka (capital city) before and at times could be living alone. In Lusaka there was nothing wrong with a woman staying alone. There are a lot of single women staying alone and society there has come to generally accept this phenomenon, I think. I later moved to Chipata and I am currently staying with my parents. I had been thinking of moving out and I tried to tell my parents about it, but they vehemently refused because they know society would not accept it.

If a single lady is staying alone, our society here perceives her as a husband snatcher or a prostitute. It is very difficult for single ladies staying alone to get married in Chipata, because men prefer to get wives directly from their (women’s) parent’s home and not from anywhere else.

As was evidenced at the Decisions For Life meeting, some male participants are even proud of the local adage “nemutolela pang’anda pa amai bake”, literally meaning that “I got her directly from her mother’s home”. People in Chipata still embrace this kind of culture.

"In our society, married women are well respected compared to single women."

I would love to get my Masters degree before I get married, but if I turn 30+ and am still single, people (particularly my parents, relatives, friends and the community at large) will start worrying that I will die single, which is regarded as a curse for women. So, it will surely be difficult for me to get married at that age, as it has been for some of my family members and friends, who decided to get their Masters degree first and thought of marrying at the age not acceptable by our society. My family and friends have plainly told me that I should get my Masters degree once I am married, rather than wanting to have my Masters first and risk dying single and unhappy. In our society, married women are well respected compared to single women.

"Pregnancy and work"

Even in our organisation, which is a Non Governmental Organisation (NGO) promoting HIV/AIDS prevention through behavioral change, it is regarded as taboo and a dismissable offence to fall pregnant when single because society will not take kindly to such perceived social deviance. The explanation given is that such behaviour could send out the wrong signals tarnishing the reputation and image of the organisation. As such, being a single lady in my organisation is looked down upon - everyone scrutinises your social life and feels they have a say in your life.

The company policy and society’s intolerance to pregnant single women has seen an increase in unsafe abortions. Many young women in my age have either been damaged irreparably or have in some instances died from these back street abortions. The main culture here (the Ngoni ) strictly does not allow for single mothers, and the situation is no different in the town areas from the villages.

"Our destiny is to get married"

From my own experience I therefore strongly feel that our society, through these cultural practices, could seriously hinder the objectives of the DFL campaign. For us young women, our destiny here is to get married as soon as possible if we are to be acceptable citizens.

As a young woman I cannot decide for myself what I want to do with my life, or when I want to start a family or not want one at all. Even issues of education are not given much priority here, as highly educated women are looked down upon as opposed to the situation in Lusaka where there is some competition.

"The importance of knowing about working conditions"

During the DFL meeting I also learnt that there was a minimum wage law which protected our conditions of work but this information is not known to many of us young people in employment.

Many employers here offer us different working conditions compared to our married colleagues; for instance rentals, access to loans and even taking Mother’s Day is denied, as they say we are young and living with our parents and don’t need these conditions.

I have some friends who are employed in a company where they are required to pay K200,000 for employment - in exchange the employer gives them food and then doesn’t pay them any salaries until after three months. This type of work is very common for young women here and many, like me, have no idea of the minimum wage laws.

I was therefore very happy to know that regardless of my marital status I am entitled to these conditions in the law from my employer. I told the facilitators that they should raise more awareness on this matter, as it would help a lot of other young women workers in Chipata.

Lastly, I am very grateful to the organisers for having invited me to the meeting as I learnt a lot. Even though I am not sure about the Decisions for Life campaign working for us young women here, at least we have more information about minimum wages and can benefit from that.


[1]Ngaitila is a young woman worker working for an HIV/AIDS Non-Governmental Organization based in Chipata Town in the Eastern Province of Zambia. She attended the DFL meeting held there on 27th February 2011 and has since expressed keen interest in the campaign, particularly in the area of young women workers rights.

Related links:

Decisions for life campaign: http://www.ituc-csi.org/decisions-for-life.html

http://www.mywage.org/zambia/main/women-and-work/201cour-society-makes-it-difficult-to-make-our-own-decisions201d