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A rights-based approach to sustainable development: The case of Women for Change in rural Zambia Robyn Wisken How the rights-based approach to development can work within the local culture to overcome resistance to change, and make rights real for marginalized populations .

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A rights-based approach to sustainable development:

The case of Women for Change in rural ZambiaRobyn Wisken

How the rights-based approach to development can work within the local culture to overcome resistance to change, and make rights real for marginalized populations

A rights-based approach to sustainable development: The case of Women for Change in Rural Zambia\Robyn Wisken

Making Equal Rights Real/Vers la pleine réalisation

de l'égalité des droits

May 1, 2010

McGill University

Women and rural development

Women and Rural Development

Marginalization of Women

Traditional practices include: sexual cleansing, early marriages, wife battering, and wife inheritance

Victims of land grabbing

Female children significantly less likely to attend school

Standard of Living

32% of people living in the rural areas of Zambia have access to improved water sanitation, compared to 68% of people in urban areas (WHO, 2006)

36% of people in rural Zambia have access to improved water sources, compared to 90% of people residing in urban Zambia (WHO, 2006)



Data Collection:

43 in-depth Interviews

Observational evidence of programme activities and life in the rural communities

Review of institutional documents


The majority of the study was spent in the rural districts of Kalomo and Lundazi. Women for Change (WFC) has been active in Kalomo for over 10 years and in Lundazi for just over a year

Women for Change (WFC)

Vision Statement: “Women for Change (WFC) is a Zambian gender-focused NGO working with communities, especially women and children, in rural areas to contribute towards sustainable human development using popular education methodologies.”

Works with both women and men

Operates from the capital city, Lusaka

Works in 4 of Zambia’s 9 provinces with 236,205 direct beneficiaries

Field Animators spend 3 of 4 weeks each month living in field

Rights-BasedApproach (RBA)

Rooted in legal obligations of duty-holders to provide rights from legally binding agreements such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Based on the principles of accountability, universality and non-discrimination, indivisibility and participation

How wfc applies the rba

How WFC Applies the RBA

WFC uses education to empower members to take actions that lead to sustainable development

The education illustrates to members what development in their community can look like and what means they can use to achieve it

People are empowered by the “rights” language

Both women and men are involved in the process. They are drawn by the notion of development, but see what they can gain differently

  • Women are interested in both the physical development and social development

  • Men are more attracted by the physical development and often resist the social development of women at first.

Depiction of what development would look like

Strategies used by wfc

Strategies Used by WFC

1. Popular Education Methodologies and Critical Analysis

Brainstorming, buzzing, role-playing, drawing, listing, singing, dancing,

small-group discussions and sculpting human figures

Used to deconstruct the development obstacles in the community

2. Affirmative Action

To equalize power between women and men and uplift the social position of women

Membership is comprised of 60% women and 40% men

Women always hold the position of Chair and Treasurer so they have

control and access of resources

3. Traditional Leaders

Traditional leaders have significant influence over people in their communities

WFC has held conferences and education lessons to inform leaders of the rights of people in their chiefdoms and how to make these rights real

The Structure35-40 members for a Group10-12 groups form an Area Association10 Area Associations for a District Development Association

Leadership PositionsEach level is represented by a Chair, Vice-Chair, Treasurer and Secretary. The Chair and Treasurer positions must be held by women.

District Development Association

Area Association


Development over time

Development Over Time

“He says resistance was there. When it was first introduced not everyone accepted it. Some people said... ‘A women is supposed to be beaten because after all we buy them.’ It is customary that you have to pay the dowry – you are buying the woman and she belongs to you. So then you can do anything. The resistance was there but (by) this time at least almost everyone has changed their minds and they are seeing that at least women are able to do those things that we were not accepting them.”(Anonymous 113, [Community Participant]. Interview by Author, Kalomo, Zambia. 26 July, 2009).

“So she is saying at most of the trainings of leadership, they have helped her because from that she is now able to stand in front of people. She is able to lead her people without feeling intimidated... She says that leadership was one of those things that was just regarded for men. But now she has learned that even as a woman she can also lead. She is leading 3200 people.” (Anonymous, 104, [District Chair]. Interview by Author, Kalomo, Zambia. 25 July, 2009)


WFC has been active for over 10 years



Household chores are shared more equally

Women are more involved in the household decisions

Land grabbing has decreased

Wife battering is far less common

A development centre has been built

Economic Improvement

Becoming registered community-based organizations

Goats have been bred and are now shared with group members

Money is being used to meet other needs

Food Bank in Kalomo

  • Achievement Towards Basic Rights

  • A basic school has been created and attendance is high

  • A food bank has been organized

  • A borehole has been put in place that provides water for over 600 people

  • Still struggling with health services


WFC has been active for just over 1 year chicken farming


Distributing pumps for gardens


Resistance is still strong

Early Marriages are common, female children less likely to attend school

Active participation of women is low when men are present

Economic Improvement

Still at the early stages

Community members can see the changes and want to join because of them

Achievement Towards Basic Rights

Can see where the programme is taking them

Hunger, no boreholes, lack of clothing for children and limited school supplies

Area Association Garden

Obstacles and limitations

Obstacles and Limitations HIV/AIDS and gender roles

Social and Cultural

The pace of change is slow


Government officials do not visit the communities

Members have trouble accessing local

markets due to road conditions

Takes a toll on WFC operationally

Weaning Off

Have taken steps to decrease dependency

WFC has been active for 18 years and has never exited from any of the communities they support


Donor dependent

Project versus programme focused

Popular Education Methodology tool to reduce dependency

Conclusion HIV/AIDS and gender roles

Working from the local context

The development process and programming models must reflect an understanding of the community and respect the pace of change for which the community is ready.

Cultural changes do take place, but are based on concerns community members already had. The change comes from the people within the culture, and represents changes that they want.

Workshop attended by 223 members

  • Working with Groups

  • Change is supported and maintained by men and women

  • Change takes place at the cultural and systemic levels

  • Members can share of knowledge

  • Members are seen as a collective when approaching duty-holders

  • Affirmative action ensures women’s rights are upheld within the group