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"Your mind is blocked. You can't think ahead and see a way to go."
Flavia Feruka, a pastor's wife and Women's Prayer Group leader at the Mapalo Vineyard Church, paints a grim picture of life in Zambia, "First, it was retrenchment - all the men working in the mines lost their jobs. They could not take care of their families, so many gave up. Then, we had AIDS. Many men died and many women remained. The women tried to find another man to help support the children, but men do not want to support the children."
"My husband doesn't give me much money," says Margaret, a shy woman who gently cradles her wide-eyed daughter, Mary. "There are nine children and my husband only gives me 10,000 kwacha ($2 CDN) for breakfast, lunch and supper. It is not enough to feed the family even two meals a day. They usually get one meal a day. Then when he comes home, he asks, ‘Where is my supper?'"
Flavia explains how most Zambian husbands don't discuss finances with their wives. Women seldom know how much their husbands are making and in the case of Margaret, are not permitted to generate money for themselves. "I used to sell chikanda, African baloney" she says. "But then he stopped supporting the family. Whenever I get some extra money from selling merchandise, he stops giving me money."
Here, the women seem stifled, unable to see solutions for themselves, unwilling to talk about their problems for fear their complaints will get back to husbands who may beat them. For women like Margaret, feeding their children is the most important priority, while safe water is left to organizations like CAWST and SHIP to handle. The irony is, in many ways, water is more important than food or money. And their children are the most vulnerable - 4,500 children die from water-borne illness each day.
But for women in Margaret's situation, perspective is near impossible. "We are told not to ask a lot of questions. When you are not told anything, your mind is blocked. You can't think ahead and see a way to go," Flavia says. "When you think of leaving, you think of the children. You think, I will just stay." Women hold the key to unlocking the stranglehold of survival. But freeing themselves is the first, and most difficult, step.