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Women in Climate Change 4 – Ms Mungu Foster Chileshe

Ms. Mungu Foster Chileshe is President of the Passengers, Pedestrians and Cyclists Association of Zambia. (PAPECA). PAPECA is an NGO, run by volunteers, whose main aim is to promote and campaign for the safety, rights and welfare of passengers, pedestrians and cyclists as they use the road. It was founded in 1993 and its headquarters is in Lusaka. It has been a member of the Road Transport and Safety Agency (RTSA) board of directors since the formation of the agency. It is also a member of the SADC alliance for road safety NGOs and the International Federation of pedestrians.

Tell us about PAPECA.

We are an organization that advocates for the rights and safety of passengers, pedestrians and cyclists as they use the roads. We also aim to educate passengers, pedestrians and cyclists on road safety issues, and build awareness of their responsibilities while using the roads.

We advocate for better infrastructure such as walkways, cycleways, streetlights and pedestrian crossings as well as speed calming interventions such as speed humps in highly populated areas and on busy roads.

What are the main issues that you are addressing, what are you trying to change?
We are trying to change the way the roads are tailored, the way they are made. For example, we’ve got cyclists and pedestrians using them, but if you look at our roads, there are no proper standards for the provision of walking and cycle paths alongside the roads, nor for designated places to cross for pedestrians.

Secondly, motorists need to know that pedestrians and cyclists also have the right to use the roads.  This can only be achieved through continued sensitization and enforcement with the would-be offenders.

We also try to secure funding for these programmes to be achieved and we advocate for better safety and conditions for passengers travelling on public transport. At the moment, it is often not safe, particularly for women.   

We also believe that Government must take over the operation of public transport. Currently, public transport is operated by private individuals which makes it difficult to change some of the safety issues. 

What kind of traffic do you have in Zambia, and do people take driving tests?

Yes, they do tests for both theory and practical, run by the government authorities.  We have so much traffic and heavy congestion on our roads, that they’ve recently been trying to expand with more roads to ease congestion.

And are there specific issues for women or young people, or people with disabilities?

We are targeting all ages and types: young people, women, men and people living with disability.  They are all really affected because they are at the mercy of the motorists.  For example, we don’t have the facilities for people living with a disability when they want to cross the road. They just have to wait for the vehicles to clear.  We are advocating for interventions or road furniture (like dropped kerbs and crossings) for these people to use the road freely.

I read on your Facebook page that 60% of traffic accidents involve pedestrians, is that right?

Yes, every day pedestrians are being hit. The accident statistics are very high.   

Do you have mass transportation systems in Zambia like trains and buses?

We have public transport that is owned by private companies, not government, and we have only one major railway line that is regulated by the government authority.

And what would be the one thing that would make the biggest difference to your work?

First, we need to persuade the government to change the way they design the roads, so that they introduce better standards for cyclists and pedestrians. They need to have pedestrians in mind and cyclists and people living with a disability.  Second, we also need to change the mindset of drivers on the roads. They need to know that the road is shared, it’s not just for them alone.

What kind of success have you had so far or is it still early days?

We can see some changes, though it’s very minimal.  We have heard the government say that every road that is being constructed should accommodate pedestrians and cyclists, and we’ve seen some of those roads, but they are not in good condition.  We have National Mass Transport strategies which weren’t there before. Our network has grown so we participated in the conference organised by PAAPAM in Kigali in 2021.  We participated in global safety week in May 2023, and we have participated in various other workshops. We were Board members for road transport and safety agencies up to 2021 and are members of the SADC alliance for road safety NGOs and Global Alliance of NGOs for road safety.

Last month we were in a meeting organised by ZIPAR and I am glad to say that the government promised that the next roads they construct will show the changes we have been asking for.

What are the most effective messages you use to try and change people’s minds?  Is it about reducing deaths or is there a climate change message?

Our main message is about reducing deaths and injuries for pedestrians.

Does the fact that people are now talking about walking to work and cycling to work as a good thing for the climate mean that more people listen to you?

We have the challenge of securing the funding needed to keep sensitising community members so that we can achieve behavioural change. But also in our culture, if someone is cycling or walking to work, other people think that person is poor as walking and cycling are associated with poverty.  So, we are trying to talk and encourage people, to walk and cycle to work as it is not only cheaper, but it’s also healthy and it helps in reducing the carbon monoxide on the road.  We are trying to see if we can have ambassadors like politicians, perhaps, to spread this message.

So, you need some role models to show that it’s a good thing to do.

Yes, exactly.

Is owning a car seen as a status symbol?

Yes. And even if people want to ride a bike, the roads are not safe for them.

Which other organizations have been helpful for you in trying to achieve what you’re doing?

We actually work with quite a lot of other organisations like SADC, ZIPAR, University of Zambia students, the Zambia road safety trust, the government line ministries like the Ministry of Transport and Logistics, local government and Lusaka City Council.  And, of course, now we are also working with Climate Compatible Growth.

OK, let me let me ask you a little bit more about yourself.  How did you come to be the President of this organization?
Good question! I’m actually not the founder.  I was the Publicity and information Secretary of the organization and was working with the founder quite often.  When he sadly died two years ago, the board and the other members of the organisation felt that I was fit to take up the role of the President because of my close involvement in the managing of the organisation. I’m now two years in this role.

How did you feel about being chosen like that?
It was nice because I could now make proper decisions, and give direction to the organisation in areas I had previously shown an interest in. I have also met quite a lot of influential people and decision makers in government and the road safety NGOs outside our organisation, who can help to promote road safety.

Let me say, it just feels nice when you are in a position where you can help to save people’s lives.

I’ve worked in the hospital before, and I’ve seen the way people suffer when they’ve been involved in accidents – and their families suffer too. So, to me, helping them in this way – in terms of preventing accidents – it’s just part of my work and just completes what I already do.  I am a nurse by profession, and I specialise in midwifery – I thought it was more interesting to bring life into the world!

Who inspired you on your journey towards where you are now?

The same late president Mr Lawrence Kaoma, who was the founder of our organisation, gave me the ambition to be like him. And my family members also supported me.

And when you decided to become a nurse earlier was that because somebody in your family was a nurse already?

No, I was the first person in my family to become a nurse.  I admired the uniform, as we wear a white uniform here in our country. I thought they looked very smart and just taking care of people and adding value to the lives of people also motivated me. Because of me, my young sister also became a nurse, my son became a nurse and my daughter. My niece also became a physiotherapist, so we have five medical people in the family.

Excellent, so you’ve been the role model.

Thank you.

Is your role as President of PAPECA voluntary or do you get paid for it?

No, no, it is voluntary. We are all volunteers.

In terms of your experience as a woman in negotiations and in trying to change things, what are the barriers that you have come across?

It’s a 50:50 chance whether people will listen or not.  Some would listen to you as a woman because of the nature of being a mother and because you have passion about what you’re doing. Some people say: “these women, they’re just talking, no woman can lead such a big organization.”

Because of our culture and the way we’ve been brought up, they always look up to a man, not a woman.

When I saw the pictures on your Facebook page, it seemed that a lot of the members of your organisation are women.  Do you have a mix of genders?

We have both but most of us are women because women can do voluntary work more than men as men prefer to work and be paid.  

Sometimes, it can be difficult to keep going, day-to-day when you’re campaigning. Who do you look to for support?

Well, my children do really help me and, professionally, also some other road safety NGOs and the Government as I mentioned earlier.

And do you have any connections with professional women across the sector that support you or that you meet with regularly?

Yes, very, very much actually some of them are members of the SADC Alliance for Road Safety, the Global Alliance for road safety, NGOs, Road safety NGOs and the government especially the Ministry of transport and road transport.  They help us with things like how to run the organisation, how to advocate on a professional stage and so on.   These connections keep on adding up.

I’m also connected to my fellow women in road safety, who have seen our work and I’ve been introduced to other women through CCG, and I will be at the third annual conference for CCG. That’s all because of being a woman and the work I have been doing in the organisation since I became president.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

Mostly I like telling people that doing volunteer work will lead you to so many places because not everyone wants to do it. But if you are doing something without pay, it does benefit you because people see that you have a passion, you are not in it for monetary reasons. I like encouraging young women to do voluntary work.

I work at a nursing school now where I’m a lecturer and I teach nurses.  I recently told some newly qualified nurses to do voluntary work to get experience and they volunteered to help the government with the Cholera outbreak. They were employed by the Government for volunteering, so I always encourage people. I know money is important, but passion also can drive you to so many places.

The final thing that I would like to add is about our financial constraints. We haven’t really got the finances that we need for us to change the way things are done on our roads. So if we can have funding we can achieve quiet a lot in terms of behavioural change as this needs continuous education.