Women in Africa take space on the decision-making table
Author: Mercy Njoroge
Published by: The People Daily Newspaper
Renowned Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s talk on TEDxEuston in April, 2013 is a must watch. Yes. For women, men and the third gender. When I stumbled upon the YouTube video of her conversation titled We should all be feminists I knew I had hit a goldmine – at least online. My curiosity got the better of me and not even the painfully slow internet connection could dissuade me from downloading the 30-minutes video. Since discovering this brilliant TEDx talk, I have watched it umpteenth times. Let me explain why.
As a participant at the African Women’s Leadership Mentoring Initiative, unpacking the true meaning of feminism in the African context is truly an eye-opening moment. Attending a two-week forum in Nairobi, that brought together 30 women from Cote d’ivore, Cameroon, Malawi, South Sudan and Kenya, offered an opportunity for feminists to discuss the importance of women in leadership.
The sessions, carried out in English and French, were impactful, intensive, informative and the list goes on and on. Perhaps it is important to mention that in recent years, the need for women to take space at the decision-making platform is the foundation which such initiatives are based on. That is why, Urgent Action Fund-Africa, in partnership with Coady International Institute of St Francis Xavier University and Strathmore University’s School of Governance Centre, put resources together to make the programme a success.
The initiative, based on empowering women leaders from developing sectors to begin to fill leadership gaps in Africa and contribute to desired change in the development of the continent is no mean fete. The realisation that women’s input is fundamental to transformative leadership in Africa will provide the desperately needed solutions to poverty, stunted economies, civil wars and corruption.
During the forum, four pillars: Feminist leadership; citizen-driven asset-based community development; economic empowerment and development; transparency, accountability and legitimacy in governance; provided the building blocks on which we engaged. Self-care, which involves taking care of one’s needs, unburdening fears and listening to our bodies was just but a scratch on the surface of what was lined up for the two weeks. Mentors, role models and ancestors shape our outlook on life and all participants took time to put up the ‘wall of mentors’ and the leadership qualities they admired in them. Some prominent women across the globe graced the ‘wall of mentors’.
Interestingly, mothers and grandmothers topped the list of role models. A rather telling revelation, that truly, women rock the world! ‘Herstories’ highlighted on African women’s issues and struggles. Participants grouped up to draw a timeline of women’s involvement in leadership and steering development agenda in their respective countries. It was particularly disturbing that little/no documentation has been done on milestones made by women in Kenya since independent. The same applied to the other countries.
Evidently, as young women leaders, our work is cut out. We should not let ‘history’ wipe out our story. The Rivers of Life, Johari’s Window and communication skills were exciting sessions of self-realisation. Other areas of focus included economic empowerment, gender and power, collective and individual empowerment and leadership skills. Scholars definition of feminism has been widely subjected to lingual-dissection and as such, negative connotations have been pegged on the meaning of a feminist.
But did you know there are female and male feminists? Being that Africa is largely a patriarchal society, any woman who identifies herself as a feminist is abhorred. Therefore, we sought to understand what feminism and feminine leadership is and after a rather taxing process, a working defining was arrived at subject to improvements. It stated: “African feminist leadership is inclusive, dynamic, transformative and brings about equity and justice for all”.
The French translation: Le leadership féministe African est inclusif, dynamique, transformatif et concoure a equité et al justice pour tous. Today, 52 per cent of the world’s population is female. But most of the positions of power and prestige are occupied by men. Chimamanda quoted Nobel Laureate Wangari Maathai’s words simply put: “The higher you go, the fewer women there are”. But with such initiatives in Africa, I am confident Africa is rewriting her narrative.
Source: The People