African governments have been warned to take note that it is no longer business as usual and it is time they heed the call for the process of transformative leadership that will not create barriers for women but instead make spaces available and create a conducive environment for equal representation of women and men in all sectors at all levels.
At the opening of the inaugural African Women’s Leadership Symposium in Nairobi, Winnie Byanyima, the Executive Director of Oxfam International alongside a rich collection of African women leaders sent the message to African governments that Africa needs transformation leadership carried along by both men and women in equal numbers for the continent to prosper.
“No goal, no strategy, no vision for Africa can come true until we have sustainable leadership that delivers for women in every sphere of our lives,” says Byanyima, Executive Director of OXFAM and one of the convenors at the symposium. Noting that so many wrongs are happening in the continent because women are missing from leadership, Byanyima notes: “Of all the maternal mortality deaths worldwide, half happen in sub-Saharan Africa. This fact alone should be enough to make us burn with indignation for the women of Africa.”
Ambassador Amina Mohamed, Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for Foreign Affairs says the journey to transformative leadership is long and women and indeed all leaders must be able to make sacrifices for them to get to the final destination. Noting that only 17 out of 54 African countries have managed to close the gender gaps.
Hon. Mohammed lauded countries like Rwanda which have made it possible for women to be in leadership positions in high numbers, but challenged women to empower themselves and empower each other by walking the talk and being confident in what they do.
“For us to realise transformative leadership and women’s empowerment, it can no longer be business as usual,” notes Hon Amb. Amina.
Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi, Special Envoy on Gender and Vice President at the African Development Bank and also a co-covener at the Syposium says there are barriers to women at all levels of leadership. “We are now ready to make change and be part of the collective. We have to break barriers, boundaries and the glass ceilings.”
Fraser-Moleketi notes: “If you don’t include women you are actually undermining the change that should be there.”
The African Women’s Leadership Symposium is being held under an umbrella of various organisations that included OXFAM, the African Women’s Development and Communication Network (FEMNET) and brought together about 200 women from across Africa to deliberate on goals and commitments from women leaders to impact lives of women and girls and bring about lasting change in Africa. The meeting was intergenerational having brought in young women and also having older women share their stories in a dialogue that was to not only inspire but also demand for attention from governments.
The Symposium, a first of its kind, is giving opportunity to women leaders to deliberate how to leverage their leadership, power, influence and access for the development and progress of the African continent in general and the advancement of women and girls’ rights in particular. It is a vibrant space for animated interactions and discussions on factors that support and those that hinder women’s access to power, influence and resources in society and will also be an opportunity to reflect on how to best collaborate inter-sectorally so as to further the agenda of women and girls rights in Africa.
For every woman participating in Africa and for every woman participating in the African Women’s Leaders Symposium, there is a story of resilience that has set her on the path of advocating and enhancing the capacity of other women and girls.
In visualising and convening the African Women’s Leaders Symposium Byanyima says this is a journey she knows only too well having previously faced discrimination and stereotyping simply because she is a woman.
“I have seen transformative leadership in women from less advantaged and poor households in Africa . Women breaking glass ceilings and fighting for girl’s education and against early marriages. I have the belief in and passion to work with other women to change the rules of society so that women and men can experience equality and live in dignity. There is no glory in breaking the glass ceiling if the shards fall on the girls behind you,” says Byanyima.
The participants to the African Women’s Leadership Symposium made focussed commitments to impact and transform the lives of women and girls in the spaces they work . The One-million Initiative and the Supporter Journeys where African women took substantive commitments were the two main outputs of the Symposium.
Dinah Musindarwezo, the Executive Director of FEMNET also co-hosting the symposium says this path to commitment by African women leaders is basically what sets the symposium on a practical implementation path to move us from rhetoric to real actions.
“This inaugural initiative in Transformative Women’s Leadership is calling on the transformation of one-million+ women in the continent to make significant strides in improving the lives and status of women in trade. This is where we want women of influence in different aspects of trade to do their bit to push for bridging of Economic gender gaps that deter women from attaining meaningful gains and making considerable impact,” says Musindarwezo.