As a women’s rights activist, my heart warms up when I meet, read and hear about women leaders that are transforming people’s lives and society. I get delighted to learn more about their leadership journey, triumphant stories and struggles. In addition, I most importantly want to learn the lessons to avoid the pit falls they have encountered.
Often, what we see and hear is the success story. We hardly get to hear the story behind the story. The behind story includes overcoming marginalization, stereotyping, rejections, betrayals, the days she felt like giving up, the burn out, depression and the traumatic experiences amongst others.
A research conducted by Akina Mama wa Afrika with support from Hivos East Africa revealed that one of the reasons women shy away from taking up positions of leadership is that it confers added responsibilities. Yet, it is in these arenas that women can influence the reversal of their prevailing predicaments.
Women need to know that taking on added responsibilities as a leader obviously comes at a cost. These include: time away from family and friends, long hours at work, limited time for self-care and personal development, etc.
It is a fact that success does not come easy.Thus, as women we need to find ways of mitigating the negative costs if we are to sustain the gains of getting more women in power and decision-making positions.
What support mechanisms are we putting in place to enable women leaders perform optimally? How are we transforming our systems and structures to address the structural barriers? Are we creating spaces for reflection and learning for women in leadership to share experiences or peer-to-peer reviews? How are we creating spaces for mentorship and coaching to groom new leaders? Are we addressing the right attitudes needed by women in taking up critical leadership positions?
The support system need to include women role models for others to emulate. These role models need to write their stories to inspire the others into leadership. It should not only stop at this but to have empowerment drives for every woman from the lowest to the highest strata of authority. The intentionalityit is, the better the women will lead.
This year 2017, Akina Mama wa Afrika is celebrating 20 years of feminist and transformational leadership development through its African Women’s Leadership Institute (AWLI) that has thus far graduated over 4,000 African women. Our alumni have since taken up various positions of leadership and are effectively influencing the advancement of gender equality and women’s rights on the African continent.
As we push towards gender parity in leadership, we need a renewed conversation on how we can support women to lead better, effect change in their own lives and communities and effectively participate in leadership and decision-making.