Women, leadership and inspiration: Pan-African Powa Panel

From left: Theo Sowa, Angelique Kidjo, Jessica Horn, Lebo Mashile, Minna Salami

This is a transcript of a speech I delivered at the Southbank Centre in July. I call it a POWA panel because I was in the company of some of the continent’s most powerful voices and inspirations – Angelique Kidjo, Lebo Mashile, Theo Sowa and our moderator Jessica Horn. Below is also a clip of my interview about the panel on Vox Africa and the African Feminist Forum has a review of it.


Women, Leadership & Inspiration

When I think of the three words ‘women’, ‘leadership’ and ‘inspiration’, I’m reminded of all the books, documentaries, films, blogs, music and art that confirm that there is no scarcity of women leaders who are very inspiring. African women have historically always used the access they had to leadership and power positively.
Furthermore, leadership is not just political, we also have women leaders in arts, entrepreneurship, science and other parts of public, and private, life.

And yet despite all the many women who have inspiring stories to tell of aspiring to and gaining leadership, and, despite all the advances that have been made in recognition of women’s political, economic and social rights, and, despite that it’s obvious that half of leaders of humanity should be women seeing as women make up half of humanity, there’s a disturbing lack of women leading and determining the progress of Africa.

(By the way, the same goes for women in every part of the world. It is very important that we make clear that when we come to spaces like this, where we can engage with each other as Africans and allies, we do so not to separate our problems from those of the rest of the world, but to focus on our journeys and lead transformative dialogue)

So, it is our duty to ask ourselves, “Why?”
Why are women still so marginalised from important decision-making power and what can we do to change this?

To give a brief answer; I think that although there are several obastacles an African woman leader may face–her race, her ethnicity, her socioeconomic status–there is one persistent obstacle that we do not address sufficiently and that is male dominance.

Instead we talk around the issue and even worse we blame women! We say women are not assertive enough, women are not educated enough, not this enough, and not that enough. And we put women through so called empowerment projects that focus on their lacks, capacity building, confidence training, leadership development…
All to avoid naming the real problem which is that a male dominant or patriarchal system is never going to willingly support equal leadership.

We don’t name it because we are afraid that we will be labelled angry women who hate men, and who wants that label stuck on them? I know I don’t.

Nor should anger govern our lives, rather we must seek change and revolution from a place within–love, but mind you — love at all cost.

I’ll leave you with these words – We should not mistake forgiveness and acceptance with inaction and nor should we mistake action with anger. However, we must call a spade a spade so that that we can continue to transform society into one where every human being, regardless of their gender, can recognize their leadership potential.

What are your thoughts on women and leadership & inspiration? What stands in the way of equality in leadership?

Watch my segment on Vox Africa’s “Shoot the Messenger” with Henry Bonsu

  • http://www.awdf.org Nana Darkoa

    I think several factors stand in the way of equality in women’s leadership. In Ghana for e.g. we’re in the final months before a general election. At the time that the parties were selecting their vice-presidents women’s rights organisations kept advocating for a woman vice-presidential candidate (and this was the same situation 4 years ago) but nope we didn’t even get a woman VP candidate. And we’re consistently told, “Ghana is not ready for a woman president”. Using this particular scenario as an example I think what stands in our way of leadership equality is perception of what the ‘kingmakers’ think the people will go for. How do we know the people will not vote in a woman president or vice-president. This is in spite of the fact that we know people in Ghana vote for whichever political party they are affiliated with, and we even crack jokes about some people will vote for a chicken as long as that is what party x has chosen…

    • http://www.msafropolitan.com MsAfropolitan

      Thanks Nana, I don’t get this “Ghana is not ready for a woman president” stuff. The same is said in Nigeria, heck in most of the world. In Nigeria the woman candidate in the largest party elections got one vote!
      It is revealing of a view that women are not equal adult human beings in the eyes of the speaker.