Published on Pambazuka News, by Betty Mould Iddrisu, July 11, 2012.
Accomplished female leader Betty Mould Iddrisu shares her top 10 lessons about leadership on the continent and the difficulties women have to overcome to reach – and stay – on top.
There is a harsh reality about women’s leadership in Africa. I have dreamt it and lived it. Gradually, women are penetrating historical barriers that have up till very recently been closed to us, barriers that limited women’s attainment of the highest levels of power and leadership in important sectors of society.
Daring to aspire or reaching heights that very few women have attained can be remarkably fulfilling, but also so revealing – with mixed experiences, unique perspectives and at times come with inexplicable disappointments. I have the laurels and scars to show for my leadership journey. And through it all, here are a few things I have come to know for sure:
1. TOO FEW AT THE TOP AT NATIONAL AND REGIONAL LEVELS – MULTITUDES AT FAMILY AND LOWER LEVELS:
- Even at an all time best record of two female presidents, a woman prime minister and women occupying 19.7 per cent of parliaments across the continent, everyone would agree that these numbers of women in higher levels of politics – symptomatic of female representation in other sectors of society – are woefully low by any standards of fairness, equity or democratic principles of participation. No question, there have been significant moments and achievements to be proud of – the African countries of Rwanda, South Africa and Mozambique are among countries with the highest percentage of women in parliaments, however we are nowhere near where we need to be. And the higher-up I have climbed in my leadership journey, the more apparent this harsh reality has appeared. We must always applaud the valuable contributions of women at the lower and mediums levels, but we need to be at that high-table to partake, contribute and share in the power of shaping our national and regional destinies. We may be making significant progress, but I know for sure the status quo is neither fair nor acceptable.
2. DIFFICULT ROAD TO CLIMB AND EVEN MORE DIFFICULT TO STAY AT THE TOP WHEN YOU ‘ARRIVE’:
- African women suffer systemic prejudices in making their way to the top. Firstly, we are not taken seriously because men believe a woman is intrinsically less competent than their male counterpart. The incidence of sexual harassment both at the tertiary level and in the workplace are very well documented, impeding women’s progress overall. Additionally, the duties of motherhood can be crushing – if not managed carefully. Most men believe that women should take the primary responsibility for the care of the family so late working hours, weekend seminars, overseas and business trips which contribute to any workers upward mobility are very difficult for younger working wives and mothers. Arrival at the top tier is rare and when you are there you are usually faced with hostility and disbelief in your competency as a female. A woman at the top works so much harder than her male counterparts to prove her competency and yet is still faced with ingrained prejudice and hostility to her playing the role of a boss or leader in a largely male dominated working environment.
3. WITHOUT SUPPORT YOU CANNOT MAKE IT: … //
… 10. YES, AFRICAN WOMEN CAN:
- If there is one thing I have come to know and believe beyond any count, it is the ability of women to lead – in any sector and any field or at any level. We may continue to excel – just as some men excel. We may continue to stumble along the way just as so many men stumble. We may even fail once in a while, just as men have historically failed. But I know for sure that we are capable, we have the right to and we can indeed lead this continent. YES WE CAN!