What Role for Women in Africa's Future: We Must Dare to Imagine a Future Where Leadership Is as Automatically Linked to Women as to Men, Writes Minna Salami

Article excerpt

Lcadetship, in terms of the capacity to influence and direct, is linked to men. Firstly to the male gender; whether it is in politics, business, culture or so forth, it is predominantly men who shape our conventions. Secondly, leadership is little short of being synonymous with the term "masculine", which is defined in the lexicon as "strong", "powerful", "bold" and "brave" to use a few words.

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Feminine, on the other hand, is specified as "soft", "gentle", "modest", "tender". In other words, femininity is not described in a way which necessarily conjures the traits of an influential leader.

What then does it mean for women and for future Africa, that leadership is not traditionally associated with femaleness and femininity?

I pose this question because when it comes to Africa's future, the role of women in leadership is of the greatest significance. How women will shape the political scenery, how they will influence the economy, how successful democracy will be and what types of citizens Africa's growing youth will be, all depend on the extent to which women occupy leadership positions.

The opportunities to do so are increasing. It certainly seems the time of the African woman if ever there was one. For instance, in Rwanda, more than half (56%) of parliament is made up of women, the largest ratio in the world, and Senegal is not too far behind with 43%. There are now two female heads of state in Africa (Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and Joyce Banda), and Mamphela Ramphele, the South African scholar-activist is hoping to join them in the 2014 elections. Africa has three female Nobel laureates (the late Wangari Maathai, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and Leymah Gbowee) and for the First time in 2012, the African Union voted a woman, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, as its chair. In October 2010, an over three-decade long campaign to implement a protocol for women's rights in Africa resulted in the declaration, of 2010-2020 as the African Women's Decade (AWD). The scheme puts women at the centre of every initiative that will be undertaken by African Union member states during the ten years.

Furthermore, leadership is not only political, in the arts, entrepreneurship, science and other parts, of public--and private--life; women are moving forward in unprecedented ways.

Yet despite all the advances that have been made in recognition of women's political, economic and social rights, and, despite it being obvious that half of African leaders should be women, seeing as women make up half of Africa, there's a disturbing lack of women determining the future of Africa.

And unfortunately the road ahead is overshadowed by monumental hurdles. Africa's nations still perform poorly at recognising and attaining gender parity and they continue to rank amongst the lowest in SIGI, the global gender equality index.

It goes without saying that African men, like African women, have to cope with the effects of infrastructural disorder and corrupt institutions. However, women are affected by these predicaments differently. Education is not an option for as many African girls as it is for boys, for instance. Also, issues that are to do with gender such as sex trafficking, gender-based violence and maternal health care affect African women's lives. When it comes to the effects of poverty, "African women", as the revolutionary president of Burkina Faso, Thomas Sankara, said, "are the dependants of the dependant."

Africa and its citizens--those who inhabit the continent, and those who have either reluctantly or willingly been pushed into migrating by life circumstances--find themselves at an exciting if delicate time of transformation. …