3 Forces Shaping Women Empowerment and Leadership in Africa



By Sandra Zvavanyange and Raymond Zvavanyange


The black history month is almost past us. For women all over the world, the question is this: “Has this generation eliminated all forms of gender bias and its constructions?”

While the modern era is in full swing, it is a known fact that women now assume multiple roles –  utter more words on average than men; assume the reproductive role; and bring all-encompassing ideas in decision making processes.

Currently, there is no shortage of role models, even women of substance when we scan leadership and empowerment circles worldwide. On the African continent, we have:  — African Union Commission Chairperson Her Excellency Dr. Nkosazana Clarice Dlamini-Zuma (in politics), Joyce Banda – the former president of Malawi, Obiageli Ezekwesili – the co-founder of Transparency International and former World Bank Vice-President Africa Division. The list is endless…still, newbie’s women of substance are emerging, Malala Yousafzai, a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, of Pakistan champions the girl child’s education.

Historically, women’s contribution to African social, political, and economic life is well documented. The same is true in the African-American slave history, where names of Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth are prominent. Notwithstanding Rosa Parks sole effort against segregation in public transport system in America during the 1960’s. As a consequence, Rosa Parks generated the much needed momentum which pushed forward the civil rights movement.  Similarly, women in Africa provide over 70 percent of the labour workforce in food and agriculture. The woman clothes and feeds her family members and the extended family; she fetches firewood for cooking purposes; she tends to the garden, crop fields, and animals; and to cap it all, she fulfills her marital duties to her lawful husband.

As such, custodians of African culture and tradition view with skepticism the image of the intelligent, independent, and modern woman such as those who feature in celebrity tabloids. These high profile women typically lead lives which require reservoirs of patience, force, and decisiveness.

Here, we present three forces shaping women empowerment and leadership in Africa:


Redesign of intelligence assessment criteria for both men and women

Ability, talent, gift, and acumen ought not to be confined to standard educational and psychometric tests.

The human brain is an incredible organ – it remains the focus of why we do what we do and how we do it. Research shows that despite the fewer numbers of women in science, technology, engineering, and math, women can excel in these domains. There are beautiful and intelligent women all over the continent, Nigerian economist, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, journalist Julie Gichuru in Kenya; President of Liberia, Ellen Sirleaf; and Zimbabwean Olympic Gold Medal Winner, Kristy Coventry. These women show outstanding mastery in their domain of influence. This is a powerful indicator of intelligence.


Refocus empowerment initiatives to include boys and men

The world’s women’s and feminist movements share potentially good and bad ideas that often lead to misinterpretations on how men and women should treat each other. Culture and tradition have their priorities, and often it takes one to understand the context that the logic behind regardless of absurdness is unearthed. The shortcoming is this – African culture and tradition is viewed as static and not progressive. As a consequence, with the advent of social media more emphasis has been placed on women and girls, sometimes to the detriment of boys and men.  Men have become alienated so as to suffer socially, psychologically, and emotionally. A refocus of empowerment initiatives to include boys and men is an urgent need. This is so critical so much that human and moral progress depends upon it.


Mindset shift from woman’s central role in the family to freelance and independent super woman

Information overload and exponential growth in knowledge presents a new set of challenges for women across the globe. Scholars cite that Africa can leapfrog and take advantage of its late coming on the knowledge front. It is knowledge that communities, societies, and nations use to advance as a group. Because of the information overload, time is of essence, options fewer, and still has a job to take care of. Multi tasking is posited as the solution.  However, implicit is the idea is the fact that women become overloaded with the passage of each day. Traditionally, women have demonstrated far more able to multitasking skills than men have. Consequently, the modern super woman is an evolution. The evolution and mindset shift ought to be moderated. Men and women are equals – where feasible, should relate in accomplishing a set of tasks, in the family, in business environments, and in decision making processes.


Sandra Zvavanyange and Raymond Zvavanyange writes from Zimbabwe.

Busayo Sotunde is a prolific writer with special focus on Business, Entrepreneurship, Reproductive Health and other development issues in Africa. Her articles have been published by different outlets including Investing Port and Ventures-Africa.com. She has a penchant for reading and sustainable development. Follow Busayo on Twitter @BusayomiSotunde

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