Enhancing women’s voices in leadership

The Australia Awards in Africa are helping to address gender inequality in leadership, which remains an impediment to Africa’s development. In the private sector, African women comprise less than five per cent of CEOs and 14 per cent of board members. The disparity is also visible in the public sector where only 24 per cent of parliamentarians and 22 per cent of cabinet members are women. The dearth of female leaders is a serious challenge, despite female leaders favouring more equitable redistribution of resources and investing more in education, health and social welfare sectors (African Union Gender Strategy 2018-2027).

The Australia Awards Women in Leadership Network (WILN) supports African women who have completed the Australia Awards to transition into leaders. The Network commemorated the 2019 International Women’s Day by hosting workshops for 133 alumnae in Abuja, Nigeria; Accra, Ghana; Nairobi, Kenya and Pretoria, South Africa. This is part of an ongoing commitment by the Australian Government to foster women’s leadership and gender equality that has impacted 246 WILN members from 25 African countries in the last three years.

Participants in the International Women’s Day workshops spoke to this year’s theme “Balance for Better”, sharing their insights and practical strategies to address barriers, such as sociocultural expectations, self-doubt and guilt, sexual harassment and the often-gendered assessment of merit.

For South African, Ms Mankeleme Letswalo, a Deputy Director at the Ministry of Trade and Industry, leadership entails breaking stereotypes and empowering women to be anything that they set their minds to. Ms Letswalo was pivotal in addressing workplace stress by founding and fundraising for a Departmental Athletic team to support staff fitness and mental well-being.              

Nigerian participant, Dr Olajumoke Akiode, is the Executive Director at the Center for Ethics and Sustainable Development (CESD), a consulting organisation that provides research, advocacy and strategic communications services. Dr Akiode spearheaded the formation of the Women in Infrastructure Community Africa (WICA), a professional networking and advocacy platform of more than 100 female experts in the infrastructure sector in Nigeria, Rwanda and Swaziland. Dr Akiode noted the need to monitor gains on women’s leadership and gender equality and committed to reaching out to rural women and those with disability in CESD initiatives following the workshop.

Ms Alice Githiomi, a geologist at the largest mine in Kenya, Base Titanium, encouraged fellow women to realise that circumstances do not change overnight and that they should seek to thrive despite challenging conditions. To support this in her workplace, Ms Githiomi founded a monthly mentorship club for trainees and young staff.

Liberian Ms Patience Beyan, a Director at the Civil Service Agency, asserted that “competence matters whether you are a woman or man, young or old”. Ms Beyan reformed her workplace by leading staff coaching and leadership sessions that have culminated into enhanced productivity and goodwill with stakeholders.

The Africa WILN is made up of over 450 alumnae who focus on leading change in their various spheres of influence throughout the continent. For more information on the network, visit the Australia Awards in Africa website. The positive impact the Australia Awards are making to women’s leadership is reported by the Australian Government’s Office of Development Effectiveness in Building Women’s Leadership: the contribution of Australia Awards Scholarships.

PHOTO: Participants at the Accra Women in Leadership Workshop.

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