The main impediments to African women ascending to top positions in both corporate and political in Africa
By Madelein Mkunu
Over 50 years of Africa’s political independence has witnessed a slow pace of African women ascension to top positions despite a long list of gender equality legal framework that have been adopted by the African Union (AU) and ratified by many African nations. Some of these frameworks include: At global level, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights of 1966, Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) of 1979, Beijing Declaration and Platform For Action (BPFA) of 1995, UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and now the Sustainable Development Goals. At continent level The Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and Rights of Women in Africa of 2003, The African Union Gender Policy of 2009, The AU Solemn Declaration on Gender Equality in Africa (2004) and now the Agenda 2063.
Despite the fact that women constitute over 50% of the African population and present with huge potential to rule the world, they however remain underrepresented in the top leadership positions at corporate and political levels (Women Matter, Mckenzie, August 2016). I believe there are many factors that contribute significantly to this phenomenon, and I will highlight three (3):
- The misconception about male and female leadership in the society
Historically, when we talk about leadership, we see men. Until today, in the African society, it is still believed that men have the exclusive rights to lead. This patriarchal idea continue to influence the negatively the confidence of women to ascend to top leadership position.
- Lack of awareness of leadership capabilities within women themselves
Millions of women have been leading with No title without even them realizing that they are at hidden potential of African growth. With less than a living wage or income, women of Africa have been leading their families, educating their children, feeding them and ensuring their wellbeing until adulthood. Their efforts have been unsung and less recognised internally (family) and externally (public). As a result women have failed to understand their own leadership potential and their capabilities to lead outside of their families. And this has been passed on from generation to generation.
- Slow pace of implementation of legal frameworks
As much as many African governments have ratified most of the gender equality legal frameworks however its impact on the ground is less than expected for 2 main reasons:
- Lack of ownership of these instruments from the side of women. There could be many reasons for this attitude and one of them is that majority of women are not aware of their legal rights and do not have access to information.
- Ineffective and inefficient bureaucratic processes to implement of these instruments
The Pull Her Down Syndrome (PHD)
Pull Her Down Syndrome (PHD) have been in our media, research and many other writings for centuries. Some women agree it exists some do not agree. Some argue that in corporate, business and political environments, women are set against each other, generally by men, to ensure that no woman wins, only men. This is what is being said around the recent case with Hillary Clinton misfortune to lead the world after the recent USA elections due to very little women’s votes. In Africa, we have seen Joyce Banda of Malawi failing to secure second term despite women being the majority of population. So, are women responsible for their own failure to see more of them ascend to power? My honest answer is YES, to some extent.
From my own observation, I would highlight 2 main reasons:
- Lack of massive support of women: In the democratic environment we live in today, the support of women, via votes, comments, responses… is highly needed in order to ensure the ascension of other women to the top. The abstention of women (even without applying the PHD Syndrome) automatically reduces the chance to see a potential female candidate to reach the top.
- Negative competition amongst women: Women tend to look at each other with a competition eye. Competition is not necessarily bad if it creates the desire in one to also aim to reach the top one day or to the one on top to wish to see others follow her footstep one day. But when competition implies “Exclusivity”, meaning this position is for “her” and “her alone”, ”no other woman is better”, “no other woman must get there or closer”, … that is when all is lost and highly ambitious women get discouraged to try again. So, to ensure that more women get to the top, there is an imperative need for women to acquire a new mind shift. To get this shift of mind will require education and time invested in making women to think collectively and not individually.
- What do Africans need to do to promote or ensure more women ascend to top offices? Any examples?
I only see one way out: Obtaining the buy in of Men to the gender mainstreaming approach
There are many constraints that have kept women of Africa from reaching their full potential and contribute positively in the socio economic transformation of their respective nations despite numerous efforts. I believe that the women empowerment agenda will not happen in isolation, but need concerted efforts from government, corporate and civil society. Being the majority at decision-making platforms, MEN could be instrumental in supporting women reach the top positions. This is what I call an “Inclusive approach to gender Mainstreaming”.