Women leaders really make a difference

When the African Union declared that 2010-2020 is the African Women Decade, many people may not have taken it seriously. But the rise of women in various fields in Africa, one year into the decade, has been impressive.

Joice Mujuru
Joice Mujuru

The AU declaration could actually be an understatement, as indications are that women in leadership are scaling unprecedented heights and could be the much-awaited answer to most of the continent’s challenges.

Two African women scooped the Nobel Peace Prize for their "non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women's rights to full participation in peace-building work," and shared the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize.

The Liberian leader, the only female Head of State in Africa, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and her country-woman, Leymah Gbowee, a peace activist who was a key figure in organizing the movement to bring an end to the Second Liberian Civil War, have done the women folk proud by winning the prestigious award.

Another woman, Tawakul Karmans, a Yemeni journalist and human rights activist, who is one of the loudest voices in the Yemeni protests and a major figurehead of the on-going Arab Spring opposition, is one of the youngest people to receive the prize.

Many will agree that this year’s winners are most worthy because the three women have fought tirelessly for peace and women’s human rights in a non-violent manner – unlike the former male award winners.

Sirleaf is honoured for the development she has accomplished after Liberia's devastating 14-year civil war, led by Charles Taylor who is now facing human rights abuses at the Hague.

Leymah Gbowee started a peace movement by organizing women to pray for peace.

In 2004 the late Professor Wangari Maathai of Kenya, became the first African woman to win the peace prize.

Maathai was renowned as a fearless social environmental activist who led a peaceful women’s movement in Kenya defying years of violent resistence by the then Kenyan government.

Nobel Peace Prizes may come and go, but the courage of these women will remain a source of inspiration for many. Whilst the numbers of women winners may be numerically small, and there are many women in the continent whose achievements are not internationally recognized, the awards have transformed women’s mindsets and the resulting inspiration is likely to reach very far.

Recently Zimbabwe’s first female Vice President, Joice Mujuru, was ranked the fifth most influential woman in Africa by Forbes Africa magazine.

Sirleaf topped the 20 most influential women in Africa followed by Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Nigeria’s Minister of finance.

The third most powerful woman was Joyce Banda, who was appointed Vice President of Malawi in May 2009, becoming the country's first female Vice President.

The magazine named Gill Marcus, Governor of the Reserve Bank of South Africa as the fourth most powerful woman in Africa.

Isabel Dos Santos, the daughter of Angola’s president, is number seven and Nelson Mandela’s wife Graca Machel is ranked number 15.

Zimbabwe’s Vice President Joice Mujuru and Deputy Prime Minister Thokozani Khupe are an inspiration to many Zimbabwean women who may wish to take up political decision-making positions.

However, the rise of women into decision-making and leadership positions should not be restricted to the 2010-2020 decade target alone. Women leaders should be given a chance to flourish and be the world’s alternative strategy for peace and sustainanble development.

The existing gender gaps in decision making, access and control over economic resourcerces will require more than just a decade of ‘redress’ policies and practice. Whilst women’s achievements in the coming decade should be celebrated, future decades present opportunities for women’s total empowerment, gender equity and a world of difference to every woman.

Post published in: News

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