SPEECH BY AMB. (DR) AMINA MOHAMED, EGH, CAV, CABINET SECRETARY FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS DURING THE AFRICA WOMEN LEADERS SYMPOSIUM HELD IN NAIROBI ON 24TH AUGUST, 2016
Ms. Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of Oxfam International
Ms. Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi, Special Envoy on Gender and Vice President of the African Development Bank
Hon. Dr. Gertrude Kitembo, Minister for Posts, telephones and Telecommunications of the Democratic Republic of Congo
Hon. Awut Deng Acuil, Minister of Gender, Child and Social Welfare of the Republic of South Sudan
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am delighted to join you all for this African Women Leaders Symposium. I take this opportunity to acknowledge, at the very outset, the presence of distinguished participants from other parts of Africa including my Sister and former colleague Hon. Dr. Olubanke King Akerele, the former Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Liberia. We welcome you all most warmly to Kenya and to this symposium.
I wish to express our gratitude to the Deputy President His Excellency Hon. William Ruto and his staff, as well as Oxfam International, the Kenya Private Sector Alliance, Trade Mark East Africa and all other organizations that have partnered in organizing this Symposium. Expanding the choices for women, and especially increasing the number of women in leadership, remain one of the most pressing agenda of our time.
I am confident this symposium will generate practical ideas and commitments that will further advance this agenda by harnessing the talents of women to transform not only their lives, but our societies in their entirety.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
We now know that the most important determinant of the competitiveness of countries and even companies is their human talent – that is, the skills and productivity of the workforce. Harnessing the talents of women who comprise half of the world’s available talent pool, therefore, has a vast and direct bearing on how competitive a country or company may become. Our hope of transforming African economies, therefore, lies on how effectively we are able to harness women talents in all areas of human endeavour and especially in leadership.
Since the Beijing Platform for Action, substantial work has been done and today many of the fundamental building blocks for expanding the space for women are in place. The 2015 Global Gender Gap Report captures the status of women empowerment more clearly. While progress is uneven across countries and regions, the report indicates that globally the gender gap in education attainment stands at 95%, or 5% away from parity. Health and survival is closest to parity, at 96% with 40 countries having closed this gap entirely. The gender gap in accessing economic opportunities has closed by only 3%; while only 23% of the gender gap in political empowerment has been closed.
Africa has not faired particularly well. Only 17 African countries were among the top 100 countries in closing gender gaps in education, health, economic opportunity and leadership. Rwanda, the best performing in Africa, was number 6 in overall global ranking. Kenya was number 48. In terms of closing the gender gap in political empowerment or leadership, Kenya ranked number 62 while Rwanda was number 7.
Stubborn inequalities therefore remain. As of August 2015, only 22 per cent of all national parliamentarians were female. Moreover, the number of women in the labour force only increased marginally from 1.5 billion in 2006 to 1.75 billion in 2015; meaning only an extra quarter billion women have entered the labour force in nine years. The Gender Gap report estimates that it will take the world another 118 years – or until 2133 – to close the economic gender gap entirely. I doubt anyone of us will be around.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Engaging those in authority in pushing the agenda of women empowerment is an important first step towards improving the prospects for women. I am convinced that it will only take us 118 years to close the gender gap as suggested in the 2015 Gender Parity Report if, and only if, we continue doing business as usual – that is if we leave most of the work for women empowerment to women’s organizations, activists and others who are not in positions of authority.
We must therefore increasingly work with those in authority – with CEOs, with parliamentarians, departmental heads, ministers and even Heads of State. This approach – where those in authority are in the driver’s seat – will greatly improve our effectiveness in ensuring equal access to opportunities for women, in putting in place organizational structures that will ease the burden of balancing work and domestic responsibilities for women and in the development and implementation of supportive public policies especially in agriculture and the SMEs sector where the majority of women earn their income and livelihoods.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Opening up opportunities and putting in place supportive policies will not help if women don’t have faith in themselves or possess the necessary skills and knowledge. We must therefore scale up efforts to help women develop confidence in themselves by countering socialization narratives that encourage women to be followers, not leaders.
We must socialize upcoming generations of girls – from the formative stages as they go through education and as they grow in their careers – to believe in themselves, to dare dream and to have faith in their ability to be leaders, to be wealthy people, to be outstanding thinkers and innovators.
Women need to bear the words of Maya Angelou in mind “If you are always trying to be normal you will never know how amazing you can be”. We must also impress on them the need to think big in the spirit of the words of H.E. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, and I quote: “The size of your dreams must always exceed your current capacity to achieve them. If your dreams do not scare you, they are not big enough.”
Regarding skills development, it is encouraging that the gender gap in education has narrowed impressively. However, we must be keen to ensure that our young women and girls acquire the right qualifications. In particular, we must emphasize leadership training. Leadership, we must remember, has nothing to do with gender and neither is it a charismatic happening or phenomenon.
Leaders are not born but made through the process of socialization, education and training. We can train women leaders through exposure by identifying talented girls and women and giving them assignments that will build their confidence as well as skills in leadership. Providing opportunities to lead early in life will build confidence and offer a sound foundation for future leadership.
But to further reinforce education, we need to establish effective informal and formal professional networks to which aspiring women can turn for mentorship. Many of our girls grow up believing that their worth depends on appearance. They are, however, more likely to develop leadership aspirations if there are visible women leaders to emulate.
Professional networks are not only avenues of sharing knowledge and experiences but also connecting young women and girls to established people in their communities or professions. Women don’t have the equivalent of “old boys” networks which are immensely effective in helping men to access opportunities. Without necessarily creating old girls networks, we need mechanisms that will help women to access experienced leaders and those who make decisions or appointments in the sectors that interest them.
Finally, striking the right balance between family life and professional work is core to the success of women. To succeed, women must learn to strike the right balance by making deliberate efforts to delegate and share responsibilities. This is something that’s important at every level of a woman’s career – in whatever business they are in. We must therefore strive to identify and work with talented people and to leverage their aptitudes. In this regard, I conclude with the words of Anthea Turner “the first rule of management is delegation. Don’t try and do everything yourself because you can’t.”