With high-stakes election seasons in four of WomenStrong’s five countries, students from all over the world share their thoughts about women leaders and women’s leadership in general. This week students from WomenStrong’s Empowerment Clubs in Kenya and an African Leadership Academy girl from Senegal share about inspiring women leaders in the politics in their countries.
Stacey Hope Namara, Uganda
Stacey is from Uganda but is currently going into her last year of secondary school in Kenya. She is 16.
In my opinion, Uganda is a somewhat liberal and developed country, but unfortunately for much of the female population, female empowerment is not one of those areas where we are succeeding. I say this because I am speaking from an all-round view — i.e., I’m not just speaking about the areas I have direct contact with in my day-to-day life, but also about things I have seen around me. I am speaking for the young Ugandan girl in a small village in Kabale, who is amazed just by seeing my mum drive a car because that in itself is too big a role for a woman to be taking on. I am speaking for the 10-year-old girl with spectacular football skills who could lead the juniors’ football team but doesn’t think that’s an area she should be in, simply because she is a girl. I am speaking for all the under informed and undereducated young girls of my country who have not seen women just like them and their mothers leading a big group of people in an important organization and cannot imagine that as a possibility in their own lives.
Women in Uganda have been subservient to men for such a long time that with every coming generation, it becomes harder to change this mindset, at least in the rural areas. It is only in a few places here and there that you can identify a strong woman standing up for herself and the rest of the women she is leading. However, on a large scale, this is not the case.
I would like to imagine a world where the women in Uganda are respected people in government, paving the way and setting an example to the next generation. I think this female presence is necessary in order to ingrain in the next generation that women are powerful and can make a change in their society. Maybe we wouldn’t see such a drastic change as soon as this increase in female leadership began, but gradually we would. Maybe what we’ve been missing as a country is a female president to make us great as a nation, but we’ll never know until we give the women a voice, a chance for them to lead us. I strongly believe that women have every bit the potential, if not more, to govern an organization and even a country. A lot of controversy is created when the topic of female leadership is brought up, but how will we know, if we never give them the chance?
It’s not only the handing of responsibility to women that I’m talking about; it is the symbolism that comes with it — the idea that women are powerful, too. It is the dreams that will develop in girls’ minds about themselves that will be different. It is the hidden potential within women that will change our world. I genuinely believe that strong female leadership today will pave the way for so much more development in Uganda’s mindsets and policies tomorrow.
Jennifer Yaa Antwiwoa, Ghana
Jennifer is a 13-year-old student in Grade 8 at Mfensi Junior High School, outside of Kumasi, Ghana.
I keep wondering why men hold many key positions in our country, Ghana. Is it that our men are more competent than we women? Or is it that women have a lot of homework to do, in order to catch up with the men? Yes, I think there are certain things that need to be changed to create opportunities for women to also hold key leadership roles. That is why I, Jennifer Yaa Antwiwoa, of Mfensi Junior High School, would like to bring out certain factors that need to be changed, to create opportunity for our women.
Firstly, I will talk about the notion people have about women standing up to men to contest for leadership roles. Many people tag women who contest with men for certain positions as “disrespectful.” Some even describe them as giving themselves to men to attain such positions. GIven this, many women stand aside, not wanting to compete with their male counterparts. But if we take away all that and support our women, they can also go higher and hold leadership roles.
Secondly, it has always been the norm that a girl’s office is the kitchen. A girl is only seen as being married off and bearing children. Although this practice has been reduced, people in rural areas still don’t value girls’ education. In view of this, I think our towns, cities and nation as a whole should be educated, and girls should be encouraged, as well, so that they can become prominent leaders and hold leadership roles.
Thirdly, there are certain positions that are considered to be for men, which shouldn’t be so. Even in our senior high schools, there are certain courses girls are not encouraged to take, like science and business. These courses are deemed “boys’ courses,” which isn’t right. College president and other positions are said to be for men, and so no one expects a woman to rise up to such a position, which is also not right.
Girls should be given equal opportunities to men and should be encouraged. I believe they would then have the courage to stand up to compete and to attain many leadership roles.
Furthermore, I think girls of school going age should be motivated and taught the importance of their education. Many who do not see this end up being put in the family way somewhere along the line. This kills their dreams of attaining the heights they had wished for. So girls, as little as they are, should be taught how important their education is, and that a menstrual period missed (due to pregnancy) would end their dreams. Girls should therefore be advised to take their lessons seriously, so that they become as prominent as their male counterparts and hold key leadership roles in society.
I will also say that married women look confident. They fear losing when they compete with their male counterparts. Though a lot of education is about empowering women, women are still not empowered. But we women should empower ourselves first, motivate ourselves, and know that we can also make it. There have been so many women who have taken leadership roles, like former President of Haiti Ertha Pascal-Trouillot, former President of Malta Agatha Barbara, our own Electoral Commissioner, Mrs. Charlotte Osei, and Mrs. Georgina Theodora Wood, oru Chief Justice, just to mention a few. Again, I believe that women have many opportunities for leadership roles, but certain things, such as those I have elaborated on above, need to be changed.
Alexa Shulman, United States
Alexa is a sophomore at Sidwell Friends School, in Washington, DC. She is currently taking Modern African History, a class that has sparked new interests for her.
The definition for what is socially and culturally acceptable is not static. It has changed throughout history and differs depending not only on your larger cultural identification, but also on an individual’s social group. In general, In the United States, everyone is entitled to the same rights and privileges; however, the expectation and the role women play is not the same. Legally, women are entitled to the same rights as men; however, social convention prevents gender equity, particularly with regard to age, dress and behavior.
Perhaps it is the norm, or historical tradition, that makes it far more socially acceptable for an older man to marry or date a woman half his age, let alone less than half his age. Author Flannery Dean aptly states that, “Though men have been enjoying May-December romances forever, women haven’t been afforded the same freedom necessarily. Culturally, the older woman/younger man dynamic is perceived as oddity or a fluke.” ( chatelaine-health-sex and relationships ) But why should it be perceived this way? Perhaps in antiquity, a male would desire a younger bride in order to produce male heirs or to have enough children to maintain and work at the farm. However, in a modern society, love should not be based on a number, but rather should be allowed to blossom between two consenting adults. Additionally, as men age, society tends to see them as distinguished or dignified, whereas women of the same age are seen as old and tired, perhaps contributing to the perceived notion that a younger female partner is more desirable.
In many places, women can legally not wear a shirt. But is that socially acceptable? Not really. Why? Frankly, it is a mystery. Perhaps this hearkens back to the Puritannical roots of America, because many European or South American countries have no social stigma attached to women going topless. Yet, at a recent rally in New York City, women from all over gathered to protest the Mayor’s attempts to ban women from wearing solely bodypaint in Times Square. Even the media coverage of this event blurred out nipples. I have yet to see a picture with a man’s nipple blurred out. The sole anatomical difference is that women have the ability to produce milk, while men do not. A women’s clothing, or lack thereof, additionally leads to the justification of slut-shaming. Slut-shaming is having a preconceived notion about one’s character and morals based upon the way she dresses. Some men take this even further, justifying criminal sexual contact with a women based upon her “slutty” outfit. Yet conversely, if a women dresses too masculinely, this is also seen as trying to pretend to be a man, or shall I say “not slutty enough.”
Competent, confident women are often criticized for behaving too masculinely, whereas the same behavior in a man is seen as capable or skilled. One of the more recent examples of this phenomena is the scrutiny of Hillary Clinton’s character. Regardless of how one sees her political views and morals, she has been criticized for being too manly, or even rude. The Telegraph recently published an article entitled “‘Hillary Clinton is a bitch,’ 11 Things we don’t want to hear during the US presidential race.” Her sex should not be part of the discussion as to whether or not she is qualified to be president.
Despite the inequality between women and men, women have made great strides. Yet women are still subject to a great deal of discrimination. It is through the vigilance of enlightened individuals that gender inequality will be a thing of the past.
Dhan Foundation’s Adolescent Girls’ Groups, Madurai City, India
A few participants in an Adolescent Girls’ Group in Madurai, India, run by WomenStrong Consortium member Dhan Foundation, offered some further thoughts.
I’ll enter politics when I’m older. When other women see me, they’ll see me as a role model. This will encourage more women to become leaders — more and more.