‘Allowed space, women can lead’

By Lovemore Ranga Mataire & Lahja Nashuuta

ZIMBABWE’S First Lady Grace Mugabe has commended The Southern Times for encouraging and promoting discourse on the empowerment of women.

Mugabe was the guest of honour at the Women in Leadership Conference held in Harare on October 6, and organised by this newspaper. She urged other regional First Ladies to support the paper’s empowerment message.

“Africa is one of the world’s emerging economies and is well endowed with vast resources. Growth prospects for business and investment for the next decade are high,” she said.

“Women in Africa, if allowed the space, can exert enormous beneficial influence over politics, economics and society in general.”

She said the goal of achieving equality and development will remain unattainable without the education of women to actively participate in politics.

Mugabe said the Commission on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) provides the basis for the realisation of equality, including women-oriented legislation and policies worldwide.

“It, however, is disappointing where and when very little progress has been made towards women empowerment in general. This is even more so in some Western countries, which pride themselves as the champions of democracy and good governance, but have not yet signed the declaration,” she said, speaking at the Harare International Conference Centre at the sold-out event.

She said women were much encouraged by the fact that the African Union had declared 2016 as the African Year of Human Rights with a particular focus on the rights of women.  The declaration, she said, was in tandem with the 2015 theme of Women’s Empowerment and Development Agenda towards 2023.  Besides the AU declaration, Sustainable Development Goal 5 also deals with the promotion of gender equality and empowerment of all girls and this, the First Lady said, was to ensure the full participation of women, and provide equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision making in political, economic and social life.

She said it was gratifying to note that the region had made strides in improving the condition of women by signing the Protocol on Gender and Development in Johannesburg in August 2008.

The protocol set out 29 key targets which include the stipulation that women should hold 50 percent of decision making positions in the private and public sector by 2015, and also the repeal and amendment of all sex or gender discriminatory legislation and policies as well as ensuring equal participation of men and women in development.

As per the SADC Gender and Development Monitor 2016, the region has made significant progress in terms of women empowerment. There has been an increase in women representation in political decision-making and in the management of the public service, and SADC has maintained its third position in the global rankings of women in Parliament, after the Nordic countries and the Americas.

Prominent South African businesswoman, celebrity and TV personality Gerry Rantseli singled out low self-esteem, lack of self-confidence and support as the major barriers for women to succeed.

Rantseli said there was evidence that women were very good at heading business.

“Organisations with a greater percentage of women in leadership roles perform better financially, but women are not encouraged enough compete for those positions with men. It’s not that the opportunities are not there, but it’s women themselves that are shy to take up those challenges” she said.

Ranseli said the reason why women are not getting the top managerial positions is because they believe that they do not have skills needed to start businesses, something linked to lack of self-confidence than actual lack of skills.

“Women need to do a better job of declaring themselves and becoming their own advocates—speaking and acting confidently and mentally promoting themselves to a future-focused role,” she encouraged. “With this mind-set, our own behaviours change. A woman’s impact is strengthened and improves her ability to get that seat at the table.”

Cementing the statement was Namibian businesswoman and owner of Xhama Cultural Village and Restaurant Twapewa Kadhikwa, who said for women to be successful, one must be assertive and confident.

“Women who are aggressive, assertive, and confident but who can turn these traits on and off, depending on the social circumstances, get more promotions than either men or other women,” she said.

The one-day summit was attended by more than 300 woman delegates, mainly professionals and business leaders.

Other speakers at the conference included Tafuna Mumba-Phiri from Zambia, lawyer Seodi White from Malawi, Nancy Sumari from Tanzania and Edna Mukurazhizha and Chipo Mtasa both from Zimbabwe.