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Women leaders in Africa demand space for transformative leadership

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From L-R: Ms. Amanda Serumaga, UNDP Kenya Country Representative, Ms. Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director Oxfam International, Ambassador Dr. Amina Mohamed, Cabinet Secretary Ministry of Foreign Affair Kenya, alongside other panellist display their commitment towards women leadership Photo By UN Women/ Kennedy Okoth)

African Women have defied rhetoric and achieved that which was deemed impossible. Women in leadership positions across political and socio-economic platforms have shattered glass ceilings and proved that they possess the undeniable ability to effectively impact and steer the continent to the zenith of equality, equity and development.

The inaugural African Women’s Leadership Symposium that was held between 24th -25th August 2016 in Nairobi, Kenya brought together about 200 women from across Africa to deliberate on goals and commitments from women leaders to impact lives of women and girls and bring about lasting change in Africa.

During deliberations at the two day meeting, women leaders called on African governments to heed the call for the process of transformative leadership. Leadership change that will not create barriers for women but instead make spaces available and create a conducive environment for equal representation of women and men in all sectors at all levels.

At the opening of the inaugural African Women’s Leadership symposium, Winnie Byanyima, the Executive Director of Oxfam International alongside a rich collection of African women leaders sent the message to African governments that Africa needs transformation leadership carried along by both men and women in equal numbers for the continent to prosper.

No goal, no strategy, no vision for Africa can come true until we have sustainable leadership that delivers for women in every sphere of our lives,” says Byanyima, Executive Director of OXFAM and one of the convenors at the symposium.   Noting that so many wrongs are happening in the continent because women are missing from leadership, Byanyima notes: “Of all the maternal mortality deaths worldwide, half happen in sub-Saharan Africa.  This fact alone should be enough to make us burn with indignation for the women of Africa.”

Ambassador Amina Mohamed, Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for Foreign Affairs said the journey to transformative leadership is long and women and indeed all leaders must be able to make sacrifices for them to get to the final destination. Noting that only 17 out of 54 African countries have managed to close the gender gaps.

Ambassador Dr. Amina Mohamed, Cabinet Secretary Ministry of Foreign Affair Kenya (Photo By UN Women/Kennedy Okoth)

CS Mohammed lauded countries like Rwanda that have made it possible for women to be in leadership positions in high numbers, but challenged women to empower themselves and empower each other by walking the talk and being confident in what they do.

“For us to realise transformative leadership and women’s empowerment, it can no longer be business as usual,” notes Amb. Amina.

Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi, Special Envoy on Gender and Vice President at the African Development Bank and also a co-covener at the Syposium said there are barriers to women at all levels of leadership. “We are now ready to make change and be part of the collective. We have to break barriers, boundaries and the glass ceilings.”

Fraser-Moleketi notes: IF you don’t include women you are actually undermining the change that should be there.”


The Symposium, a first of its kind, provides an opportunity to women leaders to deliberate how to leverage their leadership, power, influence and access for the development and progress of the African continent in general and the advancement of women and girls’ rights in particular. The Kenya Cabinet Secretary for Defence Ambassador Raychelle Omamo closed the symposium by reminding women leaders to always ‘Be yourself Better’ and be tenacious and audacious. She committed to completing the gender policy in the Ministry of Defence. It was vibrant space for animated interactions and discussions on factors that support and those that hinder women’s access to power, influence and resources in society and will also be an opportunity to reflect on how to best collaborate inter-sectorally so as to further the agenda of women and girls rights in Africa. For every woman who participated in the African Women’s Leaders Symposium, there was a story of resilience that set her on the path of advocating and enhancing the capacity of other women and girls.


The participants to the African Women’s Leadership Symposium made focussed commitments to impact and transform the lives of women and girls in the spaces they work. The One-million Initiative and the supporter journeys where African women took substantive commitments are the two main outputs of the symposium.

Dinah Musindarwezo, the Executive Director of FEMNET also co-hosting the symposium said this path to commitment by African women leaders is basically what sets the symposium on a practical implementation path to move us from rhetoric to real actions.

“This inaugural initiative in Transformative Women’s Leadership is calling on the transformation of one-million+ women in the continent to make significant strides in improving the lives and status of women in Trade. This is where we want women of influence in different aspects of trade to do their bit to push for bridging of Economic gender gaps that deter women from attaining meaningful gains and making considerable impact,” says Musindarwezo.


The meeting was intergenerational having brought in young women and also having older women share their stories in a dialogue that was to not only inspire but also demand for attention from governments. The Symposium was held under an umbrella of various organisations that included OXFAM, the African Women’s Communications Network (FEMNET), UN Women, UNDP, Hivos, Trade Mark East Africa, Urgent Action Fund, OSIEA among others.


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