African women shape new agenda for transformative leadership

Scores of women leaders attend the first African Woman Leaders Symposium in Nairobi.
Scores of women leaders attend the first African Woman Leaders Symposium in Nairobi.

The first African Woman Leaders Symposium came to a close in Nairobi with delegates from across Africa engaging in intensive deliberations.

The delegates who included women of power and influence occupying various decision-making positions in the continent delved on a wide range of issues including new threats on Security in Africa, Patriarchy and Violence, Women and the Economy and strategies for advancing women leadership. They also touched on intergenerational learning to explore models and approaches that work.

Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for Foreign Affairs and International Trade, Ambassador Amina Mohammed in her opening remarks underscored the need to increase the number of women in leadership positions.

Gender Gap

Mohammed noted that increasing the number of women in leadership remained one of the most pressing agenda in the continent and cited the 2015 Global Gender Gap Report which captures the status of women empowerment more clearly.

“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,” Mohammed explained.

She said that Rwanda, the best performing in Africa, was number six 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 seven.

Mohammed observed that as of August 2015, women only accounted for 22 percent in Kenya’s parliament.

Ambassador Mohammed at the same time said that 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.

She said that the Gender Gap report estimates that it will take the world another 118 years — or until 2133 — to close the economic gender gap entirely.


The Cabinet Secretary, who is one of the most influential women in the continent, called for a change of tact to help close the gender gap adding that it can only take us 118 years if we continue doing business as usual.

“Engaging those in authority in pushing the agenda of women’s empowerment is an important first step towards improving the prospects for women. We must not leave most of the work for women’s empowerment to women’s organizations, activists and others who are not in positions of authority,” Mohammed challenged.

“We must, therefore, increasingly work with those in authority such as chief executive officers, parliamentarians, departmental heads, ministers and even Heads of State,” reiterated Mohammed. She noted: “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 by putting in place organizational structures that will ease the burden of balancing work and domestic responsibilities for women as well as 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.”

Transformative leadership

Cabinet Secretary for Foreign Affairs and International Trade, Ambassador Amina Mohammed officiates the opening ceremony at the Safari Park Hotel.

Cabinet Secretary for Foreign Affairs and International Trade, Ambassador Amina Mohammed officiates the opening ceremony at the Safari Park Hotel.

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 narratives that encourage women to be followers, not leaders.”

The Cabinet Secretary underscored the need to socialize young girls to believe in themselves, to dare dream and have faith in their ability to be leaders, wealthy people and to be outstanding thinkers as well as innovators.

She expressed the need to 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.”

Mohammed called for the establishment of 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.”


Cabinet Secretary Rachael Omamo who officially closed the symposium concurred with her colleague saying that mentorship remains important in developing a critical mass of women who can take up leadership positions.

However, Omamo said, mentorship should not just be done for the sake of it. “Let us mentor young girls in a way that helps them to see opportunities of leadership and advancement.”

“We need to tell young girls that unless they try and put their feet into the water and unless they have a goal, they will not make it.”

At the same time Omamo challenged the women’s movement to strive and shape a new agenda for the women.

“We have to talk about women in the age of internet, terrorism and changes in our family structure. How do we address these changes and shape a new agenda for women every day?” posed Omamo. “The women’s movement and empowerment cannot be static.”

Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda, African Union Goodwill Ambassador for the Campaign to End Child Marriage underscored the need to go beyond numbers.

“Access is important, numbers are important but not sufficient. We need transformative leadership,” said Gumbonzvanda. “We need a leadership that will transform policy, institutions and provide opportunities for other women.”

She called for a shift in priorities and the need to demand for resources to finance for gender equality.  “African is not poor because huge amounts of monies are lost through illicit financial outflows, tax injustices and evasions as well as corruption and investment in military hardware.”

“We need to start asking questions as to why our countries have failed to prioritise gender equality interventions. If these things are tackled, then we can shift the resourcing for gender equality.”

The event also saw the attendance of other dignitaries such as Dr Amanda Serumaga, the UNDP Kenya Country Representative and former Minister for Constitutional Affairs and 2013 presidential candidate, Martha Karua.