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AWLO Induction 2020 Keynote Address: Creating the Opportunity and Space for Women Through Unity and Togetherness

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A Keynote Address by H.E. Mrs. Francess Virginia Anderson, Sierra Leone High Commissioner to the Republic of Ghana and Ambassador to the Republic of Togo and the Republic of Burkina Faso, at AWLO Induction 2020

Founder of AWLO Dr. Elisha Attai, Executive of the African Women in Leadership Organisation (AWLO), Your Excellencies, esteemed organisers of this auspicious event, fellow inductees, awardees, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, good evening.

I wish to first and foremost register my pleasure and honour to be here today, and to convey my profound thanks and appreciation to the organisers of this programme. Permit me to heartily congratulate, in advance, deserving and worthy awardees and inductees as well as those who, in diverse ways, contributed to their respective success.

I am immensely grateful and I feel privileged to be here tonight as both an inductee of AWLO and above all the keynote speaker for this memorable event. And I wish to appreciate and thank the authorities of AWLO for bestowing upon me this great honour.

Admittedly, not many have been so blessed to materially and socially achieve what most of us here present today have achieved. And we give thanks and praises to the almighty God for His infinite mercies and favours. Not that we are more deserving, but I am convinced that having us in the positions we find ourselves is for us to create space and opportunities for others not so fortunate as us. This notwithstanding, I wish to salute all the women who have contributed so much to society but whose contributions are sometimes overlooked, diminished or undervalued.

If child rearing were monetised and added to GDP in our patriarchal societies, arguably, women’s contribution would have been far greater. In our African societies, a woman gives birth, but the community, especially women rear the child. They make them the fine men and women they eventually become.

The topic of my address is Creating the Opportunity and Space for Women Through Unity and Togetherness.

For centuries women have fought for their basic rights, ranging from the right to education, to access to quality healthcare services, to voting rights, to inheritance, to employment and equal pay. The struggle for women’s emancipation continues in all spheres of human endeavour. For so long we have been and continue to be marginalised, overlooked and underappreciated. But radical change is in the air and hope continues to stay alive.

Whilst we graciously acknowledge that notable, and in some instances unimaginable, progress have been made, there is still a long way to go to achieve both equity and equality between the sexes. Sadly, a single top job given to a woman often tends to disguise the massive inequality and extreme marginalisation in our societies.

In the recent past we have seen so-called glass ceilings broken across the globe. A growing number of women are now heads of state and government in Europe, Asia, and New Zealand. And America is about to have its first number 2 in a woman of diversity and its first Secretary of the Treasury a woman. What is so striking is that most of these women are young, energetic and committed to the cause of women’s liberation, empowerment and inclusion. In addition, many more, the world over, are leading both public and private sector organisations with remarkable successes. The Board rooms are now experiencing what I would describe as “women’s invasion”. Our top quality representations across the world and in different spheres have outperformed their male counterparts in many areas and have exceeded the expectations of many.

Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, make no mistake the best is yet to come.

Africa has also witnessed the accession to the presidency by two eminent women leaders in the persons of Nobel Laureate H.E. Helen Johnson-Sirleaf of Liberia and H.E. Joyce Banda of Malawi. Other prominent women continue to show strong leadership and play their part, with distinction, in the global governance system. We have seen the likes of Zainab Bangura of Sierra Leone, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and Amina Mohammed both of Nigeria, Winnie Byanyima of Uganda, and Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma of South Africa demonstrate top quality leadership, steering the ship of their respective organisation or department. They are role models for many of us and have inspired many others to take up the challenge for women’s inclusion, participation and contribution towards sustainable progress and development. And in their own rights, these individuals continue to promote women’s empowerment and fight for greater representation of women in regional and global decision-making. We commend their efforts and urge them to soldier on.

All of the above developments are a stark reminder that there is no limit for women. However, many of these great and historic achievements came at great sacrifices to these individuals and their loved loves. In the course of their professional lives they have faced and endured discrimination, disappointment and despair. Despite these, they had the drive to overcome these challenges and achieve success. Many persevered in the face of innumerable rejections, but perseverance and resilience prevailed. Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, I believe the same can be said of most, if not all, ladies present here tonight and countless others out there.

Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, be under no illusion that women will continue to face formidable challenges from time to time as they strive for inclusion and equity. Many of these challenges will come from male chauvinists and equally so from our women folks. But perseverance, hard work and dedication to result and excellence will enable us surmount these challenges and other frustrating setbacks we will face. With God on our side, we shall prevail.

The world has witnessed unprecedented levels of development progress in the last half century with increased enrolment and school completion rates for girls, better educated women population, greater access to maternal and healthcare services, increased job opportunities, and accession of women into top jobs in business, government and politics. Africa has had its own share of progress, but far less has been achieved comparatively.

In the past decade, many countries on the continent experienced reduction in poverty levels and substantial investment in infrastructure and human capital. These notwithstanding, hunger and disease continue to blight our progress, and women and children have been disproportionately affected.

Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, governments across the continent are taking active steps to further the cause of women through the promulgation of statutes to protect their fundamental human rights and the implementation of programmes to support women’s economic and financial independence as well as political liberation and inclusion. Whilst we acknowledge the strides made so far, implementation challenges continue to undermine the success of such endeavours. And we urge governments on the continent to do more to dismantle these barriers and create a level playing field for all actors, whilst protecting the underprivileged and the disadvantaged. Where positive marginalisation holds a true promise, every effort must be expended to harness the benefits.

For Africa to accelerate and sustain growth for poverty alleviation and development, leadership at the political, legislative, judicial and administrative levels must be inclusive, accountable, strong, visionary and committed to the wellbeing of all people. And accelerating and sustaining women’s advancement must be the trust of our strides for human progress.

Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, AWLO was created to bring together, for a common purpose, women who have served and continue to serve society at higher levels. This course they have pursued so well and we are proud to be part of it as well as take it to the next level. And this brings me to the fundamental issue of what women can do to support each other and advance the cause of women’s liberation and personal and professional fulfillment.

The key question is, how do we utilise this opportunity given to us as catalyst for financial, economic and social emancipation of women and girls and for the development of our continent and the world at large? These and many more will exercise our minds and shape our thoughts about what we can offer society in the face of the growing challenges in the world. There are many ways we can leap forward in the right and sensible direction, and I have attempted to highlight a few.

First, we must endeavour to identify and nurture the talents of women in our society if women are to continue providing top quality leadership across all endeavours.

Second, we can transform our society for sustainable economic and political progress by providing education, health care services, and income-generation knowledge and support to women. This will facilitate the transformation of our economies into modern entrepreneurial nations.

Third, in order to preserve and ramp up the modest gains we have made, it is imperative that we continually reinvent ourselves to meet new and emerging challenges at the local, regional and global levels. And this reinvention strategy will be critical to the continent’s ongoing success and women empowerment and inclusion.

Fourth, we must recognise and appreciate the fact that opportunity is good and sustainable if it is “opportunity for all” irrespective of gender, belief, political orientation, race, education, and social class. Where this is insufficient or absent, there has to be a redistributional mechanism that ensures benefit for the greater mass of society, if not everyone.

Fifth, to sustain women’s personal growth and development efforts and aspirations, women and men alike must continue providing needed support and mentorship to our women folks across the continent.

Sixth, promoting fairness and transparency will assist us build a solid foundation for a viable, progressive and stable society. This is not only limited to government, but it is a responsibility for all irrespective of the sector we find ourselves.

Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, strategic and deliberate choices have to be made to support our colleagues, and this is where we can, and must do better. This is a sure-fire way for sustainability and equitable economic and social progress. The benefits of opportunities accorded us should be spread and no one should be left behind. Our governments’ development strategies must ensure that women and the poor expand their choices and opportunities.

Citizens must be accorded the space to meaningfully engage and participate in shaping decisions which affect their wellbeing. If we are to attain this, politics in Africa must evolve and be more consultative and inclusive. Marginalisation in whatever form is pointless, without merit, and unsustainable. Non-inclusion and persistent and widening inequality can only sow the seeds of discord and chaos.

Both regional and sub-regional institutions like the AU, SADC, ECOWAS, EAC, etc. must take the lead in bringing women together to discuss emerging challenges affecting them so as to prescribe durable solutions to holistically address them. This cross fertilisation of ideas and experiences will help build synergy in all aspects of our quest for growth, inclusive and sustainable development.

To all women present here and across the globe, we have seen situations wherein women fail by design or default to fulfill their sacred obligation of supporting each other. This must be discouraged and frowned at, at every level and in every circumstance. We must be each other’s keeper. We must not only make a place for ourselves at the high table, but we must create extra space for others to join us. We can achieve more by expanding opportunities for our girls and women. And we can make this happen if we renew our commitment to this ideal for the benefit of all and not the insignificant minority.

You can be the change you want to see. And that starts rights now and with you.

Conclusion

Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, let me conclude by stating that governments must endeavour to raise living standards through accelerated and inclusive growth. And the contribution of women themselves would ensure multiple wins that would build resilience and lock in women’s advancement and development gains.

Let me re-echo the sentiments of some of our inspirational and great women leaders:

“If you want something said, ask a man; if you want something done, ask a woman.” – Margaret Thatcher

“Amazing things happen when women help other women.” – Kasia Gospos

“There is no limit to what we, as women, can accomplish.” – Michelle Obama

“The day will come when man will recognize woman as his peer, not only at the fireside, but in councils of the nation. Then, and not until then, will there be the perfect comradeship, the ideal union between the sexes that shall result in the highest development of the race.” – Susan B. Anthony

“We need women at all levels, including the top, to change the dynamics, reshape the conversation, to make sure women’s voices are heard and heeded, not overlooked and ignored.” – Sheryl Sandberg

“Never limit yourself because of others’ limited imagination; never limit others because of your own limited imagination.” – Mae Jemison

“In the future, there will be no female leaders. There will just be leaders.” – Sheryl Sandberg

The wisdom in their assertions is glaring, and without an iota of doubt, I completely agree as common sense and equity fundamentally require.

Africa needs women in leadership positions for balanced and sustained growth and development; and this can be achieved through mutual support for each other in both our professional and private lives.

I wish you all a merry Christmas and a fulfilling and happy 2021.

God bless our beloved Continent, Africa!!!

Thank you all!! Merci a tous!! Obrigado!! Gracias!!

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