Q & A on the African Women Leaders’ Symposium

1.  What is the AWLS?

The African Women’s Leadership Symposium is a regional platform that brings together women of power and influence occupying various decision-making positions. Women in leadership from all sectors of society, at varying levels, whether political, corporate, development, arts, sciences and beyond will converge to deliberate on how to best actualise transformative leadership in their respective contexts and for the greater benefit of the continent. The Symposium, a first of its kind, will give 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.

It will be a 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.

2.  What is the significance of the Symposium to the region at this time?

There is a heightened focus on growth and development for Africa based on various trends and factors. Some of that focus is driven and supported by existing frameworks such as the sustainable development goals (SDGs) and Africa Union’s development blueprint for the continent, Agenda 2063. Agenda 2063 launched in 2013 is a ‘call for action to all segments of African society to work together to build a prosperous and united Africa’. One of the aspirations articulated in Agenda 2063 is to realise ‘(a)n Africa whose development is people driven, especially relying on the potential offered by its Youth and Women’. The AWLS is intended to capitalise on the call of the moment – to ensure transformation and growth of the continent takes cognisance of the roles of women in transforming the continent while at the same time paying attention to alleviate the status of women and girls.  

There is a clear convergence of the SDGs (Agenda 2030) and Agenda 2063 making this Symposium a key contribution to the realisation of Africa’s renaissance and global aspirations. Governments, private sector, civil society and society at large all have a role to play in achieving these goals. This Symposium will enable the women leaders to identify ways to utilize their positions of power and influence and the existing frameworks and commitments made by policy and decision makers in politics, business, religious and traditional settings.  

3.  Why is the AWLS considered audacious, transformative and inspiring?

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 prove that they possess the undeniable ability to effectively impact and steer the continent to the zenith of equality, equity and development. As the footprints to their successes continue to be documented, the impact is undeniable. African women are debunking the negative narrative of despair too often associated with them and altering the tide of discrimination and disempowerment.

The AWLS is the epitome of the audacity to lead, to go where others fear treading, the indestructible and courageous spirit to shift mindsets, impact on lives of women, inspire others especially a younger generation of women and girls – to understand leadership that brings lasting change and powerful positions are for women too.  Audacious, transformative and inspiring, is what the AWLS space in itself is meant to be – a reflection of powerful women shaping Africa and improving the status and rights of women and girls in the continent.   

4.  Who are the key participants expected at the AWLS?

They are trailblazers, pacesetters, change-makers, pioneers – they are powerful and some of the most influential and most inspirational women spearheading change in the continent. They occupy diverse spheres of influence, in different sectors and at various levels; from the community to national and even global levels.

There will be approximately 150 participants drawn from across the five (5) sub-regions of Africa.

5.  Why is Transformative Leadership for women’s rights in Africa the primary focus of the AWLS?

Transformative leadership is critical for tackling gender inequality and power imbalances that perpetuate the disenfranchisement and marginalization of women who represent more than half the population of the African continent. Without imbedding transformative leadership into the DNA of Africa’s development and stability agenda, then the continent fails to maximize on the fundamental prowess of half of its population for the betterment of its future. It is a call to action that is supported by evidence on what enables women’s voice and leadership across politics, society and the economy in the continent.

Transformative leadership is leadership for sustainable, fundamental and lasting change. It is both a goal and a strategy for addressing inequality and achieving social justice. The model seeks to challenge and transform existing power relations and structures that impede the leadership potential of individuals. It embodies the principles and values of human rights, gender equality, participation, consultation and respect for the dignity of all people.

Transformative leadership for women’s rights is about ‘the improvement of the content of leadership’ and critically, how it is being exercised to the benefit of women and girls. Whilst transformative leadership continually examines the existing leadership cadre it also simultaneously seeks to build leadership capacity.

6.  How will the AWLS mobilize and rally women participants into adopting the transformative leadership mentality?

The fact that the AWLS platform has been created that in itself is a critical factor in opening a space for the dialogue commence. The bringing together of various sectors is one of the ways of transforming our ways of engagement by challenging ourselves to transcend sectoral and siloed approaches when addressing the situation of women and girls in the continent. Adopting the transformative leadership mentality requires a shift in mindsets, which centrally locates the question of what kind of leadership is needed in the continent, and for whom it serves.   

7.  How does the AWLS aspire to impact the Africa region with transformative leadership?

African women have always played a significant role in shaping the social, political and economic spheres in the continent – yet their roles are not always acknowledged or quantified as a significant contribution. AWLS is a platform for both recognition and a link to present day transformative women’s leadership – threading a needle between the past and present to impact the present and the future.  To ensure continuity of this, the Symposium is set to be an annual gathering.

The continued engagement in different spaces seeks to push for leadership that is driven by integrity and social accountability, guided by equality and human rights principles among women and men leaders. Leadership that is accountable to the people.

AWLS is a space for dialogue on joining the dots between the status of African women and girls and the trends impacting the continent. It intends to prioritise the recognition of empowerment and human rights of women and girls, and the realization of the same. Focused on formal and informal power and the private and public spheres, it will seek to impact on private and public hierarchies of discrimination and inequalities.

8.  How will the AWLS process create, maintain and sustain linkages of women transformative leadership to the mainstream leadership process in Africa?

AWLS will continue to acknowledge and affirm through documentation, sharing information and knowledge production that seeks to locate transformative leadership for women’s rights centrally in the African continent. By adopting various approaches, and strategies individual women leaders’ commitments will include engaging in different spaces such as those created through the AU, or at the country level or through specific institutions to advocate for transformative policies, resource allocation for women’s rights and wellbeing, laws that alleviate the status of women and girls or champion various causes that question the status quo. The transformation of deep structures that entrench deep discriminatory practices that keep women out of decision making processes is part of our agenda at the AWLS. The AWLS will take the agenda of transformative leadership for women’s rights to the highest possible offices of engagement, both in the continent and at the global level.

The AWLS is created as a space where African women leaders can draw support for each and stand in solidarity on various issues. This solidarity must benefit those that are often left behind, those that would be voiceless if left to stand alone, the marginalized of the marginalized, the poor of the poorest – often women and girls are at the bottom of that stratum.

This space has potential to evolve into an advocacy platform that challenges all leaders to leverage personal power for the benefit of the collective. To that end it will challenge those that protect the interests of power and not the interests of the people. It is a call for African women leaders to stand up for leadership that positively impacts lives —the what—that encompasses a focus on the realities and needs of the people – for whom.

This gathering will emerge as a space to reflect on issues affecting the continent, the role of African women leaders in addressing these issues, their role as influencers in positioning the continent as a global player and how their leadership has and can positively impact and re-define the narratives on African women in leadership. It is thus also intended as an expression of pride in the achievements of African women in leadership.

9.  How will the AWLS ensure commitment to the key impact driving force behind the symposium?

It is the determination of this Symposium for participants to embark on a process that leaves a distinct mark of transformation in different parts of the continent by different women leaders for the benefit of women and girls in Africa.

All the participants at the Symposium, whether at the community level, national or regional level, are already recognised women leaders in their own platforms. The access, power and resources they have will be the driving force to implementation of the commitments from the Symposium. This will happen by mobilising the participants for collective action and leverage based on the collective voice that emerges from the Symposium.

This is also about personal commitment and accountability – participants will not depart without clearly articulating their individual commitment to altering the state of a stated number of women and/or girls from their specific countries (or region) for a defined period and towards a specific achievement.

10.  Why is it paramount for Africa to embrace transformative leadership?

Transformative women’s leadership in Africa predates the written word and has in fact not always been acknowledged and documented. The AWLS affirms and celebrates the achievements that have already transformed lives in the continent and impacted systems and structures that challenged the status quo, changed values and championed for equality and human rights in different regards. While it is important to acknowledge and ensure transformative women’s leadership it is critical that transformative leadership is heralded by all leaders, both women and men, and that it is in fact the subject of transforming deep structures that keep women away from the continent’s decision making processes and positions. Transformative leadership is needed to address the growing inequalities within countries even when some countries advance economically. It is needed to ensure that all inequalities including those on the basis of gender are addressed and that human rights for all is a guiding principles in ensuring that no one is left behind as the continent is rising. The continent must rise for its people and thus leadership must work for the transformation of all lives on the continent.  

11.  Who are the hosts, conveners and partners to the AWLS?

Please see this link for the co-hosts and partners that have come together to make this initiative a reality.