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SocietyBreaking the glass ceiling, turning the tide

Breaking the glass ceiling, turning the tide

  • Summit amplifies need for more women to take the reins in Africa.

Recurring conflicts and devastating famine continue to disproportionately impact African communities and take a heavy toll on women across the continent. Against this challenging backdrop, one of Africa’s most prominent and progressive women’s organizations, Akina Mama waAfrika (AMwA), convened its annual summit recently in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Translating to “Mothers of Africa” in Swahili, the organization partnered with the Ellen Johnson Sirleaf Presidential Center for Women and Development, the GraçaMachel Trust, and others to bring dignitaries together ahead of International Women’s Day on March 8th. Summit attendees heard about both the ongoing hardships and rare successes of female leadership in the volatile Horn of Africa region.

“We are at the bottom on every indicator when it comes to health and economic issues and on top when it comes to being victims when it comes to violence, conflicts – and yet we are expected to fulfill the traditional role of women that is the norm in our villages,” a Kenyan delegate told The Reporter, painting a grim picture of persistent challenges faced by women in the area.

While Rwanda leads African nations in the proportion of elected parliamentarians who are women, followed by South Africa, female representation and influence remain weak continent-wide, according to an analysis by the Borgen Project non-profit organization. “Women’s leadership also underscores that increased representation does not necessarily mean increased influence,” according to the non-profit organization.

“The roles and portfolios assigned to women ministers and the seniority of women’s positions often reveal more about their real influence,” it noted.

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Breaking the glass ceiling, turning the tide | The Reporter | #1 Latest Ethiopian News Today

Once hailed as a leader in promoting gender parity in government, Ethiopia has seen the number of women in top cabinet roles decline significantly in recent years under Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD). When he first took office in 2018, Abiy filled half his cabinet with women, following Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s example.

However, now only the ceremonial presidency remains held by a woman.

Faced with systemic pay inequities and limited employment prospects at home, many African women consider emigrating abroad in search of better opportunities.

With equal pay still a distant goal for most, and lack of domestic opportunities pushing many to leave for “greener pastures” overseas, the gathering highlighted the need to create real and meaningful pathways for women to access positions of influence within Africa’s public and private sectors.

It also urgedattendees to reexamine the role of African feminism in advancing women’s leadership and dismantling the barriers that obstruct their rise into key decision-making roles across the continent.

Speaking at the annual AMwA summit in Addis Ababa, executive director Eunice Musiime lamented the obstacles that continue to hold African women back from equal participation and representation in leadership.

Musiimecited data showing women remain underrepresented globally in executive roles, constituting just seven percent of presidents, prime ministers and their deputies. In parliaments, only 29.2 percent of members are women on average across the continent.

The barriers go beyond politics. As Musiime noted, only six percent of CEOs and 25 percent of corporate board members in Africa are women, despite constituting over 40 percent of the tertiary educated population. This marginalization stretches into academia as well, with a meager “2.5 percent of university vice-chancellors being female.”

Aspiring Ethiopian politician Desta Tilahun spoke of the difficulties female candidates’ face, from doubts about their leadership abilities to risks of violence and negative campaigning in the media.

“Women’s leadership capacity is often doubted, yet we have seen mothers without formal education lead their families and communities through crisis,” Desta said.“That is why it’s important to tackle barriers like violence against female political aspirants and the negative media portrayal of women leaders.”

Participants urged greater efforts to remove structural impediments and promote an enabling environment for the full and equal participation of Africa’s female talent pool in shaping the region’s future.

Breaking the glass ceiling, turning the tide | The Reporter | #1 Latest Ethiopian News Today

UN Women recognizes the significant challenges that deter progress toward global gender equality, according to SimaBahous, Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and Executive Director of UN Women.

In her keynote address to the Global Africa Business Initiative, Bahous noted that women around the world continue to face discrimination in all spheres and lack sufficient access to finances, land ownership, and other resources.

“Women in Africa are excluded from the mainstream economy. Although women make up 58 percent of Africa’s self-employed population, they make on average 34 percent less money than men do,” Bahous observed.

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