Oby Ezekwesili, a former World Bank vice president and one-time minister of education in Nigeria has made a strong case for the inclusion of women in decision making and leadership positions in Africa.
She noted that there was ample evidence to show that there would be better outcomes in health and education for families and communities.
Ezekwesili spoke on Wednesday as one of the leading African women in the international panel at a virtual conference organised by Aftica.com, with the theme; ‘Women Are Proving To Be Great Leaders During Covid-19,”
Other high profile panelists included Prime Minister Saara Amadhila of Namibia, Phumzile Mlambo Ngcuka; the executive director of UN Women, Suzan Kereere of Visa Europe, Anne Juuko; the CEO of Stanbic Bank Uganda and several others.
Ezekwesili said, “In families where we play leadership roles, they actually end in health for the family and it cascades all way up to communities and then to states and nations. In companies where women get to leadership positions, it has been found through research that there much more innovation and because of it, the out compete their peers or competitors in the market.
“Even during COVID-19, women have shown leadership in being in the frontline of solving both the livelihood problems, as well as the lives problem. More than 50 per cent of the COVID-19 response on the health sector side are women.’’
According to Ezekwesili, women have also often been left to carry the burn whenever government fails to care for its citizens.
She said, “You find that governments have fiscal crisis, insufficient resources to provide palliative; many more women are involved in substituting care for women, both at family and community level in supporting families cushion the economic effect of COVID-19.
“So we should get to the point where the conversation around women in leadership on our continent goes away from being a sentimental topic, with men thinking they are doing women a favour. This shouldn’t be about women. It is about gender neutrality in leadership.”
She stated that the matters of uneven relations between the two genders in society must be addressed for any progress to take place.
Data, she said, showed that societies and countries with good representation of women in decision making and in parliament, had lower levels of inequality and that Africa had the highest percentage of inequality and at the bottom are women.
“My first point is that, if you look at public leadership, it is measured by the number of women in parliament. Globally, our continent is represented by three countries, Rwanda in the 60s percentile, and then South Africa and Namibia.
“When you look at the African region in terms of the percentage of women in parliament, South Africa is about 40 per cent and Namibia is around 24 per cent. What this says is that there is still a long way to go in bridging the gulf between male participation in decision making and female participation.”
“We must ensure there is female participation in leadership. All of the issues like cultural and religious barriers that stand in the way of women have to be removed.”