ZIMBABWE: 2012 Historic for African Women Leadership

Monday, July 23, 2012
Southern Africa
PeaceWomen Consolidated Themes: 

The year 2012 has thus far proved promising for the African woman's status within public bodies following the recent election of Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma as African Union Commission Chair.

It is a clear sign that women are rising more and more above their circumstances.

Earlier on in the year, Joyce Banda was appointed as the first Malawian woman president while Gambian Fatou Bensouda was elected as the International Criminal Court prosecutor.

These developments have coincided with AU's campaign on the "Decade for African Women (2010-2020)".

The idea of a Women's Decade has its origins in the 1975 UN First World Conference on Women that was held in Mexico City on women's rights and gender equality.

Within the AU, the idea of the Decade for African Women came as a result of lobbying efforts from the Ministers for Gender and Women's Affairs.

The main objective of the Decade for Women campaign is to strengthen and push for further commitments on implementation of agreed global and regional commitments of gender equality and women empowerment.

An important point to note is that the election of these African women into influential positions is entirely based on merit.

Dlamini-Zuma becomes the first person from the Sadc region to head AU since its formation in 1963.

She was the first woman to be proposed by the Sadc region for the position, a sign that although women's capacity to lead may be undermined by the patriarchal society we live in, they can still rise above that.

In her campaign, Dlamini-Zuma was backed by 15 representatives from the Sadc region who took time to meet and strategise prior to the election.

While there may be other power dynamics at play in the election process (for example the French/English language divide in Africa), it is still worth celebrating that for the first time in history a woman chair has been elected.

Dlamini-Zuma, a veteran in the fight against apartheid in South Africa, has a number of achievements to her credit.

They include highly applauded improvements in the Home Affairs Department where she got a clean audit last year for the first time in 16 years.

In taking office at AU, Dlamini-Zuma is faced with numerous challenges that include criticism of the AU for its ineffectiveness in responding to crisis, for instance Cote d'Ivoire and Libya.

Now the question is, does change in leadership at AU more so the election of a female commission chair signals efficiency?

Dlamini-Zuma takes office from Jean Ping of Gabon who has been in office since 2008.

She has been highly influential both in the ANC as well as the South African government as Minister of Home Affairs.

Within the South African government, Dlamini-Zuma is known for her competency when she was minister of health, foreign affairs and home affairs.

In her campaign for the AU post, Dlamini-Zuma vowed to make the AU "a more efficient and effective organisation".

While Dlamini-Zuma's election has been criticised in some quarters, African leaders have generally welcomed it.

At the international level, Gambia's Fatou Bensouda was sworn in as ICC chief prosecutor in June 2012 and she becomes the first African to hold the post.

Bensouda had served as Deputy Chief Prosecutor for eight years.

The AU endorsed her candidature.

She was Gambia's first international maritime law expert and has held several positions of authority that include being a former senior legal advisor at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, the Gambian Attorney General and Justice Minister.

While her election may have been criticised, to say it was only to silence criticism of the ICC for its perceived bias against Africa, her election remains a landmark in the history of women's fight for equality.

In Malawi, President Banda took office after President Bingu Wa Mutharika's sudden death.

Since her appointment, Banda has tried to work hard on improving the economy of the impoverished nation through cutting down expenditure and fighting corruption.

A few months after taking office, Banda fired the police chief, refused a presidential jet and a luxury fleet.

Joyce Banda's entry into office and subsequent efforts to address issues of corruption and poverty in Malawi is highly relevant to Africa as a whole.

It serves as evidence of the potential of women's leadership in solving socio-economic development issues in Africa.

Unlike men's leadership, often embroiled in egoistic tendencies, women are less prone to corruption.

The ascendance of the woman of Africa into positions of authority is indeed worth celebrating because women have risen not because of their femininity but by merit.

The hope is that the recent election of women into influential positions both in the region and abroad be a sign of acceptance of women's leadership and a signal to a shift in African politics.

Zimbabwean women like their counterparts within the rest of Africa, identify with the rise of women into leadership and also emulate that through participating in decision making processes.

We salute the rise and rise of African women into powerful decision making positions, in the hope that this will translate into the betterment of the lives of women around the world.