Friday, July 27, 2012

African Women Deserve Support

Women leaders deserve support

Friday, 27 July 2012 00:00
Ruth Butaumocho Gender Forum
Zimbabwe Herald

Following my article last week on the election of South African’s Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma to chair the African Union, there were mixed reactions from readers, with some questioning women’s ability in leadership.

Their argument was that while women have been slowly taking up powerful positions in both the political and economic realm, they remain powerhouses in dealing with social issues around the home and the community.

However, it should be noted that women’s leadership is as old as human kind, it is highly effective and has been lauded by nations and dynasties, who at one time were led by virtuous, courageous and intelligent women.

Over the years several women have ruled the world, in their different time slots and proved to be a force of reckon during that era, where they fought running battles with their territorial enemies and never at one time flinched.

Both their physical and spiritual contribution was so phenomenal that it transcended political borders, earning them respect not only in their own homelands, but also across the globe.

Some of the names that easily come to mind include our own Mbuya Nehanda Charwe Nyakasikana, Chinese empress Dowager Gao, Queen Nzinga of Angola, Queen Victoria of England, Indira Gandhi of India and several astute women who made a difference in people’s lives. Looking at Africa, Queen Nzinga was one of the great women rulers in the continent between the period 1581-1663.

Nzinga who was later christened Ana de Souza Nzingha Mbande fought against the slave trade and European influence in the 17th century. Known for being an astute diplomat and visionary military leader, she resisted Portuguese invasion and slave raids for 30 years. A skilled negotiator, she allied herself with the Dutch and pitted them against the Portuguese in an effort to wrest free of Portuguese domination.

She fought for a free Angola until her death at the age 82, after which weak rulers left the country open for the Portuguese to regain control.

A famous story says that in one of her meetings with the Portuguese governor, João Correia de Sousa did not offer a chair to sit on during the negotiations and, instead, had placed a floor mat for her to sit, which in Mbundu custom was appropriate only for subordinates.

The scene was imaginatively reconstructed by the Italian priest Cavazzi and printed as an engraving in his 1687 book. Not willing to accept this degradation she ordered one of her servants to get down on the ground and sat on the servant’s back during negotiations. By doing this, she asserted her status was equal to the governor, proving her worth as a brave and confident individual.

Although considered to be a “ruthless ruler,” she, however maintained, an orderly society, where she ensured that communities believe and assist others without any form of prejudices.

Queen Victoria’s reign was the longest in English history. Called the Victorian age, it was a time when Britain was at the height of its colonial power. Victoria became a symbol of British expansionist foreign policy. She insisted on taking an active part in the decisions of the government and forcefully backed those ministers she liked. She was most proud of her role as wife and mother — she had nine children.

India has got its own female icon — Indira Gandhi.

As daughter of Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first prime minister, politics was always a part of Indira Gandhi’s world. She joined her father’s Congress Party in 1938 and was jailed for a while by the British for her support of India’s independence from Great Britain.

After her father’s death, she was elected to parliament in his place, becoming Prime Minister herself in 1966. She continued many of her father’s policies, such as pressing for land reform and the nationalisation of banks.

Closer home, Zimbabwe boasts of a host of historical women leaders, who played a crucial role in liberating the country from the oppressors.

Among them was Mbuya Nehanda, whose spiritual leadership spanned the entire region of Zimbabwe and continues to be revered for the pivotal role, it played in the liberation struggle of this country.

Nehanda Charwe Nyakasikana was considered to be the female incarnation of the oracle spirit Nyamhika Nehanda. Referred to as Mbuya Nehanda, she is commonly referred to as the grandmother of present day Zimbabwe.

Nehanda with another great spirit medium Kaguvi used their leadership to spearhead the first war of resistance (Chimurenga Chekutanga) against European domination.

They instructed all the regional chiefs to arm and resist this domination in whatever way they could. It is during this resistance that some of the great Shona warriors emerged, having initially been led by a woman. After them they have been several female leaders, who together with men have ruled this world and their leadership record has been impeccable.

Taken together, sometimes female leaders may not always have much in common, aside from gender, since they are socialised in totally different ways and are also informed by different ideologies.

Some have brought peace to troubled lands, while others have strewn discontent. Some have been competent or brilliant, others inept or corrupt. While some have been enormously popular, others ousted, but all that can be said in that they have been women in charge, and the numbers will certainly rise as nations embrace gendered leadership. In the case of Zimbabwe women will need support from different ranks to enhance their chances while widening their opportunity base in leadership.

Good mentorship, financial resources and moral support are some of the areas that the country may need to look at as wholesome package to nurture and support women into leadership.

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