By Ger F. Odock

Africa is a great continent with an abundance of culture. Africa’s young women have first-hand experience of what culture can do. How they interface and interact at this point is a game-changer!

Over recent years, the space for female leadership seems to be widening. Women are making significant strides in educational attainment, growth and development, subsequently better positioning themselves not only for career success and advancement but also taking up and influencing leadership positions. However, in a culturally laden and patriarchal society, there are significant and systemic hurdles that women have to overcome. According to a study by Wellbeing for Women Africa (WBW) under the Wa Wimbi Campaign, there is demonstrated evidence that regardless of the sector, women continue to face the same levels of discrimination and they are unable to progress due to gender barriers. The campaign notes that, despite being equal to men in merit, there are deliberate structural limitations that more often than not water down the importance of women’s merit in a competitive environment.

Access to and influence through leadership and development are not (and should not be) aspects of privilege.

However, structurally, there are higher chances of men accessing positions and opportunities in comparison to women. There is also a recognised and growing attribution of sexual harassment at workplaces carried out by those at the managerial level, with women failing to report these experiences as a result. This is why there is an urgent need to empower young women, providing them with equal access to socioeconomic and leadership opportunities.

The equity, equitability, responsiveness and effectiveness of governance and development structures is no longer an elitist issue. Contributions by women in the broader development discourse is key just as much as their presence in it. However, the urgent need to ensure evidence and practice of diversity in existing spaces that also double up as enablers to championing for individual roles and contributions to the greater equality discourse. Caution must however be taken to ensure that there is a learning and appreciation of the triggers and root causes of inequality in the first place that call for the said safe spaces.  Notably, women are missing from these space and conversations as a result of negative cultural influence and practices and their economic position in society leading to inequitable discourses wholesomely raising the core questions; Why are young women missing from such spaces and conversations and why should they be part of the process in a purpose-driven and non-tokenistic way?

While women form a huge demography that can be strategic in conversations around political power, economic power, and the power of working together to accelerate change, the impact of their numbers can seldom be felt. As the world grows into the greater global block, in Africa the voices of women will only be felt if bottlenecks cited by the campaign are overcome and establishments rebuilt to be cognisant of the potential contribution of women in the village, town, district, constituency, county and national setups through safe, collaborative spaces.

As Africa joins the world in becoming a global village that is informed by similar attributes, it is imperative that there should be a concise need to establish better practice in gender equity and to ensure equity changes lived experiences and realities. The more women are part of the journey into the global block, the better the block will be for all concerned in preparing for the future.

We are optimistic that despite women having the short end of the stick on socioeconomic, leadership, development and governance discourses at household and community, this status is not permanent and the opportunity to make a paradigm shift lies in how the Wa Wimbi Campaign report can be adopted by young women organizations across Africa as a working tool towards mainstreaming action and practice of gender in all establishments.

Ger F. Odock is a development programming enthusiast from Kenya with over seven years of practical working experience ranging from Kenya, Somalia, Uganda and Zimbabwe.  With a focus on young people with actionable areas on public social services, social accountability and movements and results based documentation, Ger has worked with Concern World Wide (K), Iridium Interactive and DARAJA Civic Initiatives in Kenya, ActionAid International in Uganda & Zimbabwe and SOS Children’s Villages in Somalia. Currently, he provides strategic direction as a board member to Organization of African Youth Kenya (OAY), a youth serving organisation based in Kenya. He is an advisor with ActionAid Denmark’s People for Change Programme and a certified online volunteer with United National Volunteers (UNV).