Equitable and just societies cannot flourish if women are not able to take their rightful place at the decision-making table. Representing half of the world’s population, their contribution to public governance is a prerequisite for long-term development and progress that benefit all members of society.
In Africa, significant progress has been achieved to increase women’s representation in public governance and in leadership positions. Countries such as Rwanda and South Africa have achieved some of the highest levels of women’s representation in parliament in the world.
However, in most African countries, substantial obstacles still hinder women’s access to public leadership roles. Addressing these obstacles ensures that women’s voices are heard and, as a consequence, that policies are inclusive and equitable.
Discussing the challenges and opportunities for women leaders in their country, three Ghanaian Amujae Leaders joined former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in a panel hosted recently by the University of Ghana attended by hundreds of university students and academics in Accra. Shedding light on their experiences and leadership journeys so far, Amujae Leaders Dr. Grace Ayensu-Danquah, Yawa Hansen-Quao, and Dr. Zanetor Agyeman-Rawlings explored the various pathways to women’s political leadership in Ghana and interacted with the youth in the audience on the best strategies to promote equity in governance.
Operating at the forefront of gender advocacy and healthcare leadership, Dr. Ayensu-Danquah is helping to provide medical and surgical care to vulnerable groups through her Healing Hands Organization – a private surgical facility in Accra. As a parliamentary candidate in 2020, she experienced the challenges that women encounter in political life.
For Dr. Ayensu-Danquah persistence is key if women want to claim their rightful place as public leaders and prove that they have a transformative role to play in society:
“We have to hang in there. It’s not easy. The insults are going to come… But you know who you are, you know what you want. You are there to help your people. You are not there for any other reason.”
As the founder of the Leading Ladies’ Network, Ms. Hansen-Quao has helped countless young women discover new pathways to leadership. Her long experience in social entrepreneurship and women’s leadership advocacy allowed her to gain valuable insights into the opportunities to enhance African women’s capacity as leaders.
Addressing the current barriers faced by women in public governance in Ghana, Ms. Hansen-Quao called on the young women in the audience to overcome self-doubt and believe in their innate power to lead:
“We need to be aware of this pervasive and subconscious belief that we hold, even as women, that we cannot or should not lead.”
Dr. Agyeman-Rawlings offered a detailed overview of gender equity in the political landscape in Ghana, drawing on her experience as a seasoned Member of Parliament for the Klottey-Korle Constituency. Her role has seen her advocate for women’s participation in public governance, for environmental sustainability, and for universal access to quality education.
Discrimination against women and girls in the public and private spheres, including gender-based violence, are important human rights issues, Dr. Agyeman-Rawlings stressed:
“This is a case of one section of society being deprived of an equal opportunity to aspire to something and to thrive.”
The Aumjae Leaders’s views were echoed by Madam Sirleaf who urged the young women in the audience to “take a stand for your values and your principles, wherever you are.” Their leadership example will then become an inspiration to other women and girls.
“Show that you can stand up and you will be the ones that will be followed because of the example of who you are and what you’ve demonstrated.”
Shifting the conversation around women’s leadership and advocating for a greater role for women as decision makers and political changemakers will transform the prospects of society as a whole, not only in Ghana, but across Africa.