Everyone must take personal responsibility for the advancement of women and gender equality, said Rumbidzai Chisenga, the EJS Center’s Director of Programs, on a recent episode of the Policy Center for the New South’s podcast.
This call to action came during an interview for the think tank’s “Bridging the Gender Gap” series, where Ms. Chisenga discussed the need for gender equality to be integrated into development efforts. Speaking with podcast host Lilia Rizk, Ms. Chisenga also explored the underlying factors keeping women in poverty, and highlighted the importance of the visibility of women in leadership.
In response to a question on why gender is an important factor for development, Ms. Chisenga emphasized that “women and girls are often left behind.” Women must be involved in formulating development solutions, she said.
“You cannot have truly sustainable development by only considering the needs of half of the population. So it’s critical that women have a seat at the table when these issues are discussed and that the solutions considered take into account the unique perspectives and experiences of both women and men.”
Ms. Chisenga highlighted research that found higher proportions of women in parliament result in more policies that protect women’s rights and interests on issues such as domestic violence, sexual harassment, and divorce. She added that another key factor of representation in leadership “that we often understate” is visibility:
“It’s often said that you can’t be what you can’t see… One of the reasons why representation is really, really important, particularly for us, you know, at this point in this quest for gender equality. It’s really important that we have examples and we raise up examples that other emerging leaders, women, and girls can look up to.”
Increasing visibility is a central pillar of the EJS Center’s work, Ms. Chisenga said. This work includes the Amujae Initiative, which aims to prepare women to unapologetically take up roles in the highest echelons of public leadership, and the 2020 “Spotlight a COVID-19 Heroine” campaign, which sought to shine a light on African women who demonstrated exceptional dedication to their communities during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s an interesting dynamic that you almost need to prompt for responses or for acknowledgement of women’s leadership, and that…it’s not automatic recognition that comes with the work that women give to their communities.”
In closing, Ms. Chisenga challenged listeners—and herself—to make more choices to support women on a personal level, whether through volunteering, supporting brands and businesses that are founded or run by women, or voting for women:
“We can all make choices every day that can help to close the gender gap in one way or another, and hopefully it will take us less than 100 years to close the gender gap.”