Breaking the glass ceiling: International Women’s Day 2021 

Being African, and being a woman has often meant being underrepresented due to discrimination in the corporate and governance pipeline, I thought to myself when I read that Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala had just been elected as Director General of the World Trade Organisation. This results from the fact that odds are heavily stacked against them. And although this is an unfortunate reality which must be acknowledged, we must also acknowledge the round pegs in the square holes who have challenged the ruling paradigm in this regard, as Okonjo-Iweala has done so herself.

Woods Nkhutabasa (r) with Tsitsi Masiywa a philanthropist and enterprenuer

This should be the case even more so because on the 8th of March, the world celebrates the United Nation’s International Women’s Day. None of us would be here if it weren’t for a woman. Or a man for that matter. But then again, if all of us owe our success to both genders, then why is it that when it comes to important business, political and even artistic leadership positions, women are always at a disadvantage? There are various answers to this question, which must all be addressed.

For a start, there is no denying that patriarchal mentalities are still alive and well. Sure, things have improved both in Malawi and in Africa in the last years. Liberia’s Ellen Johnson Sirleaf became Africa’s first female elected Head of State in 2006 for example. And personally I’d also like to think that Joyce Banda’s Presidency of Malawi had something to do with this improvement, be it not through the ballot but she was at the table. However we are not there yet. So the time is ripe for us to ask: how do we get there? Looking north towards Rwanda, we can note that ever since 2003 Rwanda has required 30 percent of its elected officials to be women. And this in return has resulted in Rwanda having the highest female representation in Parliament in the world.

The way I see it, more female Parliamentarians and Government officials can mean more African women making a name on a global level. And what better way to increase Africa’s success and representation in international institutions than by making sure that we have smart and progressive women representing us? Women such as Ngozi Okonjo Iweala, whom I’ve mentioned in my introduction, who started her tenure on 1st March as the WTO’s Director General. And women such as Senegal’s Fatma Samoura, who has been serving as FIFA’s Secretary General since 2016. That is not to mention Nobel Peace Prize nominee Obiageli Ezekwesili who served as Education Minister of Nigeria and as Vice President of the World Bank’s Africa Division!

For the young African girls reading this article: I want you to know that you can become anything you want to in life. You can become Malawi’s, Zambia’s, or Ghana’s Lupita Nyong’o if you work hard for it. And if your dream is to be become a philanthropist and entrepreneur, know that you are fully capable of following in Tsitsi Massiyiwa’s footsteps. In essence, you can be what you want to be.

I have no doubt that the majority of Africans want women to be able to achieve what they deserve, and what they deserve is the same level of success as men. What we must do is give them the necessary help and tools to do so, just as we have done to our men. Yet in the process of doing so, we must also acknowledge the women who have broken the glass ceiling despite all odds being stacked against them. The women whom I’ve mentioned in this article have all done so. And we salute them for doing so. You’re an inspiration to us all.

  • About the Author: James Woods-Nkhutabasa, a Malawi national, is an award-winning African achiever with significant experience dealing with governance issues, reputation management, strategic media, and communications.

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