Defying the odds, African women are taking up a number of political leadership roles across the continent. Within the ALN’s own structures, we are proud of the organic rise of females in leadership positions in our member parties.
In this series of interviews, we asked the tough questions to female political leaders from South Africa, Kenya, Madagascar and Ghana.
The Africa Liberal Network aims to share the views, experiences and dreams of women in leadership. Through a series of interviews published on the ALN’s social media, the Network brought to you inspiration and a call to action for the empowerment of female leaders.
We are proud of the growth of liberalism in Africa and believe that the rise of women in both office and power can bring important, positive change.
Here are some of the highlights and stories of experiences, lessons and growth from this incredible group of African leaders.
Phumzile Van Damme MP (South Africa)
Phumzile is a National Spokesperson for South Africa’s official opposition party, the Democratic Alliance. She is also a strong voice in the nation’s Parliament, taking on the role of Shadow Minister of Communications.
“It is important to encourage behavioural change to eradicate sexism, patriarchy, ageism and any prejudices that have the effect of positioning women as the ‘lesser sex’. There are great behavioural science studies governments could refer to, which, for example, favour incentives over punishment in order to change deep-set beliefs.”
As a National Spokesperson for the DA, Phumzile has to deal with both good and negative media coverage of the party. Perhaps this has been her greatest legacy – thus far – in showing that women can and should take on major leadership roles in African politics.
“It isn’t always easy, but it gives me the opportunity to publicly challenge beliefs, and be a ‘strong woman’ while doing so. I hope I have encouraged other young women out there to claim their space and not be afraid to speak out. I believe it is important to cultivate self-confidence in our young women. Young African women are often brought up to be quiet, obedient and not challenge the status quo. We need our young women taught from a young age that the world is their oyster, they can be whoever they want to be.”
Rosemary Machua-Kariuki (Kenya)
Rosemary not only represents Kenya’s Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) within the ALN, she is also the current Vice President of the Network for the East Africa region. In addition to this, Rosemary is the Director of Membership for the ODM.
“Affirmative action and economic empowerment programmes are crucial in leveling the playing field and addressing past injustices,” argues Rosemary, in her response to the need for liberal African governments to empower women and build gender equality.
Closer to home, Rosemary sees the personal and political as interrelated in her own experiences.
“Politics is sometimes a marriage set up. In my own career, I initially set aside my personal ambitions and supported my husband. But when the time was right, I stepped up. Then the dilemma came where I started to actively support my party of choice,and he was in the opposing side. This was not because he wanted to do so, but the environment of tribal politics dictated which party he should support. Even so, I remained true to my liberal convictions and have grown to where I am today as a Director with Kenya’s largest opposition party.”
“It is impossible to create comfort for a young girl outside an environment that guarantees social justice. My vision for Africa is one where social justice reigns and there is proper adherence to the rule of law.”
Margaret Obrine Sarfo (Ghana)
Margaret is the chairperson for the Greater Accra Region of the Independent Peoples Party (Ghana).
Like many women, Margaret was faced with the challenge of blatant sexism and discrimination in her early career.
“After school in the 80s, I applied to work in an industry but my hopes and aspirations were curbed because the demand for sex before employment was at play. I wasn’t employed because I didn’t give in though I was qualified by their requirements. Out of frustration, I decided to work for myself and set up my own business. I’ve been successful though the challenges that I faced as a young woman did not hinder my path to achieve success which I am very proud of today.”
“My vision for Africa is to see about fifty percent (50%)of women taking over the leadership positions and the governance of our continent to create a better future for us all. An African child should be treated in a respectful and free environment which can open avenues for her to chose a career of her choice and also to excel in her field of endeavor.”
In order to reach this point, Margaret is convicted that African liberal governments have a role to play.
“I believe that liberal African government should give the enabling environment for women to excel in all their chosen careers. Government must actively work to bridge the gap that is gender inequality.”
Cayley Green (South Africa)
In her role as a director for South Africa’s official opposition party, Cayley is an example of the role that women can and should play in the operations of parties. Traditionally the domain of men, road to directorship has not been an easy one.
“Right from when I decided to study politics I faced questions about what kind of job I would get and what I would do with my degree. Even once I got a job, I have faced, and still do face, questions about how I will balance a family and children with such a demanding workload. Sexism is also pervasive in our society – from being cat-called on the street, to having the first comment at a meeting be your appearance.”
Like other African liberals, Cayley encourages young girls to know that their future does not depend on the man they marry and being a mother. She draws a line between tradition and the choice all young girls should be free to make.
“Young girls should have the freedom to choose their own paths in life. Tradition and culture can be respected within that, but tradition and culture should not deny young girls freedom of choice over their own futures. No young girl should be denied an education because of lack of resources or because of gender stereotyped roles and responsibilities. I hope that in the future we see more woman in politics across the continent and more opportunities for young girls to enter careers of their choosing across professions.
Conflict on the African continent is sadly a continuing reality for many, and woman are often uniquely affected by conflict as victims of rape and violence. Leaders across the continent need to take a stand against such actions and must work to prevent this continuing reality.
Young girls in Africa have so much potential and if it is recognised, encouraged, respected and supported then the opportunities for the future are boundless.”
Malalatiana Rasoaniaina (Madagascar)
As a leader in the Movement for the Progress of Madagascar, Malalatiana believes that women are critical to the development of a country. “The potential of young girls I know is incredible; they are even more aware of the needs of their country than their male counterparts”.
Although not yet the dominant party in Madagascan politics, Malalatiana’s party now holds a number of positions in the cabinet. In light of this, she shares what she believes is the role of liberal governments in Africa:
“Governments have the duty to empower women. They must recognise that women have the potential and deserve to be in office and in power. To promote gender equality, there should be public education campaigns through mass media.
Women’s participation in government must also be reflected at every level. Special programmes must further be designed to help women acquire knowledge and experience so that they can improve their skills in leadership.”
Sharing her passion for Africa’s success through liberal democracy, Malalatiana tells us that she dreams of an Africa where Africans really benefit from their continent’s own wealth.
“Africa should treat and respond to a young girl in the continent by giving her a chance to prove her ability in dealing with political matters. A dream of mine is the establishment of a political academy based on liberal democratic values. This would be a place to nurture young women and develop their knowledge to become future leaders”.