Women’s History Month provides an ideal time to evaluate how the expansion and contribution of the female gender can benefit not only American society but global territories overall, particularly Africa. In fact, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently said that supporting women worldwide is a critical element of U.S. foreign policy via incorporation of women’s entrepreneurship into our international economic agenda and promoting women’s access to markets through the African Growth and Opportunity Act, the Pathways to Prosperity Initiative and women’s entrepreneurship conferences. But the State Department is not alone in its supportive efforts. Educational institutions are also becoming more and more active in this arena. For example, New York City’s Barnard College recently hosted a symposium in South Africa, “Women Changing Africa,” where influential African women spoke about leadership and the next generation.
The event, Women Changing Africa, brought together exceptional women from across the continent—leaders in government, commerce, academia, media, and the arts—for a day of collaboration, networking and discussion, including two panels entitled, “Conversations on Leadership” and “Voices of the Next Generation.” “Conversations on Leadership” highlighted some of the most established and influential women leaders from South Africa and the continent, including Governor Marcus; Dr. Mamphela Ramphele, a South African academic, activist, and former senior director of the World Bank; Ferial Haffajee, editor-in-chief of City Press; Senator Aloisea Inyumba from Rwanda; and Justice Yvonne Mokgoro, chairperson of the South African Law Reform Commission. “Voices of the Next Generation” showcased women whose important work is inspiring a generation of young women to continue the progress achieved in Africa by leaders such as Marcus, Haffajee, Inyumba, Ramphele and Mokgoro. Panelists included Mboya, Ndidi Nwuneli, founder of LEAP Africa; Fiona Budd, managing director of the South African Ballet Theatre; and Nomfanelo Magwentshu, formerly chief operations officer of the Local Organizing Committee for the 2010 FIFA World Cup™.
Barnard President Deborah Spar said, “If you look at the recent history of this continent, you see the incredible role that women have been playing, from Helen Suzman to Ellen Sirleaf Johnson, in driving change. And if I can just throw a hypothesis out there in front of you: I would say not only are women part of the change in the African continent, they’re actually leading the change.” Dr. Mamphela Ramphele, a South African academic, activist, and former senior director of the World Bank echoed this sentiment by adding, “So my generation in this country had the great fortune of turning the challenges of our environment. I don’t need to repeat today life stories of the women around you because we share it. We had to say, “This is what we inherited. What are we going to leave behind?” And it wasn’t easy. We challenged the men, and the problems we have today. We have women’s organizations, women’s leagues, youth leagues that don’t challenge any idea that the struggle in our days was a struggle of ideas, of values, or of really wrestling with the contradictions, wrestling with the dilemmas.”
The symposium created a strong platform for dialogue on further creating solutions and future needs. As part of the project, Barnard students also traveled to South Africa to hold leadership workshops for high school girls.
President Spar may have summed up the events best providing some words of particular advice in summation, “Know your stuff. Know the facts. Know your subject. Develop the expertise. There are no shortcuts out there. If you want to succeed, you have to know your area really well.”
This is the part of the key as women of Africa take center on the world stage.