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Australia Awards African Women in Leadership Network tackles gender inequality in the workplace and communities

The Australia Awards Africa program, funded by DFAT and managed by Palladium, last week organised a high profile workshop for the African Women in Leadership Network (WILN) in Nairobi.

For many women in the developing world, attaining any form of education is priceless, more so in Sub-Saharan Africa where an estimated 9.5 million girls will never step foot in school – twice as many girls as boys (UNESCO 2016). Women who have obtained a post-graduate qualification find themselves at an advantage, with the potential and power through their expertise to become change-agents. However, gender inequality does not dissolve on attainment of knowledge and skills: it often continues in the workplace and communities.

Participants at the 2016 Australia Awards African Women in Leadership Network Alumni (WILN) workshop held in Nairobi last week to mark International Women’s Day, spent time discussing gender equality at work and their leadership experiences under the theme: “Moving Forward: African Women as Self and Workplace Leaders”.

Made up of 32 Australia Awards alumnae and representing 14 African countries, the group of women work primarily in male-dominated fields critical to their countries’ development, such as agriculture, mining and international trade. Returning to their workplaces after completing their Awards, several women found that despite having the same or higher level of skills as men, their gender still proved to be a barrier to excelling at work. Several women described their struggles to carry out development projects that needed to include women’s views and voices. Approaching a community led by men as a woman was a challenge as male leaders often saw them as disrupting cultural norms. Furthermore asking to hear the views of women in the community was often met with resistance. In addition, the patriarchy common in many political and socio-economic systems also filtered down to the workings of their own organisations, even to the extent of influencing organisational policies that exclude women. The WILN therefore agreed to support each other to be catalysts for inclusion in their families, communities and organisations.

African Women in Leadership Network workshop participants with Australian High Commissioner to Kenya HE John Feakes, and Kenyan First Lady, HE Margaret Kenyatta

The alumnae also collectively strategised around making the WILN more effective by developing a consistent, decisive and measurable strategy that would contribute to increased opportunities for women within the ambit of the Australia Awards program but also in their individual capacities and through their workplaces. The group agreed that solidifying and expanding the mentoring initiative of the network was a first step; each WILN member would be tasked with mentoring two women at their workplace or in their community.

While there were differing approaches to ensuring that women are not disadvantaged in the workplace and communities, there was clear agreement that intensified action corporately and individually, by both men and women, towards women’s empowerment and genuine gender equality, is what African workplaces and indeed workplaces the world over critically need.

The African Women in Leadership Network is a forum bringing together Australia Awards female alumni. Funded by the Australian Government, the forum was launched in 2013 by Her Excellency Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, President of Liberia. It aims to develop and leverage female alumni as change agents in their countries. The Network connects past and present female awardees, providing leadership and mentoring opportunities for women participating in the program. The Australia Awards program is the Australian Government’s flagship program in Africa, valued at $100 million. In keeping with Australia’s own commitment to gender equality, the Australia Awards program in Africa is dedicated to ensuring equal participation by men and women. Over 5,000 scholars have benefitted from studies that support the development goals of their countries.