Women as leaders, personal IS political

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The Chinese have an adage explaining that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Women are generally perceived as second-class citizens and have struggled many times to become the brilliant leaders they are meant to be. However, to get to occupy the top echelons of leadership, it has to start somewhere. Women are born.

That right there is the very first step to becoming the great leaders the world needs today. This and many other things formed part of my weekend at the #AMH Conversations. It was such an amazing time with phenomenal women mostly from Zimbabwe and the guest speaker from South Africa. It was a safe space to explore women’s leadership and how best they can continue to take steps towards making a difference in theirs and other’s world. I loved every moment of it. After the conversations, I was left reflecting on how women will be able to move beyond the personal political into the public spaces and lead, as they ought to. Walk with me on this reflective journey.

Women have always been leaders, always. From the moment we are born, we are socialised to nurture, care for, embrace, include and be part of a broader social structure that is way bigger than our personal selves. These are skills needed in any institution and leadership journey. We grow up doing what everyone else wants except ourselves. Society has expectations of us, our parents have ideas of what we are and should become, so do our teachers, friends, entertainment and so on. There are a zillion messages that are thrown at us from the moment we are born. Some of these messages are supposedly meant to “protect” women from what, I still might not be sure, but it is about complying, conforming and becoming everyone else’s “good girl”.

The few women who marched to the Prosecutor General  Johannes Tomana's office in Harare over his utterances in relation to the debate on the age of consent.

So a woman should not be too successful, too intelligent, too loud, too this, too that – oh please! Just let the woman be whatever she would like to be – this conformity is what is stealing leadership from the women. The failure to let women blossom into the very best they are created to be kills the leadership. In as much as they are given roles to socialise, society still takes these away and replaces them with rules that seek to regulate women from left, right and centre. When will we let women flourish and live life as they deem fit? When is this day going to be when women are not judged for their seeking freedom and liberation? Why does it have to be your rules that they should follow?

Rules defining their wardrobe, skin texture, colour, height, weight and what they should look like. Are they not smart enough to follow their own rules to success? While we are there, kindly note that you are a product of a woman and the fact that you are still here on earth, alive, means something was done right. The truth is that women are great leaders so let the women lead.
Let us pick the marketplace as an example for exploration. There is so much talk about the glass ceiling — given it has been invented to applaud women who “break through it”. Now, if you or anyone you know has been a part of boardroom politics you will attest to the notion of power over that seeks to exert force on another. If women are to be part of such toxic spaces, it does not encourage a good governance leadership strategy.

Women can seek to explore their power in whatever manner they deem necessary and bring a new kind of power that is power with (working with others to the best interest of everyone involved) and power to (having the power that enables action). When this happens, I suppose there will be a new reality to what power is about in the working spaces, especially boardrooms.

Imagine having to come to work where your counterparts are sexists and all they seem to notice and acknowledge in a woman is her beauty, bust and bottom — there is the struggle right there. For your own information, women actually do have very
sharp minds that can reason and develop some the best strategies of leadership the workplace has ever seen. You do know a smart woman don’t you, look at your mother —she is one example of phenomenal leadership. The truth is that unless we begin to see women as partners in leadership, we will continue to perpetuate the same sexist and patriarchal tendencies that will devastate entire families, worlds and communities.

Some of the issues include being insensitive to women’s needs. I worked once in an organisation that had no sanitary disposal bins because the top management was mostly male. It was such a mission to get them to understand that there is an urgent need to place a sanitary bin in the toilets the women used. I do not even want to imagine what went down at these brothers’ homes. Another example is women working in spaces where there is no catering of their children’s needs. Women have a difficult task to juggle family and work.

Why not make it woman friendly by adding facilities that have her focus on work knowing that her child is safe? How do female parliamentarians, who have children work in a space where there are no children’s facilities? Still we expect them to function or is this mere discrimination against young mothers and women who chose to give birth while serving the nation? We need to be serious if women’s human rights development is to translate into any meaningful transformation of these women’s lives and development as a whole. Unless we put our money where our mouths are, as in we keep yapping and not acting, then we have serious challenges.

What happens in a woman’s personal space is very political and needs to be addressed in order for her to become an effective leader. So if my personal space is not well balanced, it will affect my leadership. We will do our part as women to manage our affairs, but there is also urgent need for companies, governments and society to do their part to support women’s leadership journeys.

We cannot continue the business as usual approach, as we seek to place the world’s largest population in leadership. There is need for innovation, creativity and breaking societal norms that have kept women under the bar of leadership. As we draw near the end of the 16 days of activism against gender-based violence on December 10 and focus on the rest of the next year, we all should remember that a woman is a leader in her own right.

You and I need to hold hands to make this leadership transition. There is no better time than now to understand women’s personal narrative as political and that whatever happens in her personal space is as public as it gets. We decide today as a nation that women’s lives matter and we stand up to support our mother’s, aunts, grandmother’s sisters and all the women in this quest for leadership that is holistic, inclusive, progressive and phenomenal. Let’s do this!

lGrace Ruvimbo Chirenje writes in her personal capacity and loves stimulating conversation. She would be excited to hear from you. You can contact Grace on graceruvimbo@gmail.com, follow her on twitter @graceruvimbo or Facebook: Grace Ruvimbo Chirenje. Chat soon.