Let Us Teach Young Gambian Girls About Female Leadership
I am not one for a beauty pageant, However, I was captivated by Miss Universe 2019, Ms. South Africa Zozibini Tunzi. In the final round of the competition when the 3 finalists were asked the question by Steve Harvey “what is the most important thing to teach young girls today?” the response of Ms. South Africa blew me away.
She said and I quote “the most important thing we should be teaching young girls today is LEADERSHIP. It is something that has been lacking in young girls and women for a very long time. Women are the most powerful beings in the world and women should be given every opportunity to take up space. Nothing is as important than to take up space in society”. Zozi has redefined the ideals of beauty in pageantry, has broken the mold and re-written history. She has affirmed that black children’s dreams are valid.
Have you watched the movie “Black Panther”? Don’t you just like the way it views and portrays women. Strong female characters have long played a huge role in the kingdom of Wakanda, as a fierce all-female special forces outfit tasked with protecting the king. We see a powerful superhero only protected by women? Now that’s new. Isn’t it amazing to see King T’Challa conspicuously surrounds himself with women, not just for the convenience, but because these are the people he can TRUST and trusting people as a leader is no small thing.
Now back to reality. In The Gambia we live in a patriarchal society and as a society, we need to do more to teach young girls about leadership, be it in the political, economic, business and social spheres. In all progressive countries, their leaders recognize that gender equality is not only the right thing to do but also the smart thing. It makes economic sense as well. However, in a country like ours, achieving gender equality is difficult given some of our cultural and social norms. It is for this reason that young girls from Banjul to Koina need to be taught about leadership and its about time a girl’s leadership and mentorship academy is established in The Gambia. Such a program will build the capacity of young girls and future women leaders to have a much greater impact, build their confidence to compete in the real world as they embark on their career paths. This is one of the ways for young Gambian girls to claim the leadership space in their communities.
Society calls for More Women in Leadership
We want to see more Gambian women stepping up to the challenge of leadership in both the public and private sectors. While impressive strides have been made in terms of gender equality and girls’ education at the primary level in terms of access (quality is still a challenge), we need to advocate for this in secondary and tertiary levels. Women make up half of our population and they must take their rightful place in society. The Gambia must capitalize on the human capital of women who by number alone make up a large pool of potential talent needed to drive the country forward. An aeroplane does not fly on one wing, it needs both wings to fly. Likewise, The Gambia’s development trajectory will be constrained if the other 50% of the population (our women folks are not central to the development process). Of course, certain challenges abound that have held Gambian girls and women back, but these challenges can be further reduced by having targeted mentorship, access to education and other initiatives that encourage more girls to realize their vast potential. The number of women in leadership roles is still too low compared to what it could be, and nurturing growth in this arena will benefit both men and women in The Gambia.
To nurture young girls as leaders we will need our girls to stay in school. #handsoffourgirls. To the old men in our society, please leave our young girls alone and follow women your age. Early marriage is one of the harmful traditions widely practiced in Gambian and African societies. The practice involves the marriage of girls who have not achieved full maturity and lack the ability to control their sexuality. Across Africa, 125 million girls and young women today were married before their 18th birthday, and more than 1 in 3 young women in Africa were married during childhood, and 1 in 10 before their 15th birthday. The consequences of early marriage are enormous in terms of foregone educational and economic opportunities; maternal morbidity and mortality; more limited voice and power within the family and community; life-course and inter-generational poverty transfers. End early marriages, allow our young girls to stay in school and do not condemn them to a life of perpetual poverty.
A combination of community awareness-raising, support for girls’ secondary education, economic strengthening initiatives and legal empowerment for girls and women needs to be considered, but these should be designed with an in-depth understanding of the local culture and context to avoid generating negative or unforeseen consequences.
Education contributes to the increase of female leadership
Education alone is not the only solution, nevertheless, schooling is fundamental to expanding girls’ options. Given that research has found that each and every year of schooling matters, and that secondary school makes the most difference to girls’ power to make decisions, the government need to invest in affordable, quality primary education for all girls and ensure that high school is not seen as an add-on for the wealthy, but a given opportunity for all.
Without the active participation of women and the incorporation of women's perspective at all levels of decision-making, the goals of equality, development, and peace cannot be achieved.
The urgency of having more women in leadership positions in The Gambia as in all African countries was alluded to by Former Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf during an interview to mark International Women’s Day. She was asked:
“If you have just one proposal to share with your colleagues, the Heads of State of Africa, in order to promote a sustainable gender equality process, what will be this one key action?”
Her response was:
“I would propose to my peers to increase the level of women’s participation in leadership roles and decision-making in all levels of society. We need to redeploy energies and resources towards pursuing not only gender equity but women’s participation in decision-making to generate the desired change. But more needs to be done, and this would be my appeal to my fellow Heads of State and Government.”
Let us all support our young Gambian girls to #ClaimThisSpace. Young Gambian girls can be leaders in their chosen career professions. It was Sheryl Sandberg the founder of “Lean In” who said, we should think of a career like a marathon, it is long, grueling and ultimately rewarding. What voices do the men hear from the beginning? ‘You’ve got this. Keep going. Great race ahead of you.’ What do the women hear from day one out of college? ‘You sure you want to run? Marathon’s really long. You’re probably not going to want to finish. Don’t you want kids one day?’
In the not too distant future in The Gambia, we will have a young generation of Zozibini Tunzi with natural beauty, smart, witty, intelligent and bold to take action. We will have strong Wakanda young girls and women who will be trusted leaders (don’t get me started about how male politicians have failed us miserably). We will have strong female characters that will claim their leadership space competitively and not out of tokenism.
I am a believer.
Importance of girls' education
Find out about the benefits and advantages of educating girls.
The SaGG Foundation (Sponsor a Gambian Girl) is a girl’s education movement, with aim of championing the cause for girl child education in The Gambia. Education is a basic human right; our vision is to advocate and pair up girls with sponsors.
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