On September 10, Vital Voices hosted a meeting with 20 African women political leaders, participants in the International Visitor Leadership Program sponsored by the U.S. Department of State. Vital Voices Africa Program Officer Celena Green, Global Grants Manager Melysa Sperber, and Senior Advisor Stephenie Foster spoke with the visiting political leaders, who represented 17 African nations. Offering an overview of previous and current political participation programs in Cameroon, Nigeria, Uganda and Zimbabwe, Vital Voices representatives engaged the leaders in a dialogue on the unique challenges faced by African women in the political sphere.
During the discussion, impassioned leaders from diverse political landscapes shared their insight and experience from varied levels political engagement, which ranged from members of parliament to political party spokespersons, mayors, judges, NGO directors, political appointees and government administrators. The participants were in agreement that women must support each other in order to affect change and increase female political representation.
Senator Eve Masudi of the Democratic Republic of Congo explained that she views “democracy as expression,” and urges women to claim and practice their right to expression in an effort to advance democracy. She went on to describe the courage it takes for a woman to venture into the political realm:
“It is not easy for a woman to leave her kitchen, cross the living room, open the front door and find power.”
Senior Advisor Stephenie Foster further emphasized that local political involvement and engagement should never be discounted, as it is from smaller, more immediate communities that women emerge and develop as leaders on a larger scale. The need to build capacity and empower African women with education and skills training was noted as central to enhancing female political participation across the continent.
The significance of network support was discussed when several of the leaders expressed a need to feel connected with other political women as they navigate the challenges of retaining power while maintaining their integrity. A recurring message of the meeting was that a critical mass of unified women can effectively alter both the course and practice of politics. The familiar adage rang true to the group of women – ‘One woman in politics changes that woman. Many women in politics changes politics’.