Women and Leadership: Let's Continue the Conversation

Just over a week ago, the very first Dialogue for Action Africa was held in Libreville, Gabon. More than 550 individuals representing NGOs, businesses and governments from across Africa, Europe, the Middle East, India, China and the United States joined us to put forward their expertise in politics, health, education, development and business. These leaders convened to address some of the challenges women -- and the organizations that support them -- face across different African regions. We talked about maternal care and health systems; how women must be actively involved in peace and reconciliation negotiations and in the development of their countries. We discussed the best ways to ensure that girls stay in school to obtain the education they deserve; and how to afford women access to the funds and services they need to start businesses and become entrepreneurs. We insisted that when women flourish so do their families and their communities. The discussions on stage were challenged by participants whose experience and politics insisted otherwise. The dialogue hit hard and demanded solutions that could be shared, and that reflected the real needs, values, and wants of women. The diverse group of people participating provided not only holistic discussion. It meant that new strategies were built based on new partnerships and commitments to work together across the public and private sector. Incredibly, seven African first ladies joined us for a special session on the women's issues they each champion in their own countries. Sylvia Bongo Ondimba of Gabon, Chantal Compaore of Burkina Faso, Dominque Ouattara of Ivory Coast, Penehupifo Pohamba of Namibia, Patience Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria, Jeannette Kagame of Rwanda, and Mareme Sall of Senegal all stood up as powerful agents of change in their own right. First ladies are in a unique position to bring global attention to the women of their countries, and have the resource potential to ensure services and rights are met. We need to continue to provide platforms for first ladies to fulfill that potential. Additionally, I was so honored to have been able to award $25,000 to five organizations that are leaders in action. Akili Dada, Entrepreneurs du Monde, Tostan, the South Kivu Women's Media Association, and Arc en Ciel are organizations that produce real results for African women. I applaud groups whose efforts are effectively empowering women and children on local levels. And to put words into action, I am hoping this small grant will help ensure their valuable work continues. Because that is what the Dialogue for Action is all about -- taking discussion and putting it into action. The DFAA was a big success. But it's important that this conversation continues all year round, in our cities and homes and boardrooms. Shockingly, although women make up at least half of the world's population, less than 10 percent of world leaders are female. The figures about women's representation in executive positions are even more disappointing. The talents of a woman leader shone clearly last Saturday, when Aung San Suu Kyi accepted her Nobel Prize. She spoke with characteristic grace and eloquence, saying that while she was under home arrest, the most profound lesson she had learnt was the value of kindness. It's thrilling that such an inspiring figure has been returned to her people and to the world. Women must have opportunities to pursue their dreams whether they live in Cape Town or Libreville, San Francisco or New York. At the DFAA, we envisage -- and are working to help bring about -- a world where female leaders are no longer an exception, but a thoroughly unsurprising norm.