Policy makers have the power to influence and determine the direction of governments and businesses. Unfortunately, in most African countries and, indeed, the world, the reality is that there are few women that have access to policy and decision making spaces. When women do gain access to these spaces, they have to fight for their voices to be heard and for their input respected and valued.
But what is the root of this exclusion culture?
Honest Kansiime a 2015 Akili Dada and Young African Leadership Institute Fellow believes that the problem starts early – at the school level. Girls and young women are discouraged from taking up decision-making roles such as the prefect. She found that in her initiative's community girls are excluded from leadership positions. Teachers, for example, appointed boys for prefect positions over girls. And in some instances, job descriptions of prefects would often - and sometimes intentionally - be crafted to favor boys, effectively acting as a barrier for girls to access these positions.
An inspiring politician herself, Honest Kansiime conceptualized and initiated Girls to Lead Africa - a social change initiative that seeks to increase the number and quality of women policy makers, one young woman at a time. Honest targets young women already occupying leadership position in their schools and learning institutions and facilitates a leadership development program focused on ‘purpose driven leadership.’ The aim is to develop girls' skills and character to be the policy makers that we seek for our future.
By hosting mentoring sessions, Honest has candid conversations and challenges the girls to think critically about themselves, asking them to answer self-reflective questions like:
- Who am I and what’s my identity?
- Does my gender influence my leadership capability?
- What are my goals?
- What stereotypes does society hold towards women and leadership?
The initiative also asks them to look outward to their communities and challenges them to think through what ‘leading with purpose’ means. Girls think through community problems, analyzing them and using the analysis to developed policies that are informed and effective in solving community specific challenges.
The success of this initiative includes girls taking up leadership positions in school and even going further to influence the policies in the school. The new policies are transforming how their schools function. One outcome is more inclusive policies. For example, at one school, girls lobbied the schools to provide sanitary towels as part of a first-aid kit in the case of unexpected monthly cycle for girls and for the abolition of corporal punishments for girls while they are experiencing their monthly cycle.
Honest is proud of her Girls to Lead Africa initiative’s success and believes that these girls will continue to lead as they go on to university and beyond.