At the United State of Women Summit of 2018 Michelle Obama made a statement that got me thinking.
She said; “So many of us have gotten ourselves at the table, but we are still too grateful to be at the table to really shake it up. Because for so many of us getting to the table was so hard and we’re just holding on, but now we have to take some risks for our girls. We have to be willing to lose a little bit of something. Just holding on to our seats on the table won’t be enough for our girls to be all that they need to be. This will be on us women, but men also have an important role to play in that.”
She also mentioned that she wants to understand how they (American women) had an opportunity to vote for the most qualified candidate (who just happened to be a woman) and they chose differently.
How is it that a woman can be as qualified or even more qualified than her male counterpart but because she is a woman, she will lose a position of head of state, or leadership? And of course the loss of Hillary Clinton was not as simple as choosing between a male and female president. Both their scandals and fraudulent stories were brought to public attention, however Hillary’s faults seemed to have counted against her whilst Trump’s seemed to have made no to little difference, because he still became president elect.
I once saw a picture of a group of African leaders signing an MoU with the UN and I asked the person who posted it, why there were only men in the picture, and she answered that it was the head of states for Africa. And I responded with “Oh”.
But here is the thing, after I had evaluated my answer, I was saddened that I had programmed myself to accept that an African President would traditionally be a man. I was upset that there were only men in the picture, but when I heard that they were presidents I let my guard down. I made it okay not to be upset enough to have a female president. And that right there is where the danger lies.
When Michelle was talking, a woman yelled for her to run for president. And she mentioned that’s where the problem lied. That it would not make a difference if she ran because until we change our mind-sets that a woman can run, most women will change their minds before the voting polls.
Until we understand “Yes we can”, we will not support our fellow women leaders.
We allow men to fail-up. This means despite their patriarchal insults, besides their blatant disrespect for women, or rights of people, despite their corruption allegations, and despite them being accused of rape or harassment they still ascend to the top (fail-up). But we do not accord women the same opportunities.
This is what we do; we say no she will fail so let’s rather give the seat to a man, but even if he fails it’s okay, because he is allowed to.
We all have the potential to greatly fail or to greatly succeed. But we only mostly allow men to fail and succeed (or just fail).
We have yet to break barriers, but these barriers are not physical or legislative, they are, however mental.
So I conducted a small survey to check out the popularity of a woman actually running for presidency in Namibia.
I chose presidency as a measurement, because it’s the highest level of leadership, but more than that it’s the level upon which we are sceptical if a woman can run.
We’ve initially decided that women can be teachers, they can be engineers, CEO’s, but god forbid we make one president.
Let’s have a look at some of the negative responses.
The question was: Do Namibians (especially women) believe a female can run for president?
One harsh one was, “keep running” (meaning run away).
And majority of them were that women are too emotional. Oh but there was an upside to this one, women are emotional but as long as the candidate is mature it was said to be okay, because she will keep her emotions intact. So hey, there’s that, (get your emotions checked women!).
Others were. Wait for 2030 and we are not ready yet.
Which brings us to; is there something that men have done over the ages to get “ready” for leadership roles?
And did the women even begin that process yet?
Or we just leave them to their own demise?
I doubt there is a process to “get ready”. If there isn’t one for men, there shouldn’t be an expectation of such for women.
Among others one interesting statement we got is “We live in a society where women are seen as secondary citizens…and hence they can’t assume power of leadership, and definitely not presidential power.”
Which brings me back to something else Michelle Obama said.
“We are still at that stage where we’re trying to figure out what it means to be women. And you know sorry, but in light of this last election (Trump’s winning), I’m concerned about us as women. About how we think of ourselves and what we think of each other and what’s going on. I think more about what is going on in our heads were we let that happen. So I do wonder what young girls are dreaming about, if we’re still there. When the most qualified person running was a woman and look what we did instead. And that says something about where we are. Because if we as women are still suspicious of one other, if we still have this crazy bar for each other that we don’t have for men, if we’re still doing that today, if we’re not comfortable with the notion that a woman could be our president, compared to what? It is frustrating to see a lot of men blow it and win.”
Hilary Clinton’s loss was a major highlight for how women view other women, but besides that this piece does not argue that women fill presidential posts on the basis of being women, but that being a woman should not be a disqualifier.
Leadership is expectant of certain traits, character and skill. Leaders need to embody capacity, trust, skill, qualification and merit among others (which are qualities that women too possess).
There is an underlying culture among women to distrust other women, this can be linked to learned patriarchal behaviour or experiences of women with each other. This however should not deter us from standing behind each other. Supporting each other into the future is important in showing our young girls the power and potential of what can happen when women stand behind each other, what happens when we stand on shoulders of giants. Should we then as girls not start dreaming of LRC leaderships, heads of debate teams, local church group heads, council members, ministers and presidents?
In Namibia our voting electoral is made up of 53 percent of women, and as emerging women leaders the trust of those women need to be won. Winning the trust takes a lot of work in reprogramming the mind and removing the unfair subjective lens.
Women need to believe that they are all capable, all hardworking and all deserving of everything and anything they pursue, even running for president.
Until especially women can believe that “Yes we can”, we still have a lot of work to do.
by Elsarien Katiti