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A Conversation with 5 of Africa’s True 21st Century Women

The era of gender subordination is gradually fading away and we are awakening into a world of gender equality. Today, modern culture has uplifted women into powerful distinctions that are gaining them notable praise, honor

The era of gender subordination is gradually fading away and we are awakening into a world of gender equality. Today, modern culture has uplifted women into powerful distinctions that are gaining them notable praise, honor and societial influence. No doubt African women are joining in the changing workforce. Many of them – particularly those in the Diaspora – continue to excel in academia, business and various marketable areas. These women are making names for themselves with titles such as entrepreneurs, activists and moguls to name a few. But can women have it all? Can African women really have it all?

Albeit in modern times, it appears that the higher a woman ascends the ‘career ladder,’ the more she diminishes her chances of becoming who tradition requires her to be. Sometimes the harder we strive to achieve greater success than our male counterparts, the further away we run from the traditional norms that define a woman’s identity.
Africa’s decade of strong women come from a long line of female ancestors: great-grand mothers, grandmothers and mothers who in their time worked home jobs to keep the family in place. However, the majority of women in the present generation stir change in society, fighting for causes where they can be recognized by the rest of the world. In pursing their calling something must not have to give. Compromises should not be made in order to be the woman you are determined to be. This was the message resonated by 2011 Nobel Peace Prize winner Leymah Gbowee during a couch session held with a group of young African diaspora women who hold notable careers.
While delivering as a keynote speaker at the 2013 African Diaspora Awards Gbowee took out time to mentor a group of ladies on the need to remain career focus despite customary constraints imposed by tradition. Joining the activist in conversation were Mpule Kwelagobe, former Miss Universe, who is Managing Director of the Pula Agriculture Fund, a capital fund that invests in agriculture, agribusiness and agro-industries development projects across Sub-Saharan Africa amongst others, Saran Kaba Jones a clean water advocate and social entrepreneur from Liberia who was appointed International Goodwill Ambassador for the county of River Cess, Liberia in 2012.  Three-time Emmy nominated journalist, producer and correspondent for PIX11 Morning News, Ojinika Obiekwe,  activist, philanthropist and organizer Solome Lemma who runs Africans in the Diaspora (AiD), an organization that aims to unleash the philanthropic and intellectual capital of the Diaspora to advance sustainable development in Africa and Farai Gundan a TV and radio personality, who also runs an African entertainment blog and is co-founder of two tech startups.
Gbowee listened attentively as the ladies chatted about the conflicting roles of career and womanhood in the African culture. Examining the pressures of African traditions, the ladies voiced, “The culture forces the idea about getting married (by a certain age). And so you can have all these accolades, but you’re not a woman.  In Africa a lot of people get married because it’s time, for the family’s sake, because you’ve reached a certain age and you just marry whoever is available.” In response Gbowee stated, “The question to ask yourself is: are you going to be okay even after quitting your job? If my desperation to get married is going to let me set my goal aside, is it worth it? Is it worth throwing my life’s dream away? If the shoe was on the other foot, would he do the same for me? She revealed to the ladies, “My dad told me one thing that stopped me from desperately looking. He said to me, God has given you a good job. He has given you fame and fortune. And so even if you don’t have a husband don’t begrudge it because marriage is a vocation; it is like a calling. You have to be called into that vocation; you have to put a lot of prayers into it.” Perhaps her father’s disclosure was a message of relief for the Nobel Peace Prize winner who endured an abusive relationship after which she says she had to “re-socialize.”
 Leymah has since been blessed and finds fulfillment in her present relationship.  Her current partner, Jay, she describes as “perfect”, a man who is not intimidated by her prominence, her status as activist and Noble Laureate or the time she spends in the limelight. Perhaps the word “perfect” spells a happily ever after story for Gbowee; but there is more to the appearances her partner keeps while he globetrots with the philanthropist. That more is the special connection Gbowee shares with Jay. A connection she told the ladies must come first before money, looks and status.  “It is not about how your friends see that person. When the cameras are out, when you shut that door and it’s only two of you, ask yourself, can we communicate? Can we talk about anything? Can we laugh? Can I just cry and let go? Once you can answer yes to all of these questions, you’ve found your person. Gbowee also joked, “Behind every successful African woman is a very accommodating African man,” to which the ladies burst out laughing.
The ladies found her words heartening. Mpule Kwelagobe, who undoubtedly agreed to Gbowee’s advice, pointed out that finding that connection which Gbowee gushes of may not be all too easy because “The society we live in emphasizes external appearances. As a younger generation we’re looking for something that is beautiful on the outside, but is not strong on the inside. I appreciate what she (Gbowee) said because that is what is authentic and that’s what we should look forward to in relationships. Especially African women, doing the kind of work we do we need the kind of man that is not intimidated by we (women) being in the front or having a public career. We need men that will be comfortable, that will uplift us, and want us to be celebrated for the work we do.”
On a more solemn note the peace activist pressed for the ladies to continue in their drive to accomplish their goals be it career, academia or philanthropic.  After all it wasn’t long ago that Gbowee led a peace demonstration to bring an end to the war in her home country Liberia. It is because of Gbowee’s determination that the peace talks gained ground until the war gradually ended. Gbowee reflected back on those horrid times and advised, “I’ve learned one thing in life, that anger is fluid. Anger is liquid that draws into two containers violent and positive. And those who pull their violence into the violent containers are the Hitlers’, Taylors’ and all those men who have been dubbed villains of the world. And those who decide to pull their anger into a positive container by means of starting a protest, educating young people, starting a Diaspora movement; these are the Martin Luther Kings, the Ghandis’ and the Mandelas’…I felt there was a purpose. Sometimes after you’ve lived in a negative situation for so long it tends to become positive. You have to decide I’m not going to take this crap. I want to move out there and change the tide.  And changing the tide is never about you. Even when I started the peace movements it was never about me. It’s never about you; it’s never about any of us. We’ve been called to do something and sometimes it’s uncomfortable; it takes a lot away from you. But you have to ask God and ask yourself, if this is what I signed up for then I will take everything associated with it.”
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