Linking Leadership & Soft Power

What African Women struggle liberation movements teach us about soft power, unity and leadership

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African feminist ancestor, Queen Nzinga of Angola is one of the most celebrated African women to resist European colonisation. Nzinga Mbande led four decades (1620s to 1660s) of warfare against the Portuguese in Angola. Photo credit: African Feminist Forum

African Women have been playing a pioneering role in the Pan African movement, by harnessing their creativity and dedication to serve peace, justice, and the well-being of their families, their communities and their country. Africa has the highest rate of female entrepreneurship in the world, and it is no coincidence that most of the 10 fastest-growing economies in the world today are in Africa. The Pan African Women’s Organization (PAWO), created in 1962 in the United Republic of Tanzania, has played a particularly important part in the history of the continent, its actions contributed to the advancement of women’s rights and the recognition of the role of women in African society. It is essential to say that African women played a key role in liberating the continent from the yoke of colonialism and to assert the values of Pan-Africanism. The endeavors of these women, many in number but little known, bears testimony to women’s commitment to assume their role and responsibilities in the future of the continent.

Pan-Africanism, a school of thought promoted by black American and West Indian awareness-raisers in the second half of the nineteenth century,  is the concept of unity and solidarity between continental Africans and people of the black Diaspora, scattered through the world by the slave trade and slavery. The common goal was to assert black people’s right to enjoy freedom in the same way as every other human being.

Many movements, associations and liberation organizations were created by women in Nigeria, Ghana, Angola, Senegal, Niger, Ethiopia, Madagascar, Namibia, Kenya, South Africa, Zimbabwe, to oppose colonial interference in the country. Later on, these movements transformed into women’s rights clubs, as women- active actors in the anti-colonial struggle, wanted now to be more involved in the political life, as well as in the decision-making processes for the rise of their nations.

PAWO was the exact answer: displaying the capacity of African women to innovate in the various forms of a collective struggle, to influence and to implement actions against the violation of human rights, particularly those of women, and for strengthening peace around the world and on the African continent in particular. Lastly, to encourage friendship and cooperation between women and African women around the world. 

African women fought for the recognition of the political, economic and cultural rights, for the participation in the socio-economic and cultural development of Africa, as well as in decision-making on political, social and cultural life, both nationally and internationally.

They made through fight and struggle, but also through their innate soft power.

“Soft power is the power to broker ideas, convince the reluctant and set new standards; bring people together to pursue joint goals and achieve stronger collective actions”- UNESCO

The Soft Power of women is the kind gentle greatness, the love and passion they apply in their job. The enthusiasm they bring about when a new project or new ideas arise. The natural dynamism that allow them to get together, talk about things, influence and persuade on next actions to put in place. It is soft diplomacy, the power of talking with kindness, empathy and compassion, believing in the unity and solidarity, the trust and the respect of the team. It is Women Power.

With this women power, women must bring in men in the dialogue for human rights, gender equality, ending violence against women and women empowerment. A discourse without men has no reason to exist. Gender stereotypes about the image of women in society need to break and give space to new positive images of women in the newsrooms, in science, mathematics, engineering, innovative leaders bringing a change in society. This is only possible by sharing experiences, ideas, being open-minded, becoming role models for other girls, encourage boys to be part of the change and advocate for gender equality.

All this can be possible by sharing power and responsibilities in society, by boosting self-confidence and having mentors that can guide students, more peaceful minds that can work well together through dialogue, mutual understanding, tolerance and respect, in order to ensure equal rights and equal participation of voices in society.

As Michelle Obama said ” Success is not about how much money you make, it is about the difference you make in people’s lives”.

It is true. The perfect combination of leadership and soft power will positively impact the societies we are all living in . 


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