By Sofonea Shale
Though Africa Union (AU), an heir to struggle credentials and custodian of founding emancipation ethos of Organisation of African Unity (OAU) marked August as the African Woman’s month to celebrate successes of women and amplify their potential, some people look at them, turn a blind eye to their gains and count their flops, scorn them and wonder whether they worth recognition. In the various fora women strengths are shared and discussed but the haunting question which cannot be avoided which has to be taken head-on is are women capable of leading?
Many people who have audacity to share their views in the public sphere hold different perceptions about women and their role in socio-economic as well as political developments. Some people believe that women are inherently followers and cannot lead because of in-built deficiencies in social responsibilities. This group holds a strong view that while women can be good in other responsibilities like care-giving to the needy and make families, they cannot escalate the same to the higher level such as governing. Politics in particular is seen by this group as a tough terrain which unanointed women cannot tread. While this group may be irritating not only to feminists but also the moderates and progressives this seems to have taken grip in the world view of many including policy makers, movers and shakers and ultimately leadership. It is this belief that women may not make it to politics unless male leaders do them favour that makes every woman appointment either through contest and open competition or by political decision questionable. When a young, aspirant female joins politics and makes it to cabinet, ordinary question for this group is what did she do to deserve this?
There is another group of people firmly convinced that women are many and should use their numbers to replace male leadership with female leadership. This group believes that everything bad about this male dominated system would be transformed by replacing male leadership with female leadership. This is the group which is ready to do anything including injustice and compromising principles of fair treatment as long as doing so would benefit woman. While the motivation may not be wrong because they rightly believe that women have been deprived their rights and opportunities by the system which deserves no sympathy, that may not be how change can be achieved. This approach antagonises and hardens instead of dissolving unwanted and unhelpful anti-women positions. Oppressors including those of women, which are male and other women do not have much ammunition except the mind of the oppressed. Many women in Lesotho are victims of violence in its direct and physical form. They die and become disabled as they are physically and directly abused and tortured. While it may sound like justice it may not help to empower women to fight and beat men, so this group has good reason to act but strategies are creating new set of resistance and culture of violence. In the process this group sees women as not bold enough to change the situation yet no one may not want to change the patriarchal society that does not recognise women potential, but the question is how. Looked from this group’s perspective women may not be capable.
The third group to which this and the sister column in the sister newspaper belong to is that which appreciates that women experience violence in many more forms than direct and physical. This is the group which appreciates that violence goes beyond beating. There is structural violence which by definition is as maintenance of dominance of one group at the centre of power over another at the periphery within structures set to maintain that kind of skewed balance and asymmetrical power relationship. Basotho society has built-in social and cultural institutions which translate into political which deny female child and women participation in shaping own lives, building their empires and their legacy by curtailing their freedom of expression, the way they raise families and indeed blending organisations and companies they lead. One among many ways of dealing with this challenge is to amplify successes of women and celebrate them. Doing so will respond to the question in a more resounding way are women capable of leading?
Five or so years ago when Lesotho qualified under the US Millennium Challenge Corporation and conditionalities were made public many were concerned whether Lesotho has leadership capable of leading such a high standard performance based project. What did the US say at the end of implementation? Lesotho did not only get thumps up but also qualified for the second phase. Who led this project? Where are praise songs for her? Is she not a hero, or should she be in politics for her to be celebrated? Is this not capability of women to lead? When the Khokanyan’a Phire coalition exerted its influence on organs of state, ‘M’e Nthoi Motsamai was not only elected as the Speaker but chosen over many male potential candidates. Is that not demonstration of capability to lead? In fact many thought that she will be this time a member of cabinet creating space for others but it was heard on the grapevine that in the closed circles (Linakeli) it was considered that she was the best suited person to lead the parliament as the Speaker in anticipation of stiff debate in the tight majority setting. Is that not a reason enough to accept that women are capable of leading? If a woman can be Chief Justice as ‘M’e Nthomeng Majara is, could still there be someone who can doubt women capability to lead? Lesotho civil society which by far surpasses its regional counterparts in representing a voice of reason in the political madness, is not only led by a female President and Deputised by female leader now but is also the only civil formation which has produced women presidents with almost equal number of male counterparts since its formation in 1990. Can just anyone who simply studied economics wake up one fine morning and lead the bank of banks? The Central Bank of Lesotho is led by a female governor. Lesotho Highlands Water Project which is not just another project but very significant for this country is led by a female Chief Executive. These are careful considerations. But when are they being celebrated if they cannot even on August? Many women have done wonders in this Kingdom; Nkhono Kholu, ‘Malichaba Lekhoaba, Dr Leah Molapo, Mamosebi Pholo, the Chair of APRM in Lesotho and now IEC Commissioner, Limakatso Mokhothu former IEC Chair and many more. Yesterday in one local radio station MoAfrika in its Monyenyetsi oa Temo programme, the presenter requested listeners to sing praises for women farmers they know. It was so encouraging to observe how people male and females appreciate how women in their localities are capable. Those who have lived Lesotho long enough to have known the late Ntate Tsotang Mokotso would marvel at how ‘M’e ‘Malefa Mokotso kept the Upper Qeme going beyond her husband. When are these heroines going to be sung? It is when those capable women leaders are sung that the question are women capable of leading will not only be answered in the affirmative but also honestly, fairly and convincingly to many doubting thomases of today.