To take this thought a little further, before women demand my castration, the focus of the movement has predominantly been on having women in leadership rather than having women leaders. I am not playing with words—the two are completely different things. A woman in leadership can have title or designation and be high up in the echelons of power and not actually be a leader.
She can so easily be a mere chair-warming figure head and not a strategic thinker, decision-maker or go-getter. A woman leader, on the other hand, is different—a woman leader may not have title, but she is motivated and driven to get things done in her family, community or country. These may sound similar, linguistically speaking, but they are as dissimilar as black is from white; the difference being that women leaders have a proven record of delivery, substance, gravitas and a little dash of je ne sais quoi.
As such, because Malawians have been exposed to mere women in leadership who lack the substance or gravitas to lead a nation of peoples, the electorate is left asking a very simple question: “Is this the best women have to offer?”. Referring back to the outgoing president to illustrate this point, Joyce Banda did have a record of delivery in her pre-presidential life, but she lacked substance and gravitas to lead. And that’s the thing she never quite understood. To many Malawians (well me anyway), it was never about her being a woman—it was about her being a leader.
From one blunder to the next, Joyce Banda might have been ill-advised in thinking that loquaciousness was the same as leadership. Instead she came across as simply affirming one of the many stereotypes that I had hoped never to verbalize which is: a woman in leadership can so often be synonymous with an empty seat, have a very loud mouth, but say absolutely nothing worth listening to.
I really hope, as she reflects on her once-in-a-lifetime tenure, she realizes where she got it wrong—I really, really hope.
As Joyce Banda rejoins the common-people, we cannot ignore the fact that her presidency has confirmed a lot of harmful stereotypes and reinforced negative perceptions about women leaders and women in general. This in turn may harm the women’s empowerment movement by creating a new kind of uphill battle to get back to the “glory days” of better parliamentary representation of women. If the movement is to make any kind of impact at legislative or national levels, it has to shift the conversation away from quantity, and merely having the “approved” genitalia, to seeking out, and grooming, women leaders who exemplify enough substance and gravitas to influence men and policy. Simply put, the movement has to invest more time and energy into finding “the best women have to offer”.
Other than that, women should get used to the idea of a parliament with people of the “disapproved” genitalia dominating the discourse of debate and conversation.
I am looking forward to the day when I can refer to any leader, of the female folk, as simply “a leader” without having to put the qualifying prefix of “woman”. Think about it! When was the last time you heard male Members of Parliament being referred to as “Men Leaders”?
The author likes to comment on social issues.