Unleashing the Powerful Potential of Women and Girls is the Key…
Catching up with Justina Mutale is not an easy feat. Almost on a daily basis, she is doing something to impact change in the world; whether it is attending the responsibilities of being Africa’s Goodwill Ambassador, encouraging women around the world, or adding new models to her Positive Runway Project, a global effort to stop the spread of HIV/AIDS.
This inspirational and international speaker was named one of Europe’s “Top 20 Inspirational African Diaspora Business Women of 2014,” and this busy philanthropist shows no signs of slowing down, and her passion for inspiring women is a daily goal of hers. Vertikal Magazine talked to Justina about her passion and how she unleashes the potential in women and girls.
In Avant Garde magazine Justina Mutale said, for Women achievements during the month of March. “I think our achievements should be a focus all year round. We celebrate those women who have taken the world on, women who make things happen, women who have that captivating beauty and strength of personality that embraces life in all its endless variety: Women who have transformed their own lives and the lives of others through their hard work, guts, and acts of compassion. And we celebrate the hundreds, if not thousands or even millions of women around the world who have made the world a kinder and fairer place with their brilliant personalities, ideas, and achievements.” – Avant Garde Magazine April 2014.
Justina what inspires you to be involved in the empowerment of women and girls and why?
I believe that women are the world’s most potent force. Women are also natural leaders and the backbone of society. As such, I strongly believe that unleashing the powerful potential of women and girls is the key to many of the critical issues facing the world and humanity today, issues to which the world as yet has no foreseeable end to the continuing environmental degradation; rising poverty levels; escalating wars and violence; global terrorism; social and economic injustices and inequalities, in addition to many other adverse issues.
I have a very special relationship and vested interest in the subject of women’s empowerment – be it social, political, economic or otherwise, as I come from a background of strong, powerful, assertive women, women who have defied the patriarchal norms for many centuries. On my mother’s side of the family, a woman rules the Kingdom.
Although a man rules the kingdom on my father’s side of the family, this did not deter one woman to rise up and start her own movement (some people called it a church and others called it an army, while some called it a political party). Nonetheless, she gained a following of almost 200,000 people at a time when Zambia only had a population of about 2 million people. In addition, while only in recent years have women in other parts of the world been talking about retaining their maiden names after marriage (as part of the gender equality rights), since time immemorial, women on my mother’s side of the family have always retained their maiden names and never, ever take up the name of the husband. In fact, women on my mother’s side of the family have their own feminine names right from the time of birth and never take up their father’s name either!
Even more empowering for women from my background is that in some parts of Africa, although a man rules the kingdom, heirs to the throne are selected from the King’s sister’s children, and not from among the King’s own children. The rationale is that one can always be sure that the child his sister bears is definitely related to him, while a brother’s children are always somewhat suspect … I find this tradition, Celeste, to be a true demonstration of the potent power of a woman!
Then looking at the role of women in society, how is the time we’re in now different from previous times in history?
Although I come from a background of strong women who have always asserted their position in gender dynamics, I am at the same time, sensitive to the fact that women everywhere in the world, including in my own country Zambia, have always had to fight an uphill battle regarding their rightful place in society. Needless to say, we are now in an era where attitudes and behavior towards women have changed. In recent years, gender dynamics have evolved with the role and perception of women in a society evolving as a result.
However, while it is inspiring to see that women’s equality has made many positive gains over the years, it is evident that these gains are too few and far in between. It is heartbreaking that after 200 years since the women’s suffrage movement and despite all the various initiatives and affirmations aimed at gender equality and the rights of women and girls, we are still fighting for women’s equality in the 21st century. To date, we still have a huge gap in gender parity in many areas, with only a few women around the globe, who have so far had the privilege to hold very prominent and visible high ranking positions of real power, real influence and real authority in politics, business, society and all other spheres of the global agenda.
What do you think is the most significant barrier to female leadership?
I believe the most significant barrier to female leadership is that after all these years and in spite of the women’s suffrage movement and various initiatives and affirmative action for gender equality, there still exists a huge gender gap in the leadership system around the world. This has been created by an institutionalized form of gender discrimination that is embedded in the failure to adjust the male work model to fit the needs of women. The world still lives in a patriarchal society where the majority of women continue to be discriminated against.
This is demonstrated by the fact that over the years, women’s potential contributions to politics, economic advances, social progress and environmental protection have been marginalized by a system that discriminates against women and puts limits on women’s full potential. In its official theme to mark the 2014 International Women’s Day, the United Nations stated that “Gender Equality is Progress for All.”
Most of us will be familiar with the women’s fight for equality, which has taken many forms – starting from the Women’s Suffrage Movement in the 19th Century; moving on to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), which was adopted by the United Nations in 1979; followed by the Beijing Platform for Action declared at the 1995 United Nations Fourth World Conference in China.
We have also had Gender Equality as one of the concluding United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). With less than a year to go before the deadline in 2015, Gender Equality is one MDG that still has a long way to go and is yet to be fulfilled. Consequently, Gender Equality has once again been highlighted as a priority in the Post-2015 Development Agenda.
While these initiatives and affirmative actions have made some visible strides, to date women are still lagging far behind their male counterparts in all areas and in nearly all parts of the world because leadership roles in the economic, social and political systems of the world are still modeled on the ambitions and perspectives of men.
What are some of the obstacles to leadership that is unique to women?
The existing design of leadership roles, which are based on patriarchal values, coupled with institutional discrimination against women from a huge hindrance to women’s ability to realize their full potential. It is no secret that in many parts of the world, cultures and social conditioning have prevented women from unleashing their full potential in leadership roles. In a world system riddled with rampant gender discrimination, which is also reflected in the education systems around the globe, you find that the lack of adequate education, training, and knowledge transfer hinders women’s potential in leadership roles and other areas.
Changing the mindset of the society (both men and women) and unlearning the traditional mindsets and social conditioning would help provide an enabling environment for women to realize their full potential and to contribute effectively in leadership roles. As indicated above, women are the backbone of society and are natural-born leaders. However, women are not provided with an enabling environment in a globally patriarchal society that does not give women enough opportunities. To be effective leaders, women need to be empowered with the appropriate education, training, and knowledge to enable them to improve themselves and to push the limits that have been placed on women’s full potential. Fast tracking of skills development and knowledge transfer and incorporating women in all spheres of the global agenda would break down gender and economic inequalities in the world.
What will be the biggest challenge for the generation of women behind you?
The next generation of women will need to muster the courage, character, skills and confidence to command respect and authority in order to be effective and influential players in the global agenda. I believe the 21st century presents incredible opportunities for women to reassert their position in the gender dynamics and to hold legitimate positions of authority to influence the direction of the global agenda in politics, business, society and other areas.
As 21st century women, the next generation of women will need to break down the barriers that have held women back for centuries. The next generation of women will need to have unshakeable self-belief and to unlearn the traditional mindsets and social conditioning that has put limits on women’s full potential. Among some of the initiatives towards gender parity has been the allocation of gender electoral quotas aimed at increasing the number of women in political decision-making. Quotas have also been introduced in the Boardrooms to increase the number of women in business decision-making.
Although quotas have paved way for women’s increased participation in politics and in business, the very idea of quotas, however, implies that women have to seek permission from men in order to participate. And because quotas are decided by people in authority, who in most cases are men, you will find that as a way of showing gratitude, women appointed to these positions through quotas will, in most cases, represent the interests of the men that put them in those positions, rather than the interests of their fellow womenfolk, let alone their own interests.
The next generation of women will need to acknowledge that the age of the token woman sitting on the Board is over. We do not want women to just make up the numbers … we want a generation of women that makes and influences real decisions in the Boardroom, in the Senate, in Congress and in Parliament, and in all other areas of the global agenda.
As women of the 21st century, the next generation of women will need to utilize all their talents, strengths and wisdom to inspire change and lead humanity as a whole to a future of gender equality in order to attain human prosperity and progress for all. To do this, the next generation of women will need to lead without seeking permission, they will need to be assertive and to believe that it is actually politically correct for women to compete and contribute to social, economic and political activity on equal footing with their male counterparts, without feeling that they are overstepping their boundaries or compromising men’s masculinity.
How do women in leadership positions lead differently from men?
As mothers and natural born leaders, women have a sense of community and strongly identify their connection to their community in whatever they do. I also believe women have an inbuilt generosity of spirit and strong emotional intelligence that makes them sensitive to the needs of others. A number of studies have indicated that gender inequalities have led to widening social inequalities, environmental degradation and high economic costs around the world. This has been attributed to the current economic model, which is largely built on the ambitions and perspectives of men as evidenced by the management and boards of failed banks and financial institutions, who have nearly been 100 per cent male.
It has been argued that the 2008 economic crisis led to heightened criticisms of the capitalist model, where growth is fueled by men’s quest for competition, instant gratification and the quest for profits without due regard to human and social consequences. Also, women do not have the childish desire of competitiveness that our male counterparts have to continuously prove their physical strength, which has led to many unnecessary wars, suffering and perpetual conflict around the world.
Unlike male leaders, a woman’s strength is limitless and this has been proved throughout the ages, through countless acts of compassion, humility, and most importantly strength, because women do not depend on physical strength. Women have a greater strength – emotional strength and wisdom. Women have the strength and wisdom to endure the hardships of the world and continue where men’s physical strength fails. Women can continue where men fail because of this gift granted to women by the very hands of our creator, the almighty God.
Tell us some stories from your experiences that illustrate those problems.
I have heard it said that “If the Lehman Brothers were Lehman Sisters, the world would have never suffered the economic crisis of 2008”. I have also heard it said that “If women ruled the world, there would be no wars … (perhaps only a bunch of countries not speaking to one another!)” An important story of that illustrates the failure of the male model of leadership is the effects, or lack thereof, of the prevailing high economic growth on communities in the African continent. While most African countries are currently enjoying high economic growth, this, however, does not trickle down to the majority of its citizens, most of whom are still wallowing in abject poverty despite the reported high rates of economic growth.
This disparity has been attributed to the fact that the African economy is mirrored on the global male economic model, which is focused on competition and profits without due regard to social and human consequences. As a result, the rise in economic growth in Africa has been overshadowed by a rise in poverty and unemployment; widening social and gender inequalities; as well as falling levels of education and healthcare provision. Unlike men, most women use their money and authority to improve the quality of life in their communities by improving their homes, combating poverty and paying for the education of their children.
Studies have shown that in efforts to finance the reduction of poverty in the developing world, many leading experts find that women simply make better investments. A major study in Brazil has also shown that the effect of money managed by women in poor households was many times more likely to be spent on improving conditions in the home than money managed by men who squander it outside the home on drinking and gambling.
What values do you believe are more prevalent among female entrepreneurs?
I believe that investing in women transforms the trajectory for children and families and can lead to widespread economic growth for the whole community because women have a generosity of spirit as mentioned above. Women also have a greater sense of corporate social responsibility than male entrepreneurs because women are not always trying to compete to unnecessarily to out-do one another in the stakes. You will also find that women do not take unnecessary risks, which are counter-productive to the business or society just so they can prove a point. Studies have demonstrated that women’s improved economic status produces many positive economic and welfare outcomes for children, families, and societies.
Evidence has also shown that women’s ability to access income, technology and paid work improves their children’s welfare more than men’s access to similar resources. Studies have also shown that increases in household income controlled by women, correlates with a boost in children’s nutrition and survival. You will, therefore, find that a mother’s social and economic status is considered one of the best indicators of whether her children will complete their education and enjoy poverty-free and healthy adult life.
It is also globally evident that children whose mothers enjoy higher earning potential and have a high level of education do go on to achieve higher education than those children whose mothers have an inferior level of education. Because of their generosity of spirit, women’s economic advancement promotes overall economic growth for the whole society. This is evidenced by the fact that those countries around the world that have a higher number of women participating in the labor market also enjoy greater poverty reduction.
I believe we will need to think in terms of a Global Community that is where our true growth in our lives, communities, and our future lies. Do you think the ideas of what a global community is really changing?
The idea that we are different and separate from other people around the globe has caused the world to venture into unnecessary wars, which have led to the world suffering all kinds of setbacks including the economic recession, adverse climate change, hunger, poverty, conflict, social and gender inequalities, etc.
We now live in a globalized world where all the people of the world, or rather the entire human community around the globe is closely connected by modern technology, with the whole wide world being economical, socially, and politically interdependent. It would, therefore, be great if we can create a genuine global community and move from mere interdependence to integration, move to a community that has shared responsibilities, shared benefits and shared values to instill the spirit of oneness and become a truly global community. As a global community, we need to embrace the spirit of Ubuntu.
This is a traditional African philosophy that offers us an understanding of ourselves in relation to the world. In the philosophy of Ubuntu, we believe that “a person is a person through other persons” and that there exists a common bond between us all and it is through this bond, through our interaction with our fellow human beings, that we discover our own human qualities. In Ubuntu, we also believe that the “suffering of others is our own suffering”. This philosophy of Ubuntu confirms the effects of globalization, which have shown that whatever happens in one part of the world, be it in the USA or Iraq for example, has an important impact on the rest of the world. Likewise, whatever happens in any other part of the world has a huge impact on the USA and Iraq.
This has been demonstrated by the of Wall Street crash of 2008 whose repercussions were felt right across the globe. The ongoing wars around the world not only affect the countries in which the war is being fought, but the suffering and repercussions of war always spread right through the entire globe resulting in the exodus of refugees, increased hunger and poverty levels due to the global economic downturn as a result of the money spent on the war in addition to unnecessary deaths, as well as human and economic costs on both sides. Ubuntu speaks of the fact that my humanity is inextricably bound up in each one of us.
And in war, unnecessary deaths are experienced on both the side of the victor as well as that of the vanquished. Ubuntu teaches us wholeness and compassion and provides a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that we belong to a greater whole. In the philosophy of Ubuntu, the idea of a global community is one of the building blocks of society and is the nebulous concept of common humanity and oneness – “I am because you are!”
Has Technology helped to empower the roles of women in business and in their community? And how?
I believe that as an engine for economic growth, technology has unlocked women’s economic opportunities. In recent years, the benefits of modern technology have helped to advance women economically by increasing women’s productivity and helping them to create new entrepreneurial ventures and to access new income-generating pursuits. Empowering women and improving the efficiency of women’s work is critical to reducing poverty. Technology has also helped to narrow the skills gap and this has helped to tackle the feminization of poverty, where women bear a disproportionately huge burden of poverty on a global scale.
This, in most cases, arises due to a woman being a single parent – either as an unmarried mother, a widow or a divorcee. As such, women around the world often find themselves juggling between work and childcare and singlehandedly having to feed extra mouths with very little resources. Due to technological advancements, numerous technological innovations including computers, mobile phones, and alternative energies have been introduced in homes and workplaces and this has changed the way women live, how women work, and what women are able to do.
Technology has been very beneficial to women entrepreneurs around the world, most of whom are SMEs and micro business owners who work on homemade textile, furniture, food items, fashion design, and jewelry. Because of technological breakthroughs, most women can now work from home and still be able to effectively raise a family while working and earning an income in the comfort of their own homes.
Furthermore, technology has enabled women around the world to increase their resources and economic opportunities. It has strengthened women’s ability to compete in market economies and enabled them to be more successful economic actors, stronger leaders, and greater contributors to their families, communities, and the global economy.
How can we encourage women to STAY in technology? And should we?
It is evident that the potential to advance women economically may be the most exciting transformative feature of technology. Technology defines our era and is essential to women’s economic advancement. The global economy and its accompanying rapid technological innovations create a tremendous opportunity to bridge the gender and technology divide to leverage the benefits of technology and propel the economic advancements of women around the world.
Technology has led to new discoveries, innovations and new ways of doing things, which has, in turn, helped women to increase their incomes to help close the poverty and gender gap. As earlier indicated, one of the important requirements to empower women is the fast tracking of skills development and knowledge transfer.
Due to technological advancements, both emerging markets and the developed world have been creating opportunities for women in the social, economic and political arena. In order to compete and contribute effectively, women need to advance their careers through top-notch training in new technologies and leadership development. By lacking access to critical information and professional opportunities, women would miss out on possibilities to increase their productivity and strengthen their economic participation.
It is, therefore, critical that women should not be deprived of the basic benefits of technology, which provides efficient household energy for cooking, heating, and lighting, as well as for home-based agricultural and industrial activities. Information and communication technologies, which include mobile phones, computers with internet connections, and social media have allowed women around the world to develop new careers. The effects of globalization’s, such as the ease of travel and ease of communication through technological advancements have made it possible for women to reach for the stars!
In what tangible ways can we inspire change in women?
As women, we already have what we need to inspire change in one another. All we have to do is to simply uncover what we already have. We need to change our behavior and attitudes by unlearning the traditional mindsets and social conditioning that has held us back. Apart from unlearning the traditional mindsets and social conditioning, as women leaders, we need to empower our fellow women to continuously improve and push the limits that have been placed on women’s full participation in the political, economic and social spheres. I believe as women, we need to be creative and pro-active in our quest to attain the much desired and very elusive equality for women, an equality which we have been fighting for, for over 200 years.
To attain women’s equality, I believe we need take stock and look at those factors that have held us back. We need to empower one another as women to find out how much strength and power of conviction there is among us. To dare the difference and close the gender gap, it is important to empower ourselves so that women and girls can become effective and influential players in a future global agenda in business, politics, society and the environment.
To do this, women and girls need to be equipped with the necessary leadership skills that are required for women to dare the difference and to close the gender gap. As earlier stated, we now live in a borderless world where it is easy for each one of us to cross boundaries with both emerging markets and the developed world creating opportunities for women in the social, economic and political arena.
In what ways can we engage and connect with women around the world?
We now live in a globalized world. With the effects of globalization and technological advancements which bring ease of travel and ease of communication at our disposal, we literally live in a borderless world where it is easy for each one of us to cross boundaries, sometimes without even leaving our homes! We need to seize the opportunities of a borderless world to create global networks of women movers and shakers that stretch from one end of the world to the other.
Through technology and the media, it is possible to leverage women’s groups around the world to challenge cultural norms as regards the value of women and girls to humanity. Through the abundantly available information and communication technologies, we can connect with women around the world and engage them in raising awareness of the transformative power of women. Information and communication technologies also provide us the opportunity to engage, celebrate, educate and empower women around the world.
One critical tool in helping the positive portrayal of women is the role of the media. The role of the media in shaping the perceptions and treatment of women and girls in society cannot be overemphasized because the media can have a major impact on how women are perceived, valued and treated in society. Through media reports, women’s abilities to contribute to society and their causes can be brought to the fore of global consciousness to raise awareness and to sensitize communities around the world to the true and positive value of women’s full participation in social, economic and political decision-making.
New technologies make it easy to connect, engage and inspire women into action in local communities around the world and to attract women’s voices and talents to create a global coalition that links a cross-section of women in leadership in order to accelerate the women’s fight for gender equality and women’s rights. Technology provides us with the opportunity to form powerful global networks of women and girls around the world and to engage women and girls through interactive television, mobile phones, and social media.
I think it is important to embrace our cultures and educate ourselves about our own ancestors and respect the culture of other individuals. As an African woman, why do you think it is important for African-Americans to invest in the Motherland?
I believe reconnecting with Africa will be beneficial for both the African-Americans as well as for the Motherland itself. After all, Africa is the only real home that African-Americans have! When you look at the world today, you will find that most groups of people that are very confident in themselves are those that are proud of their distinct identity, are proud of their history, proud of who they are and proud of where they come from. These groups also have a strong connection with their roots and a continuous connection with their countries of origin.
You will also find that those countries that are very wealthy and prosperous in the world have a strong Diaspora that continuously contributes to the social, political and economic development of their countries of origin. I believe African-Americans need to take a leaf from the Israeli Jews. Despite being scattered all over the world, Israeli Jews maintain a strong connection with their Motherland by continuously participating in the social, political and economic development of Israel. As a result, you will realize that there is a strong Israel lobby in American politics, and also at the United Nations that protects the interests of Israel and its people scattered around the globe.
Another strong country with a proud, confident people who have a strong connection with their own identity and country of origin is China. The Chinese always retain their Chinese identity, and they always keep a strong connection to China regardless of which part of the world they may live in. And so do the Asian Indians from India. In addition to all the precious stones, mineral wealth, fertile arable land and various other raw materials, one other major resource that Africa can boast of are its Diaspora.
I believe that as the African Diaspora, African-Americans can play a key role in lifting Africa out of some of its negative equity. Harnessing and channeling the potentials of African-Americans towards the relevant social and economic development of Africa can alleviate some of the problems faced by the Motherland. In its pursuit of excellence, Africa requires a new development strategy that invests in the potential of Africa by Africans to improve governance and to achieve equitable and sustainable economic growth that would put Africa on a path to meet its developmental goals and to eradicate poverty and achieve sustainable prosperity.
Africa has enough wealth and resources to achieve this and does not need any aid to eradicate poverty. What Africa needs is its own Diaspora, such as our African-American brothers and sisters to take a renewed interest and to reconnect and invest in the Motherland. African-Americans need to take a leaf from the Israeli Jews, the Chinese and the Asian Indians. Let’s face it, just like the Israeli Jews, the Chinese and the Asian Indians, African-Americans need a place they can actually call home … and that place is Africa!
Justina, thank you again for your time.
Thank you, Celeste, for providing me with a platform in your prestigious publication to share my experiences and thoughts.
More information on Justina Mutale Visit these Links:
Photo1 – By DC Productions – with Denise O’Brien and Grace Chirwa in a Television interview with A TV of Seattle, Washington, Photo2 – By Ingrid Marn, Photo3 – Own photo – at the Voice Magazine Achievers Awards in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, Photo4 – Own photo at the Beach with Models from the Exquisite Face of the Universe International Model Search in Lagos, Nigeria, Photo5 – Own Photo – with Mambwe Kamanga and Chibwe Henry at the United Nations, New York.