EDUCATION TRANSFORMS WOMEN INTO INSPIRATIONAL LEADERS

As a young girl growing up in Apartheid South Africa, one of the most significant gifts my parents bestowed on me was an understanding of the magnitude of education and the value of hard work. Since then, this immeasurable insight has been the guiding light by which I have navigated my way through my life and career.

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While I have never once lost sight of the immense value of lifelong learning as a door opener for all individuals, I was recently reminded of just how significant education is for women. While conducting research for my doctoral thesis, which I later converted to the book, ‘Equal but Different’, I had the privilege of spending time with some of the most successful women from South Africa and North America—all leaders in their fields and all with a shared history of having to overcome significant race, gender and social obstacles en route to realising the accomplishments they have achieved.

While each of the career and life journeys of the 20 inspirational female leaders has been unique, the weight of education shone through as one of the most prominent common denominators. This insight not only offers one of the many valuable lessons that we all need to learn from these leading women but it also serves as an affirmation for me of the value and importance of the work my husband, Sizwe, and I are currently undertaking through striving to make quality education accessible through Future Nation Schools.

Future Nation Schools strive to provide the skills needed for success. Ethical leadership, critical thinking, coding, African studies and entrepreneurship are integrated as key aspects of the schools’ curriculum. The curriculum is learner-centred and is positioned to prepare children for the Fourth Industrial Revolution and the quick pace of change. We believe that these components are the cornerstone on which the future of education must be built in Africa if it is to realise its full potential to change the future of the continent and its people, especially its women. While Future Nation Schools offer world-class quality education for both girls and boys, research has shown globally that women have to be more qualified and work for longer periods before they are recognised for the same leadership positions as men.

Research has also shown that communities that have empowered women through education tend to have better health and economic outcomes. The McKinsey Global Institute 2015 report stated that women’s equality can add US$12 trillion to global growth. Women’s empowerment is for the benefit of humankind. Accessible quality education holds the key to the creation of the next generation of ethical ‘’servant’’ leaders and role models that will make Africa competitive.

Women have shown, in different parts of the world, their will to empower themselves through education. The majority of enrolled students and graduates at bachelors and honours levels are women at about 60% (61% undergraduates, 64% postgraduates below Masters Level). Even when it comes to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) subjects, the numbers have improved over the past 10 to 15 years. The area, which lags the most is in engineering subjects where women only account for 28%. It is my submission that women are doing their part in striving towards equity and leadership in different sectors of the economy.

The onus ultimately rests on the leaders of Africa to fully embrace gender transformation in all sectors, especially society and business. The South African government, through progressive policies, has influenced the positive changes that we have witnessed over the past 23 years, though more can be done. According to Dorothy Ngila of The National Research Foundation, “Our academy in South Africa is actually in the top ten of all academies of the world, having higher numbers of women represented at 24%; it is only followed by Uganda, which is 13%, Ghana and Cameroon, which are 11%, everyone else is below 10% of the 10 academies we looked at on the African continent.” Ngila says South Africa is doing well because of the policies the government put in place.

I can confidently say that I owe everything I am today to the support I received from my parents, my husband and family in my pursuit for continued learning. It has given me the means to rise above the gender, race and social class inequalities and injustices that sadly still afflict so many areas of South African society. Gender equality will be obtained through the collaboration between key stakeholders, namely leadership in civil society, the government and business, through a conscious effort to eradicate prejudice, through supporting and empowering women and through equitable recognition of women’s contribution to all sectors of the economy.

Women have embraced and continue to embrace education. Whenever they are given an opportunity and support, they thrive. Quality education for all and inclusive ethical leadership will unlock the continent’s full potential.

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