What does success mean for women in Africa?

Over the last few weeks, Nigerians have taken to Twitter to discuss what it meant to be a woman in Nigeria. The conversation highlighted the various issues women in Nigeria face on a daily basis, including prejudice, stereotypes and having to prove themselves. The tweets ranged from the morbidly horrifying to the questionably unfair. Nigerian women it seems have it hard, but the truth be told women all over the world have it hard.

Often we talk about the way African women are treated in life and in business, we discuss how African women are not moving forward at the same pace as the rest of the world. We examine culture and traditional ways of thinking and these things have hindered women on the continent. We see it everyday — all a woman has to do is breathe online these days and someone will stand up tell her she is out of line. What are we doing to stop it though?

I was playing on YouTube (as one does), and I found a video that eloquently discusses what success means for women in Nigeria and I think it can be expanded to Africa. This video was published by Access Bank in Nigeria as part of its W Initiative. The video seems to be a Nigerian campaign about women and how to define success for an African audience, I obviously I like the concept.

“The W Initiative is the home of everything Access Bank has to offer women. ‘W’ speaks to the strength that every woman around the world carries. It is about women, the Nigerian women and women around the world,” the bank writes on the initiative’s site. “This new approach to banking women provides banking solutions to meet the unique financial and lifestyle needs of women across distinct sub segments whether it’s a young professional, a Woman with a Family or a Woman in Business.”

The initiative is about making banking inclusive. That might seem trivial and commonplace to most but this is critical — especially for female entrepreneurs. In an effort to expand on this, the bank has created an awards series to honor women who are doing incredible things. Though it seems they began with a misstep in terms of what makes a woman extraordinary. I am not going rehash that but you can read all about it here. It does seem the bank has learnt from its mistake and decided on a different direction to engage women.

Women in Africa suffer every day at the hand of institutionalised sexism and worse; when you are told “no” enough, you start to accept it. Empowerment shouldn’t just be a word and right now it feels like just a word. Women should be able to find themselves in others, people who inspire them. Women should feel confident enough to negotiate salaries, apply for challenging roles and promotions. Women should not be governed by archaic societal preconception.

What I am interested in is what this award series could be and how this video made me feel as an African woman who is navigating the world of what success is and how to be in a world where success is challenged. Whether we like to admit it or not, for women it is hard to break the glass ceiling. Entrepreneurship is already difficult enough, but for women these pursuits are doubly hard. Getting banks and investors to trust that you know what you are doing, is often tough.

Men have been blessed with their ‘boys club’ and a treasure trove of mentors who will guide them through their careers if they only ask. There are not enough women in the business for us to build that club of mentors, or are there? I think there are, I think there are tons of women out there doing extraordinary things building great business and breaking down barriers, if only some will recognise them. This is what the awards series should be.

According to the awards site:

The W Awards is positioned to recognize and celebrate Nigerian women who defy all odds to stand out successfully; highlighting the important contribution that women are making in the Nigerian emerging economy. We are looking for women across four categories who, through their achievements and contribution, have had an impact within their relevant category.

Young African women need role models to tell them that is okay to dream big, that just because someone says you can’t doesn’t mean you shouldn’t. As Africa comes online and its people experience what the world of technology has to offer, its women will have to take their place as technologists, engineers, doctors and entrepreneurs. A campaign like this, for me, asks a number of questions: do we recognise the women who are moving the needle, the women paving the way for young girls to think of tech and entrepreneurship as commonplace?

What is success? What does it mean for women? Should it mean anything different for women than it means for men? There is no need for differing definition of what success means for women in business and in the work place. Before we can achieve true equality we must admit there is an unbalance that needs to be fixed. The terrifying lines of gender based discrimination need to be erased and a new slate of gender operation must be addressed.

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