It is quite soothing to know that the era of women struggling for recognition is waning in Africa, especially with the the likes of Nigerian-born Elisha Attai. The founder of African Women in Leadership Organisation, AWLO, Elisha vehemently believes Africa’s hope for advancement can only be achieved when its women are embraced as partners in progress.
Hence, he has since 2009 devoted his life to positioning African women through his annual AWLO conference whose 2010 edition hosted in Nigeria planted the seed for Women for Change Initiative. This year’s edition slated for August in Atlanta is holding in partnership with American female parliamentarians. In this interview, Elisha who is the CEO of Studio 115 Integrated Services, an international media consulting firm, tells us more.
BY JOSEPHINE IGBINOVIA
Other men try hard to convince women that it’s a man’s world; why are you mobilising women for leadership in Africa?
I was consulting for Ghana High Commission and we had issues way back in 2008 when some Ghanaians started feeling bad about Nigerian businesses killing their own businesses in Ghana. Though we tried to cover up the protest by managing the publicity, some young Ghanaians started maiming Nigerians in Ghana.
We began to look for solution and I suggested the need to bring together women parliamentarians from Nigeria and Ghana under one platform, to restore peace. That conference held in 2009 in Accra and at the the end, that crisis cooled-off. It dawned on me that there was need for more platforms for women to come together to move Africa forward because I have so much belief in the ability of women. Sadly, over the years, womenfolk have not really had sustainable platforms for mentoring.
How did you go beyond Nigeria and Ghana?
Women from Guinea heard about the conference and approached us, advising that the conference be made a West-African. That way, we started West-African Women in Leadership Organisation in 2010. That conference held in Abuja and was chaired by Dame Patience Jonathan.
It was a successful gathering of women leaders from across West-Africa. The United Nations also came as observers. It was after the conference that they approached us and recommended that we made the conference Africa, instead of West-Africa. So, from 2011, African Women in Leadership Conference, AWLC, began, which signified that we’re going global. Now, we’re taking AWLC to the US.
I thought your focus was on Africa; what’s your business with the US?
We’re going global because from 2011, Senator Donzella James, our host for this year in Atlanta, started having interest in what we’re doing. She suggested partnership and that partnership will also benefit African women leaders resident in America and desire platforms for interacting with other women leaders from Africa to canvass the way forward for the continent.
The Council of Female Senators volunteered to host us in Atlanta and that’s why AWLC 2014 is being taken there. It’s holding from the 20th to 23rd of August with the theme ‘Harnessing our strengths: Growing in all spheres’. We’re also using this opportunity to inaugurate the US Chapter of AWLO.
Five years into this annual conference, what impact would you say it has had on African women?
Let me start with Nigeria. Before AWLC in 2010, we had very few women in leadership positions. It was our 2010 conference that gave birth to the Women for Change Initiative you now hear of, whose agenda is to have more women in decision-making positions. That was the work of my coordinator, Chidimma, and the First Lady, Dame Patience Jonathan.
Women are gradually understanding that we’re not in a man’s world. In 2011, Ghana’s parliament was filled up with women and in fact, they got a female Speaker. The impact of this conference has been enormous in all the countries whose women have been part of it.Today, I’m proud because I’ve seen AWLO grown from strength to strength and I’m seeing women come out of their shells. I believe women have so much to offer.
What gains await African women from this partnership with the United States women parliamentarians?
They’ve gone through what African women are passing through and they’ve come out victorious. How did they get there? The whole essence of this year’s conference is to find answers to that question. The AWLC and the State Senate of Atlanta, Georgia, is bringing African women achievers together, to rub minds, share ideas, learn and take critical steps forward in relation to personal, social and community development.
The Special Guest of Honour is the wife of the US President, Michelle Obama. By coming together to hone vital leadership competencies and achieve new levels of confidence and success, African women will continue to act, grow and lead in the 21st century.
We’re going to have a lot of sessions and speakers from Africa, America, and other countries, including the Caribbean. Almas Jiwani, President at the United Nations Women NC Canada, will be the Keynote Speaker. It’s a good platform that will definitely transform the continent.
This year, we are also introducing what we call the Youth Session for young people aspiring to be like these successful women. We also believe women can play a huge role in achieving peace in the continent. So, the conference is making peace-building in Africa one of its major focus this time.