Akina Mama wa Afrika (AMwA)

Feminist Leadership Development

Golie Nyirenda, Communication Specialist for Rural Livelihoods and Economic Enhancement Programme, an International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) programme
Dear Reader,

Yet again, Akina Mama wa Afrika with great pleasure shares with you the leadership Journey of another distinguished alumna of the African Women Leadership Institute (AWLI) Ms. Golie Nyirenda. Her passion and contribution towards the empowerment of women in Africa, truly demonstrates the power in transforming individuals for greater impact. Learn more from this exclusive interview with with Golie.

Who is Golie Nyirenda?
I am an experienced Communication Expert who has served in various national and regional organizations including the African Union, Norwegian Government Environment and Development Programme, and DANIDA. I currently work as a Communication Specialist for Rural Livelihoods and Economic Enhancement Programme, an International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) programme. I am a member of Malawi Media Women Association that runs programs for rural women contributing to sustainable livelihood. I also lecture in Diplomacy and International Relations in the African University of Guidance, Counseling and Youth Development. Like a true African Woman, I am a strong character, flexible, focused and accommodating of others both as a leader and otherwise.

What was your AWLI experience like? Did it have any impact on you?
I attended the AWLI in 2008 in Accra, Ghana. The AWLI has greatly impacted on my personal and professional development through the years. Before I attended the AWLI, I was shy, not confident and had a low self-esteem but since then, the way I present myself changed. I can address multitudes of people, I developed confidence and I am even able to teach post graduate classes because of the confidence I acquired through this training. It helped me to believe in myself and appreciate that there is something in me.
Socially, it helped me appreciate diversity, leave in harmony and appreciate the way others live; an aspect that has enabled me to successfully work with multinational entities like UNHCR and African Union among others. I vividly recall one of the presentations during the AWLI that highlighted how we can personally develop and excel in our professional development. It emphasized time for self and time for career which allows one to work and produce results. And as a result I have time for my personal issues like taking care of my family, strategizing how I can personally and professionally develop, preparing presentations, and excelling at my work on a day to day basis, “… that which puts bread and butter on my table…”. I am not a person who does one thing at a time and so I make sure I strategize on how I can personally develop.

How are the Malawi women organizing themselves to engage in different platforms and discourses happening on the African continent and beyond?
There are many African women who are at the forefront of driving the women’s agenda on the African continent and the Malawi women have been and are part of this movement. There are many women’s organizations in Malawi that are actively engaged in the struggle for gender equality in Malawi and beyond. For instance we have done a lot of advocacy and encouraged women participation in politics. We have worked to ensure that women are prioritized for political opportunities e.g. if women are interested in politics but don’t have the resources, we come in and help because we are aware that once you empower a woman, you are empowering the country.
We had a female Vice President then Former President of Malawi Joyce Banda, who was and still is an activist and has done a lot for the women’s movement. She was identified as a leader who can lead women and was the president of Nation Association of Business Women (NABW) who encouraged women to be self reliant, do small businesses and also still speaks for women empowerment especially in politics, about safe motherhood and maternal health.

Kindly share with us any reflections on Joyce Banda’s candidature for presidency
When Banda contested for presidency, most African women were excited to have a second African woman president and women across Africa pledged and supported her. Though she did not get elected, women organizations locally did support her but the only challenge was the lack of well-established local structures that could support her. The grassroots women I can say rendered her the technical support but probably not the vote support because they didn’t have confidence in her leadership. This was largely influenced by social cultural norms and beliefs that do not value women and their ability to lead. They did not believe that a woman can and should become their leader by virtue of our society being patriarchal.

How far has Malawi progressed in terms of implementing Sustainable Development Goals?
The government launched the SDGs though domesticating the goals is still a challenge. Given that many communities were not well versed with the MDGs, it is critical that a lot more work is done. We have not reached out to sensitize the masses and the communities on the SDGs to be able to hold our leaders accountable to their commitments. Engagements with the media and other stakeholders on SDGs have not happened yet. I think it will be useful for us as a country to learn from other country’s experiences during the review process to enable us borrow best practices and accelerate the implementation of the agenda.

What strategies can women’s rights organizations employ to counter the challenge of reduced funding for women’s rights?
I think it’s unfair and harsh to women rights organizations to work without resources given the critical nature of the work they do but generally organizations have to start planning for exit strategies and sustainability measures because financial support from donors cannot be forever and a time will come when it will surely stop. Apart from donor money, they should also look at the locally available resources, network with other organizations; develop relationships with other private companies depending on the projects they are engaged in.

What is your take on women’s access, ownership and control of land in Malawi?

Malawi is both a patrilineal and matrilineal society i.e. Patrilineal, where the man is head of household and dominates is in the Northern region and Matrilineal practiced in the Central and Southern regions of the country where by one belongs to mother’s side and women are the heads of families. There is now a campaign advocating for land ownership by women. Women rights organizations are trying to encourage women to process land titles so that women can claim ownership of their land for instance a woman can sue land grabbers because she legally holds the land title. It is unfortunate that currently, agricultural land is being owned by male farmers, yet women contribute most to the utilization of this land.

Would you recommend your daughter to undertake the AWLI?
Yes, I would recommend my daughter including other people to undertake the AWLI because, I have benefited from it ,for instance I am able to fight and get what I want in life. I am persistent, I don’t abandon a project because once I start on something, I have to complete it. Before I start, I look at my strengths, weaknesses, I plan with the resources I have and this helps me to attain the objective of a particular project. I consider the capacity I possess; I strategize because there will always be resistance but depending on the strategies you employ, winning is possible.

Feminism has been viewed as a foreign concept by many; do you consider yourself a feminist?
Yes, I consider myself a feminist because I support women and I enjoy doing this. I have worked with rural communities both in peaceful and war torn areas; I want to see women empowered, know that they can do something for themselves and climb to another level.

If you were to paint a picture of your “foot prints” in life how do they look like?
At a personal level it would depict my contribution to my siblings’ education when my father was not in position to support their education. At a community level it would entail the establishment of community radio listening clubs in rural areas in Malawi where we empower women on how to identify problems they face in society and link them to organisations and/ or individuals that are able to support them in solving their challenges.