Africa is proud of Okonjo-Iweala and Harris but is the society ready for what their careers demand?

When women break free of gender and social restrictions to attain lofty positions in their careers, they easily become societal jewels but it remains to be seen whether the typical African society is ready for a flux of such women.

Kamala Harris’ place in history is already assured. The results of the last presidential polls in the United States meant that the California-born will be the first black American (woman), first Asian-American and the first woman to occupy the second highest political office in the country. She is indeed a woman of many firsts after becoming the first female District Attorney of San Francisco, the first female Attorney General of California and the first Indian American in the US Senate.

These ‘firsts’ are a product of a career which commenced in 1990. That’s a 30-year period. And it wasn’t until six years ago before she settled down with Douglas Emhoff, at the age of 50. Such a career devoted person does not fit the peg of a (house)wife. Those responsibilities have been sacrificed for a career which has now culminated in the US Vice-Presidency – the very first of her kind and the envy of many. 

If Kamala Harris appears too distant culture-wise, what about Delta-born, Harvard and MIT-trained Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala? She is the favourite of many across the globe to land the apex seat of the World Trade Organisation (WTO). Madam Ngozi is the archetype of an African career woman. She spent 25 years at the World Bank, rising to become the Managing Director. She also served as a two-time Minister of Finance. 

Such an exquisite portfolio may not accommodate washing the kids’ clothes every evening, ensure dinner is ready for daddy and the rest of the family at 7 pm and so on. She may even be unavailable for nights in a row, requiring the husband to stand in for her. As she’s 66 years old, she’s most likely travelling across the globe in pursuit of another ambition -DG of WTO.  She won’t be able to spend three months tending to a grandchild. 

And this is where the conflict occurs between being a career woman of lofty ambitions and a socio-conforming female folk. The typical Nigerian society only recognises such women when they are made, the process is often a tough one because of the existing societal confines. 

While Okonjo-Iweala and Harris are two women with African descent that have become a reference point for global success, the female stereotype of the African society will need some significant shift if it will continue to produce such African women it would be proud of.

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