On Wednesday, CNN Africa and the British Deputy High Commission in Nigeria hosted an amazing night of networking and discussion on what it means to be an African woman today.
On the panel was Lola Shoneyin, author and director of Ake Arts & Book Festival; Betty Irabor, Publisher of Genevieve magazine and mental health campaigner; Hadiza Bala Usman, managing director of Nigerian Ports Authority; Ambassador Yvonne Khamati, a Kenyan diplomat and politician; Doreen Nwoke, a model, feminist and activist.
The discussion was moderated by Stephanie Busari, who heads CNN’s multiplatform bureau for Nigeria and edits CNN Africa digital.
It was a powerful and exciting time as the women shared some of their life lessons, overcoming stereotypes, taking bold risks and so much more. They tackled a range of issues concerning African women such as love and relationships, career and feminism.
Here are 4 lessons I learned:
Being a leading and successful woman in business takes a lot of work, and sometimes it comes at a cost!
For Betty Irabor, it almost cost her her mental health as she dealt with and overcame depression, while for Yvonne Khamati, it was her first marriage as she dealt with her man who did not support her growth as a political changemaker. While there may be sacrifices along the way, these women showed me how you can overcome obstacles, own your mistakes and keep pushing forward till you achieve your dreams. The price of success for women is high and women need to have a great support system to make an impact.
There is no box!
A lot of times, leading and successful women get asked how they have been able to “break out of the box” to get to the heights they have attained in their careers. Here’s a twist, it’s not about breaking out of a box, it’s about the fact that there should be no box, period. Lola Shoneyin passionately explained how society has helped to skew the narrative that women should be breaking out of boxes when it is also perfectly okay to remain in this imaginary box if that’s what the woman wants. Every woman is different and should be treated as such.
Use their doubt to fuel your journey!
Hadiza Bala Usman spoke about her rise to being the managing director of the Nigerian Ports Authority. She was the first female, and also considered one of the youngest people in her workforce of over 3000 employees. There was a lot of doubt when she started and she simply used that to fuel her journey. For people who said she was too young, she chose to believe that meant she’d be more open to new ideas on how to improve her industry. For people who said she had no maritime experience prior to getting the job, she chose to believe that meant she had a fresh perspective of the job with no ties to anyone who might wish to gain favors. She heard the doubts, but she chose to use that to fuel her journey and not affect her confidence.
You have to let your voice be heard!
Doreen Nwoke explained how important it is to amplify your voice, using whatever platform you have. She spoke about how online conversations can make a change and why it is necessary to always champion what you believe in, especially as a feminist.
Here’s one last thing I learned: With all the pressures imposed on African women by society, the panelists agreed that there’s no need waiting for society to come to women’s rescue, women have to go all out and win.
See more photos from the evening below.