Akili Dada and Women’s Leadership: Lessons from Mandela

Akili Dada is an international award-winning leadership incubator nurturing a generation of young African women from underprivileged backgrounds whose commitment to the underserved is transforming their communities. Akili Dada’s development curriculum creates the foundation on which young women ages 13-35 build their skills and earn the essential qualifications they need to access key decision-making roles and leadership positions.

Last month, we lost Nelson Mandela, one of the greatest leaders in history. As individuals and as a global community, we have felt the loss intensely. In the wake of Mandela’s passing, we have been searching for ways to continue his legacy. At Akili Dada, we have distilled three key lessons from his life that we are committed to take and carry forward in our work of nurturing the next generation of African women leaders:

1. Commitment to the long-term vision is essential.

Even in the 26th year of his imprisonment, Mandela kept his eyes on the prize. At Akili Dada we look at a 13-year-old girl and, with her, create a vision of her future long past the 27th year. We are a leadership incubator because we are committed to standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the world’s future leaders who may have been overlooked, and walking the long journey with them. It’s what Mandela taught us.

2. Transnational solidarity is necessary in creating paradigmatic shifts.

By recognizing the important role of international activism (such as the divestment campaigns) and coalition building across national borders, Mandela showed us the value of an inclusive movement that pairs firm assertion with courageous patience. While Akili Dada works in Kenya, we recognize the need to build and nurture transnational support for our mission. Not only do we need to empower young African women as agents of change, we must also fight for the global space in which they will thrive. We need a world that recognizes, appreciates and welcomes young women’s leadership. Regardless of where on our planet you sit as you read this, if you believe that young women from poor communities hold solutions to some of the most pressing problems facing their communities, we need your support.

3. Women are central to achieving social justice.

From the Defiance Campaign to every day acts of courage, women have, and continue to play a critical role in the dismantling of Apartheid. Akili Dada exists because we know that the African continent cannot afford to continue under-investing in, and under-utilizing 50% of its human resources. We are nurturing young women who are equipped and committed to continuing the struggle for social justice, starting in their home communities, and throughout Africa and the world.

As we lose great African leaders like Nelson Mandela and Wangari Maathai, there is a growing urgency to build the capacity of the next generation to lead. Through Akili Dada we are continuing to live and breathe Mandela’s legacy for the African continent and for the world.

Click here to meet Akili Dada scholar-leader, Josephine, and learn more about Akili Dada in this short video

Inextricable and Inevitable: Gender, Climate Change, Health

Preparations for, and responses to, climate change need to be sensitive to gender dimensions of health care (including mental) and health-seeking behaviours.

2011 WHO Report on Gender, Climate Change, and Health 

While much of the media coverage surrounding global climate change is centered on the geographical devastations that are likely to result from such catastrophe, the 2011 WHO Report on “Gender, Cimate Change, and Health” spotlights the consequences of global climate change on a social level. According to the report, women and men are apt to suffer varying consequences based on their social role, status, and physical/behavioral capacities.

Many of the ramifications that are associated with climate change show “gender differentials” that include gender differences in physiological, behavioral, and socially constructed health risks and the vulnerability to long-term effects of such hazards.

For example,

  • Despite disasters entailing negative consequences for all victims involved, more women than men are killed in these catastrophes or women are killed at a younger age. These statistics are strongest in countries where women have low social, political, and economic status in comparison to men.
  • While life expectancy for women is generally higher than men, studies have shown that natural disasters lower the life expectancy of women more so than men – narrowing the gap in life expectancy among women and men.

Natural disasters have entailed consequences particularly detrimental towards women.

  • In a 1991 cyclone disaster in Bangladesh, 90% of the 140,000 victims were women. (Aguilar, 2004). Similarly, in May 2008, a cyclone in Myanmar killed 130,000 victims, of which 61% were women (Care Canada, 2010).
  • In 1993, statistics of deaths during a severe flash flood in Nepal estimated that 13.3 per 1000 girls aged 2-9 years were killed compared to 9.4 per 1000 boys aged 2-9 years. (WHO) According to the WHO, such statistics are proof of gender-discriminatory practices akin to the area in which “boys are more often the beneficiaries when hard choices must be made for the allocation of resources such as rescue attempts, distribution of food, and medical attention”


How can we combat the gender gap in natural disaster fatalities?

Equity and social justice cannot be achieved without recognizing the differences in vulnerability and strengths of women and men, and the various factors that contribute to this vulnerability.

Strategies that acknowledge gender differences and particular strengths have the ability to not only increase the survival rate of women, but of all those afflicted by natural disasters caused by climate change.  By involving women in the disaster preparation process and enabling equal participation in the management of resources and disaster preventive strategies, such interventions can benefit men and women.

For example, in 1998 in a municipality in Honduras called La Masica with a population of 336 people, emergency disaster preparation strategies established 6 months before the anticipated hurricane included women’s participation in all relief operations including rescue missions, local infrastructure rehabilitation, and food distribution. In preparation, a local disaster agency conducted gender-sensitive lectures on hazard management activities. Moreover, women were given the responsibility of monitoring the early warning system,  a task usually set aside for men. As a result, no deaths were reported after the hurricane.

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In the face of disaster, allowing women to have an integral role in the disaster preparation process will enable united communities to prepare and ensure the welfare and well-being of each other. 


CARE Canada 2010 Cyclone Nargis: Myanmar two years later Ottawa, CARE Canada (http://care ca/main/index php?en&cyclonenargis) 

Aguilar L Climate change and disaster mitigation Gland, International Union for Conservation of Nature, 2004 (http://www genderandenvironment org/admin/admin_biblioteca/documentos/Climate pdf ) 

Images courtesy of WUN and the UN’s WomenWatch.