by Esther Kamaara

To give justice to the African female reality would mean intricately picking out attributes and attitudes of the 690 million females who experience girlhood and womanhood in Africa. Their reality (mine included) is complex. It is influenced by a plethora of things such as the circumstances of their conception, the environment they were born into, the siblings they grew up with, the roles they played as female children in their homes, the schools they attended or did not attend, the men they interacted with and the ones they did not interact with etc. This complex reality weaved by the lived experiences of African women is what informs the ‘African female gaze’ – an aspect deemed an asset to any sustainable development conversation on the continent. This gaze stands at the core of the Female Academic Leadership Network for Conscious Engineering and Science towards Sustainable Urbanisation in Africa (FALCONESS).

Consequently, the conversation on the African female reality was the first conversation to be had by the 90% female team at the FACONESS workshop and it set the tone for the week. The conversation kicked off by reflecting on a famous song that promotes the African woman’s qualities called African Queen by a Nigerian Artist named 2Face Idibia.

Just like the sun, lights up the earth, you light up my life

The only one, I’ve ever seen with a smile so bright

And just yesterday, you came around my way

And changed my whole scenery with your astonishing beauty…

You are my African Queen, the girl of my dreams

And you remind me of a thing

And that is the African beauty….

This led us to listing the qualities of African Queens from the perspective of those in the room.

These included: hardworking, the backbone and rock in their families, being respectful to a fault – where it fails to serve them, unconditionally loving, deeply dedicated, resourceful, accommodating, prayerful, adaptable, great teachers, open minded, incredibly resilient, TOO MUCH (it is difficult to effectively describe in words what this means, however my feeble attempt would be – they embody many assertive attributes), straight forward, visionary, strong and trustworthy.

Nonetheless, despite the great attributes that African women embody they are persistently faced with barriers in pursuit of excellence – especially in the STEM male dominated field. The FALCONESS team discussed these barriers which some of the team members have and continue to experience to date. The discussed barriers included: abusive relationships, financial constraints, imposter syndrome, bad marriages, the pressure to get married, work/life balance, prejudice, cultural challenges, sexual harassment in the workplace, self- obstruction caused by growing up in a patriarchal society, being perceived as a troublemaker or being loud upon standing up for oneself and lacking mental and emotional support.

Fortunately, the team has built resilience over the years, had tips to share on how to successfully manoeuvre some of these unfortunate realities.

Figure 1: Strategies on how to manoeuvre unfortunate realities.

The understanding of these realities both constructive and destructive as well as the tips to overcome barriers is fundamental for the success of any sustainable development practice in Africa. While the team comprised of African women from seven African countries who represented all Sub-Saharan regions, we as the FALCONESS team are alert to the stark divergences in the realities of women across the continent and by no means claim to consider them all. Nonetheless, the Leadership Network adheres to practice consciousness in this regard.