A good track record and competence are some of the qualities women leaders should have

December 8th, 2021

By Kgomotso Ramotsho

The Institute for African Women in Law held a webinar on 28 October 2021 titled ‘Leadership Essentials for Women in Law’. Moderator of the webinar, University of Bradford law lecturer, Dr Pedi Obani, had a conversation with female legal practitioner leaders asking them about their personal experiences on being leaders in their different countries. She asked whether leaders were born or made. The first panellist, Managing Consultant at Apex Lawconsult and President of the Ghana Bar Association Women’s Forum, Sheila Minkah-Premo Esq, said leadership means having the ability to achieve expected goals or to provide a service, if it is a service that is required. She added that leaders need to be very disciplined and should be able to work to achieve the goals and objectives they set out for themselves. Commenting on whether leaders are born or made, she said many leaders are born with the necessary temperaments that make it easier for them to be leaders. ‘I believe that it is also possible to make leaders. It is possible for people to be mentored, to be trained and to be encouraged to become very good in this as well,’ Ms Minkah-Premo said.

Ms Minkah-Premo said that Ghana has never had a female Bar Association President, there was only one vice-president who served for two terms. She pointed out that on occasion, they have tried nominating a female president, but they have failed.

Ms Minkah-Premo pointed out that affirmative action is needed at the Ghana Bar Association, so that there can be a female president and other female leaders in that Bar. She added that having women in leadership positions is a global problem and in countries where they have women as leaders, it has taken conscious policies and programmes to ensure that women move towards their goals. She said that as a human rights advocate, she is part of an affirmative action group that is working on a coalition in governance and other aspects of life. She added that women in organisations that look out for the interest of women, should push to have women leaders in Bar associations to have a voice.

President of the Sierra Leone Bar Association, Michaela Eddinia Swallow said there are different types of leadership. Therefore, leadership cannot strictly be put under one umbrella. As to whether it is a characteristic, or whether one can be trained, depends on the various definitions of leadership. She added that some people have defined leadership as a characteristic. She gave an example, of those born into royalty, saying leadership comes to them through a bloodline. She pointed out whether one has the characteristics or whether they were born with it or not, does not matter. She said that it is a process of facilitating individual and collective efforts to achieve the shared objectives.

When asked about the position of women in leadership at the Sierra Leone Bar, Ms Swallow said that she was proud that women leadership in the legal profession in Sierra Leone did not start with her and her country has been a trailblazer, starting years ago. She pointed out that the first female Bar President in Sierra Leone was elected in 1951, which saw more women after her ascending that position. She pointed out that through the years their male counterparts in Sierra Leone have developed confidence in female leaders and over the years, women leaders have delivered competently, there is no reason for complaints. She pointed out that there is a platform for women leaders, that women need to prove themselves and let the track record of what they can do speak for themselves. She said when she entered the legal profession, she surrounded herself with women in organisations of women lawyers, where she served and learned, so when she was elected to the position of president it was not as hard, as being in those organisations boosted her confidence.

Malawian legal practitioner, Tadala Chinkwezule said a leader is able to influence and motivate people towards a certain vision. She added that regarding issues of leadership in Malawi, there are unconscious biases, that they might be thinking that a woman is not able to run a big organisation, such as a law society. She shared that she contested twice for the position of president and on both occasions, she was not elected. However, she pointed out that there is a chance that they will have a female president in the Malawi Bar Association.

President of the Uganda Law Society, Pheona Nabasa Wall, said leaders are born and are measured on the output of transformation that they have in other people’s lives, including whose who can nurture their followers and are able to replicate and create people that have the same values as them. Ms Wall said although Uganda has a strong number of women leaders in the Bar, there were talks on how women have taken over. She pointed out that one of the challenges of having women in leadership is culture and that some women get discouraged. She shared how her features were a problem for some people, and even women had said that they would not support her presidency because she did not look how they thought she should look. However, she said she remained unshaken, worked hard, and did not change her natural hair, and as time went on, she inspired other women who would commend her and tell her they want to be like her. She pointed out that in Uganda they have the strongest women lawyers’ committee who have always supported women in leaders who are in the Bar.

Another point made during the webinar, was the fact that there is sometimes a challenge when it comes to older women and younger women in the legal profession and that they do not support each other. Another point regarding women being in leadership that was made, was that women needed to be assertive and make points that will be heard. Furthermore, that women in the profession must not only rely on other women but must also rely on the confidence of males and think about what confidence they are giving to men, such as having a good track record and making sure that one is competent and the competence is seen.

Kgomotso Ramotsho Cert Journ (Boston) Cert Photography (Vega) is the news reporter at De Rebus.

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