We asked women leaders what the covid-19 pandemic and lockdown have meant for their activism. This is what the Regional Representative for Africa at Building and Woodworkers’ International, Crecentia Mofokeng, had to say about transformative leadership and women’s leadership development.
What does transformative women leadership mean to you generally, and in the context of the covid-19 pandemic?
Transformative women leadership is the willingness and the ability to holistically transform the way we look at things and do things to contribute to social change. Women are good at finding simple solutions for addressing social issues. They can also change the economic and political space in a transformative way. But, we must believe in professionalism and the collective environment. As an African woman, I am guided by the values of ‘ubuntu’ as were my ancestors. This means embracing and caring about everyone in my community. A transformative leader can influence and encourage others to accomplish set goals. This calls for respecting of different viewpoints and creating an enabling environment for both women and men in the organisation to develop.
In the trade union movement, workers own the organisations in which they are members. A transformative leader promotes collectivism and individualism and respects the values of worker control. A principled leader is a good listener who takes competing views as an opportunity to explore new ideas that can spur growth in their organisations. And we must be flexible and willing to learn and adopt innovative ways of organising and campaigning. I believe women have inherent leadership abilities and ideas. This is manifested in the way we manage our homes, the environment and society. Yet, women leaders work much harder than our male counterparts to successfully navigate the board room space. I urge women leaders to continue serving selflessly and to focus on achieving their set goals.
A leader is expected to live by example by observing the set guidelines for confronting the coronavirus pandemic. As leaders, we can promote cooperation, communication and collaboration to ensure teams follow the issued guidelines. I believe the role of the covid-19 pandemic response officers in organisations is very important for successful workplace safety. Our leadership style should be democratic now more than ever to encourage more participation in achieving covid-19 control measures.
How is the pandemic locating care work and what does this mean going forward for gender roles, stereotypes and leadership roles?
The pandemic has negatively affected care work and the economy broadly. Some of the human rights that we fought for and enjoy have been eroded, for example, the right to decide what we do, where we go and even express our viewpoints. Frontline workers are worried that they may take the virus home after mingling with the outside environment and this can heighten fear and uncertainty. The care sector is powered by women who are natural care workers by birth. But women’s propensity for care work is often used against us, making some of us devalue ourselves. Yet, there’s nothing stopping women from achieving their ambitions except for some limiting cultural upbringings. In this light, we should constantly advocate for women’s empowerment and leadership.
The pandemic has exposed the gaps in our health systems, specifically the inadequate resources for care work. The lack of enough Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) is one example of the existing knowledge and resources gap in care work in Africa. Seemingly, more money is allocated to military expenses. In women-led countries such as Norway and Sweden, quality healthcare is a top priority. These countries removed the inequality gap in health care, making services affordable and accessible to all.
This pandemic requires us to have hygienic conditions, yet this isn’t possible for everyone due to the inequality in our society. It’s time for our governments to commit to ramping up local manufacturing of goods, and for the benefit of the people. Health care workers should not have to lack PPEs because of the disarray in global supply chains. The fear of job losses due to the pandemic has affected the mental well-being of many workers. In our online meetings, women have spoken about the increasing violence and tensions in homes due to the psychological effects of job losses and lockdown measures. The care burden for women has also increased. Leaders need to advocate for and lead multi-stakeholder campaigns to push our governments to safeguard the existing jobs and to create enabling environments for supporting the emerging opportunities from this crisis.
Is COVID-19 assisting us to look at alternative leadership models?
The pandemic has made us look for alternative models of leadership to deal with life-threatening challenges in styles that aren’t militaristic, patriarchal and non-democratic. We have seen women providing leadership in their homes to ensure families are safe. In healthcare, women workers have shown leadership in providing care. Women have an opportunity to expand their wings as natural-born leaders.
The uptake of online communication tools has taken education and meetings to the virtual space. Unions are using online tools for communicating and servicing their members, and women can too. We need to continue to harness online forms of communication because they offer an opportunity to close the gap between the right to communication and access to the right audiences.
During the pandemic, I learned that women are good leaders: they can negotiate and provide support and care for the workers who are affected by the pandemic. Women’s leadership need to be recognised. Importantly, women need opportunities to exercise their leadership abilities and skills.