AFRICA has expanded significantly over the last two decades, with more and more women assuming leadership positions in different sectors.
This is despite gender equality posing huge challenges to the continent.
This new breed of African female political leaders, philanthropists, activists and many others, come in all forms, from Zambia’s new Vice President WK Mutale-Nalumango, Tanzania’s president Samia Suluhu Hassan and Egypt’s Dr Rasha Kelej of Merck Foundation.
Others are the likes of executives, such as Chileshe Kapwepwe – the secretary general of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA). The recognition of women successes in Africa has been described as an exciting time for women as they too can participate in the contributing to their countries across the regions and globally as they lead various spheres of development.
Some feminist activists have also observed that women and girls, together, have the power to shape destinies in ways previous generations could not imagine.
Together, these strong women and girls, with the support of committed men and boys, can work as one by building the resilience of their countries and communities they belong to.
Avance recognises the effort women are making in various fields in Africa.
A list of 100 Most Influential African Women 2021 was released by Avance Media Group through its empowerment project as part of ‘Be a Girl’ initiative to acknowledge their efforts and accomplishments.
Avance Media, through its girls empowerment project, launched the annual publication to highlight and celebrate the astounding accomplishments of 100 women from Africa who are also acknowledged for their effort that continues to inspire young people across the continent and beyond.
As a leading Public Relations and rating firm, Avance Media has been engaged in changing the narrative about Africans through rating and ranking publications and believes the project presents an opportunity not only to celebrate Africans but showcase the individual and collective works of women who are earnestly inspiring the next generation of leaders in Africa.
Last Year, Zambia’s Chileshe Kapwepwe, an accountant and first female to be appointed as secretary general of the Regional Economic Community (REC) in its 26 years of existence was featured on the list of 100 most influential women by Avance Media.
Ms Kapwepwe has a proven track record in leadership, business and operations management with a strong financial and commercial background, and experience in economic development, policy formulation and implementation.
Other notable women that have been part of the Avance Media awards is Graça Machel, who was on the list in 2020, as one of the world’s leading advocates for women and children’s rights and has been a social justice and political activist for many decades.
Merck Foundation president and chief executive officer Dr Rasha Kelej has been recognized for her efforts to transform patient care in Africa, breaking infertility and stigma through her “More Than a Mother” programme and her “Educating Linda” campaign that empowers girls in education so that they too can reach their potential and pursue their dreams.
This is the fourth time the Egyptian born has made it to the Avance Media list of 100 Most Influential African Women.
“This is a huge validation of my journey and my efforts to empower women of my continent, and it will certainly motivate me to work even harder and more sincerely towards my goal of transforming patient care for the people of my beloved Africa,” she said.
The Avance Media awards list of 100 Most Influential Women has a representation of the most powerful African women from 28 countries on the continent, chosen from various career backgrounds, including diplomacy, philanthropy, politics, activism, entrepreneurship, business, leadership, and entertainment.
Speaking about the accolade, Dr Kelej said she was truly honoured to be among different women who were making different contributions in Africa.
Dr Kelej, who holds a degree in Pharmacy from Alexandria University and an MBA from Robert Gordon University, Scotland, has more than 26 years of experience in the international pharmaceutical industry healthcare and social development an industry she has contributed to since 1994.
Among the works that have earned Dr Kelej the Avance award include training of more than 1,100 doctors from 42 countries across Africa, Asia, and Latin America in different fields of medical specialty through Merck Foundation, an organisation she heads as chief executive officer.
She has also partnered with 20 African first ladies who are now ambassadors of Merck Foundation More than a Mother Campaign, a programme that empowers infertile women and breaks the stigma around infertility.
Dr Kelej looks forward to expanding the footprints and work of Merck Foundation with more African first ladies who will help to realise vision of the foundation.
Using the media, art, and fashion in raising awareness about sensitive matters, such as infertility, Merck Foundation has helped to break the stigma around infertile women.
And through its flag ship programm, Merck Foundation has made history in many African countries which never had fertility specialized clinics and has since trained the first fertility specialists and embryologists.
“We would like to join hands with the media, art and fashion fraternity to break the silence, and be the voice of the voiceless and create a culture shift to break infertility stigma,” she said.
Another project that Merck Foundation has been involved in is the empowerment of girls and women through education at all levels.
Appointed as senator last year by her country Egypt, Dr Kelej describes the appointment as an important role that will add more value, which will see her advancing the health, economic and social sustainable development opportunities that she has and is still embarking on through steering Merck Foundation forward.
The health rights campaigner, who is also working together with African first ladies as partners, together with their different ministry departments in their respective countries, is positive that they will, together, make history and transform public healthcare sector like it has never happened before.
“This is my commitment as long as I live, and our Merck Foundation vision that will be part of Africa’s history and our legacy,” she explains.
Recently, Senator Rasha Kelej, the Merck Foundation chief executive officer, met with Akon, the Senegalese international superstar, to discuss the programme of the organisation and opportunities that will support girls’ education, women empowerment and building healthcare capacity in Africa.
Zambia has benefited from the Merck Fellowship which has trained more than 70 oncologists across the continent.
The country has also benefited through More Than a Mother Proramme that has been raising awareness on infertility by working with first ladies.
As we continue to see more participation in the development of our communities by women, their voices foster awareness and acceptance about gender inequity as a shared problem and not as a special interest.
Thus, the emerging of women from the sidelines must be embraced by all.