Her Excellency, Dr. Justina Mutale has travelled the length and breadth of the world listening to concerns about gender equality, age discrimination, domestic violence, etc. As a human rights activist and gender advocate, she has achieved some significant successes in areas such as preventing violence against women and sexual harassment; balancing paid work with unpaid caring responsibilities; improving lifetime economic security for women; strengthening gender equality laws, monitoring and agencies; and promoting women’s representation in leadership positions. Dr. Mutale has also facilitated the attendance at the UN of women from marginalized groups as key advocates to address issues of gender equality. She has been globally acclaimed as one of the most influential and inspirational African women. In 2012, she was named ‘African Woman of the Year’, sharing a platform with various African Heads of State. Dr Mutale is a global impact visionary leader with over 30 years of experience working in the diplomatic and international development setting. She is an international development expert, in addition to being a philanthropist, international leadership expert, international keynote speaker, international guest lecturer, and #1 international bestselling author of: “The Art of Iconic Leadership: Power Secrets of Female World leaders” and co-author of the highly cerebral book: “Women on Corporate Boards: An International Perspective”, in addition to contributing to several other global publications and books on leadership, gender, equality, diversity, and inclusion, including FORBES Magazine. Dr. Mutale has for years consistently advocated for gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls. She is Founder and President of the Justina Mutale Foundation and its Scholarship Programme for underprivileged African young women. A recipient of the ‘MANDELA100 Prize’ and the ‘Danny Glover POWER OF A DREAM Award’ from legendary Hollywood Actor and Humanitarian. Needless to say, that; Dr. Mutale is an embodiment of a true African Heroine.
A-CHOICES: Dr. Mutale, can you please tell our readers a little bit about yourself, your initiative-Justina Mutale Foundation and its Scholarship for underprivileged African young women?
Dr. MUTALE: I come from Zambia, from a background of strong, powerful, assertive women. My Foundation advocates for the achievement of gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls in political leadership and economic empowerment by providing leadership and entrepreneurship training, mentorship, and coaching. We also advocate for the retention and completion of tertiary education for young women and girls from rural and disadvantaged communities in Africa by providing them with university scholarships to access tertiary education around the world.
A-CHOICES: With your wealth of experience, what would you say are the dominant challenges faced by women around the globe?
Dr. MUTALE: A system with institutionalised discrimination against women is the dominant challenge faced by women because the system places limitations on women’s potential by restricting women’s equal participation in decision-making, the workplace, education and all other spheres of life.
A-CHOICES: What do you think are the solutions to these challenges?
Dr. MUTALE: The system needs to be readjusted to include women at all levels and in all spheres. Both men and women need to unlearn the social, cultural, and traditional conditioning that has placed limits on women’s potential. Unlearning biases and changing the stereotypes would be essential if we are to see both genders competing on a more equal footing in all spheres of life.
A-CHOICES: You are doing ground-breaking in empowering girls and women and promoting gender equality around the world. What was your primary motivation behind it?
Dr. MUTALE: As indicated earlier, I come from a background of very powerful, strong, and assertive women. Women who have defied the gender dynamics for centuries. On my mother’s side of the family, a woman rules the kingdom. Although a man rules the kingdom on my father’s side of the family, this did not stop one strong, assertive, and powerful woman to rise up and form a movement that shook the political foundations of my country, Zambia. Also, women from my mother’s tribe are given their own feminine names at birth, which they carry throughout their life, and they never assume the husbands name nor the father’s name. This gives women from my mother’s family ownership of the self as women, without having to walk in the shadows of a husband or father. Prior to founding my own organisation, I worked in the Gender Section of the Commonwealth Secretariat in London. I was surprised to find that there was a fight for gender equality and that women were considered to be second to men in many spheres of life. My degree in International Relations and Politics had enhanced my understanding of power politics and the role it plays in shaping the gender dynamics in leadership. My further engagements with forums that address gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls such as the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women; the African Union’s High-Level Panel on Gender Equality; the Commonwealth Women’s Forum and several others, made me realise there was a disconnect between the policies aimed at enhancing gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls and what was actually obtaining in reality on the ground. I then decided to do something about this by creating my own Foundation, focused on women’s leadership and the role women play in the economy, politics, and society to help change mindsets and make women their own drivers of the gender agenda. I decided to bring in a different dialogue, different language, different approach and different perspective.
A-CHOICES: The scourge of violence against women is one of,if not the, greatest worldwide gender equality issues today. We have come from a place (Africa) where this form of violence was hidden behind closed doors and considered to be a matter between a husband and wife. What is your take?
Dr. MUTALE: Violence against women or any person for that matter should never be tolerated in any form. In any part of the world. As humans, we need to learn to talk through our problems rather than resort to violence. Love cannot be expressed through violence, I therefore, find the idea of hiding violence behind closed doors absurd as this denies both the victim and the perpetrator possible help to resolve the cause of the violence.
A-CHOICES: What is the prevalence of sexual harassment in Africa? What are the changes that you believe will best address the problem?
Dr. MUTALE: As in any other part of the world, because of institutionalised discrimination against women, men believe they have power over women, and this is what perpetuates sexual harassment in Africa and elsewhere. Both men and women need to be educated on what constitutes sexual harassment so that they are able to recognise it when it takes place. Rules, laws, and regulations should be put in place to address and tackle sexual harassment.
A-CHOICES: What more do you think can be done to curtail the spread of HIV/AIDS among women?
Dr. MUTALE: To start with, safe sex is one of the most effective ways to stop the spread of HIV/AIDS. Women should be given the right to negotiate sex. Early child marriage should be outlawed as that also spreads the virus from the older men to the young women whom they marry. We also need a lot of sensitization campaigns aimed at stopping the spread of HIV/AIDS to let women and men know how it is spread and to let them know how not to spread it.
A-CHOICES: What does advancing gender equality and women’s human rights in a policy context really mean? Why is it so important?
Dr. MUTALE: Statistics indicate that women form 51% of the world population. And I strongly believe that a world runs on half its human capital, half its economic potential, and half its capability is one that is bound to fail. The inclusion of women’s participation in all spheres of life brings the perspectives of both genders to the decision-making table. Gender equality means that men and women have equal power and equal opportunities for financial independence, education, and personal development. Gender equality, besides being a fundamental human right, is essential to achieve peaceful societies, with full human potential and sustainable development. Moreover, it has been shown that empowering women spurs productivity and economic growth. Empowered women and girls contribute to the health and productivity of their families, communities, and countries, and creates a ripple effect that benefits everyone.
A-CHOICES: Do you interview victims of human rights abuses?
Dr. MUTALE: I am an Ambassador for Peace, and my work is focused on advocating against human rights abuses. My Foundation advocates for the protection and upholding of the rights of women and girls, alleviation of poverty and its feminisation, provision of quality education, personal development, and improving the quality of life of women and girls; and their communities.
A-CHOICES: Is achieving gender equality all about women agitating for change? Or is it also getting men taking the message of gender equality out to other men as “male champions of change”?
Dr. MUTALE: Achieving gender equality means women and men working together hand in hand. It means equal participation and equality of opportunity for both men and women in all spheres of life. In advocating for gender equality, we are aiming for a 50-50 planet, where we can have the perspectives and equal contributions and participation of both genders at all high-level decision-making tables.
A-CHOICES: What changes in attitudes and business practices do you think are needed to facilitate work-life integration?
Dr. MUTALE: Adjusting the male work model will help to facilitate work-life integration. The world of work has for centuries and continues to be based on a male work model, which does not take into account family life because looking after the family has historically been considered as the preserve for women.
A-CHOICES: Why is gender balance and having a more diverse workforce important to you?
Dr. MUTALE: I believe it is important to take an intersectional and holistic approach to tackle workplace inequality by activating diversity and inclusion strategies and promoting diverse and inclusive work environments that empower both the male and female workforce to contribute their full potential. Employers should ensure diversity of thought by allowing the voices and perspectives of both genders to be heard. The gender gap in the workforce should be closed and job opportunities, roles, responsibilities, and remunerations should be based on merit and not on gender. We need to realise the substance and magic that equality, diversity, and inclusion bring to the table by having a workforce that represents the true diversity of the world to make teams thrive.
A-CHOICES: Representation of women in boards and senior positions is understood to be key to progress? Why? And why are they still not there in sufficient numbers?
Dr. MUTALE: Research has shown that companies that include women on their boards are more progressive than those that do not. This is because women are adept at strategy development, improving corporate social responsibility, and monitoring management. Therefore, women’s presence on boards contributes to cohesiveness and improved corporate reputation. A number of studies also indicate that gender inequalities have led to widening social inequalities, environmental degradation, and high economic costs around the world. This has been attributed to the current economic model, which is largely built on the ambitions and perspectives of men. Therefore, bringing in a variety of perspectives, backgrounds, and experiences can be key to an organization’s success. One way to bring in these diverse perspectives is through gender diversity aboard. However, despite growing numbers of female leaders and changing mindsets, leadership continues to be dominated by men, and as such, the leadership terrain is still considered the domain of men. You therefore, find that even in the 21st century, people still doubt the capability of women executives. Even where a woman executive has proved her capability, women leaders are never given the full credit that is due to them.
A-CHOICES:The United Nations has committed to achieving gender equality and empowering women and girls everywhere by 2030,What do you have to say?
Dr MUTALE: The United Nations Global Goals for Sustainable Development (SDGs), which have at their core gender equality and the empowerment of women as a priority, with gender equality cutting across all the 17 goals of the SDGs. The emphasis on gender equality and the empowerment of women in the SDGs indicates that the world cannot achieve any or all of the Sustainable Development Goals without securing the full and equal rights of women, who form half of the world’s population. I am a mother to a millennium baby. My daughter was born in the year 2000; the beginning of the century. She was born at the inception of the United Nations’ very ambitious Millennium Development Goals. By the time the Sustainable Development Goals replaced the Millennium Development Goals in 2016, the young lady was already a teenager at 16 years old. This millennium baby and all other children born at the beginning of the millennium will be fully grown adults at the conclusion of the Sustainable Development Goals in 2030. My millennium baby, together with her peers will be 30 years old by the year 2030. As adults, they will be the decision-makers, policymakers, business leaders, and political leaders of that era. As a mother, I do not want to see my millennium baby and her peers marching for gender equality at the conclusion of the Sustainable Development Goals in the year 2030 or beyond. By 2030, my hope and prayer are that the fight for gender equality will become a thing of the past.
A-CHOICES: As an activist, philanthropist, what other projects have you been developing?
Dr. MUTALE: Through my work, I advocate for gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls in political leadership and economic empowerment by providing leadership and entrepreneurship training, mentorship, and coaching. I also advocate for the retention and completion of tertiary education for young women and girls from rural and disadvantaged communities in Africa by providing them with university scholarships to access tertiary education around the world. I believe that every woman and girl has potential and that every woman and girl should be given the tools and opportunity to excel and realise their highest potential. My work is a gift to the next generation of women, to inspire and motivate them to take up leadership roles in all spheres of life. My Foundation advocates for the protection and upholding of the rights of women and girls, alleviation of poverty and its feminisation, provision of quality education, personal development, and improving the quality of life of women and girls; and their communities. I convene the World Summit on Women & Girls and have for years been a consistent contributor, delegate, speaker and official parallel event convener at global platforms that address women and gender issues, including the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women; African Union High-Level Panel on Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women and Girls; and Commonwealth Women’s Forum, in addition to various other fora that address gender issues across the globe. I am also the founder of POSITIVE RUNWAY: The Global Catwalk to Stop the Spread of HIV/AIDS, a worldwide HIV/AIDS response campaign.
A-CHOICES: It has been repeatedly emphasized that the effect of COVID-19 the most hits women and women-led businesses. How have you been able to stay afloat, and what economic recovery come back measures would you suggest?
Dr. MUTALE: From time immemorial, women leaders have often triumphed in situations where men believed were unwinnable. The advent of Covid-19 will go down in modern history as the era in which the power of female leadership was brought to the fore. It is a time that has proved that given the same opportunities, female leaders have what it takes to handle a crisis better than their male counterparts. In one of the toughest years that has tested the mettle of every leader and every head of state or head of government across the globe, it is those countries that are led by women that have proved the far greater mettle in their response to the Covid-19 pandemic. In the management of Covid-19 at the national level, women leaders have used their uncommon sense of natural wisdom to employ a different approach than that used by their male counterparts. Women leaders used their sixth sense, soft skills, and empathetic approach to tackle the spread of the virus. This approach, which is a marked departure from the male modus operandi, resulted in completely different and better outcomes for those countries led by women. In times of crisis, women tend to deploy a sixth sense filled with a high degree of emotional intelligence, empathy, compassion, care, and motherly survival instinct, which leads to more effective ways of resolving matters in any given crisis. To tackle the pandemic, women leaders went above and beyond the call of duty to protect their countries and their populations. They brought to the public spheres what most women or mothers would do at home to care for a sick child or family member and used these soft skills, which give them the capability to care for their own children, family and loved ones, and multiplied them to give to and protect their teams, countries, and populations.
A-CHOICES: What has the Justina Mutale Foundation project achieved so far?
Dr. MUTALE: The Foundation has 4 critical programme areas which include, Advocacy; Leadership and Entrepreneurship Training; Education, and Conferences. Under Leadership and Training, we run training workshops and seminars and mentorship programmes for women as well as young women and girls. We are due to launch the Justina Mutale Young Women Leaders Fellowship Programme. We have expanded the Scholarships Programme to offer a minimum of 100 Scholarships per year across the African continent. Annually, we convene the World Summit on Women and Girls, which brings together world leaders to dialogues with young women and girls to articulate the future we want. The Forum brings together African women and girls on the Continent, together with those in the African Diaspora, as well as women leaders and girls from western countries to share good practices, ideas, hopes, aspirations, and experiences; and to mentor, educate, empower, inspire and motivate one another to raise the voices of women and girls to become effective leaders in the decision-making processes in Africa and elsewhere. In terms of women’s economic empowerment, we provide entrepreneurship training and mentorship to women.
A-CHOICES: You are an effective female leader. What drives you?
Dr. MUTALE: What really drives me is my belief that it is possible for women to be effective leaders. I am blessed in that I work in an industry for which I have a natural passion. When you love what you do and enjoy your work as much as I do, and when one is focused on getting the job done without focusing on the reward, there is no limit to how far one can go. I am a born go-getter and a highly ambitious person with an insatiable drive to succeed. I, therefore, work very hard to get things done. I also believe that if one wants to see one’s dreams come true, one must never go to sleep! I believe that for anyone to succeed one has to work hard and put in 110% in everything they do. Once I have a vision in my head I will do whatever it takes for that vision to become reality, despite all the obstacles that might stand in my way. I am also a very resilient person, a trait that is very important in the industry that I work, and which has been very beneficial to me in terms the area that I work in. My determination and focus for reaching and achieving my goals are some of the qualities that have driven me to be the person that I am today, and to accomplish what I have accomplished thus far.
A-CHOICES: What are the primary challenges you face in your work?
Dr. MUTALE: I do not see obstacles, I only focus on the goal at hand. Limiting beliefs, traditions, cultures and social conditioning have prevented many women from unleashing their full potential. I can confidently say that I am one of the lucky exceptions when it comes to negative cultural and social conditioning, as I come from a background of very positive, strong, powerful, and assertive women. My mother and other women in my family background taught me that a woman has the power to lead and shape the world. They have shown me that women are the backbone of society and the world’s most potent force as natural-born leaders.
A-CHOICES: As someone who has successfully combined family life and career advancement, what are the key lessons you have learned?
Dr. MUTALE: You know, they do say, all work and no play makes one dull person. There is always time to relax no matter how busy one’s schedule may be. It is no secret that for all of us, the 21st Century brings with it a very fast-paced world, where everyone seems to be running around in circles trying to do too many things at any given time. The digital age and onset of new technologies and smartphones appear to make time management unmanageable and complicated for many people as we find ourselves with unprecedented demands on our time, with our attention being sought from all corners of the world, in different directions, day and night via smartphones with their apps and social media and online tools of communication, through which information and messages are relayed to us 24 hours a day. And most of this communication almost always appears to be urgent or to demand our urgent attention. It may, therefore, often seem that there isn’t enough time in a day to do everything that one needs to do. This false perspective on time can lead to a build-up of unnecessary stress for most people. However, my attitude to time is guided by the understanding that there is a difference between “Clock Time” and “Real-Time” and if one cannot tell the difference between the two, then everything else that one might try to do to manage one’s time will not work to one’s benefit. Based on this belief I always have time to go to the beauty spar, to go shopping, to read, to socialise, spend quality time with my children, and do all the other things that I enjoy doing outside of my work.
A-CHOICES: You were a special guest speaker at the just concluded “Racism in Education Panel” at the Pennsylvania Medical School, USA. Please, tell us more about it?
Dr. MUTALE: The panel was convened by the University of Pennsylvania Medical School in the USA to discuss the embedded racism in education and how that impacts of the progress of people of colour.
A-CHOICES: You were also the convener of the 2021 WORLD SUMMIT ON WOMEN &GIRLS. Under the theme: “GIRLFORCE: UNSCRIPTED AND UNSTOPPABLE”.
Dr. MUTALE: The World Summit on Women and Girls is an annual event that brings together African women and girls on the Continent, together with those in the African Diaspora, as well as women leaders and girls from western countries to share good practices, ideas, hopes, aspirations, and experiences; and to mentor, educate, empower, inspire and motivate one another to raise the voices of women and girls to become effective leaders in the decision-making processes in Africa and elsewhere. In terms of women’s economic empowerment, we provide entrepreneurship training and mentorship to women. The Summit brings together women and girls from the global north and the global south for an intergenerational dialogue on women’s leadership and change, focusing on Beijing+15 and passing on the torch to the Millennials as drivers and disruptors of equality on the journey towards 2030. The Summit addresses the journey so far on issues pertaining to women’s empowerment, gender equality, female leadership, economic empowerment, political participation, science and technology and all other sphere of life. It looks at the successes, failures, challenges, opportunities, realities on the ground, new ideas and emerging issues in the area of gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls to articulate the future we want and chart a way forward for the next 10 years towards the conclusion of the Sustainable Development Goals in 2030, and the achievement of a 50-50 Planet.
A-CHOICES: What would be your advice to President Hakainde Hichilema on crackdown on press freedom and civil liberties in Zambia?
Dr. MUTALE: Zambia is a democracy, and our President is a strong proponent of press freedom and civil liberties. Therefore, Zambian citizens are accordingly availed their civil liberties with no undue restrictions within the limits of the law.
A-CHOICES: How do you want the already warm relations between Washington and Lusaka to be under President Hakainde Hichilema leadership?
Dr. MUTALE: Zambia shares the democratic ideals of the USA. The warm relationship with Washington is a step in the right direction and of mutual benefits to both countries.
A-CHOICES: What role do you think Zambia can play in promoting democracy within the SADC’s region and by extension Africa?
Dr. MUTALE: Zambia has always been in the lead when it comes to democracy in the SADC region and Africa as a whole. Zambia was the first African country to introduce multi-party democracy. Since then, every leader in Zambia has been democratically elected. SADC member countries and other countries in Africa can learn from Zambia’s democratic ideals.
A-CHOICES: What one piece of advice would you give any aspiring female professionals reading this?
Dr. MUTALE: I would advise aspiring female professionals to look within themselves because women have all the necessary traits required for one to be an influential leader or professional. This is because women are blessed with limitless inner strength, natural instincts, and natural wisdom. Aspiring female professionals should horn in on the high emotional intelligence that they possess, which connects them to the needs, concerns, and hopes of their communities, and this makes women adept at leading in crisis. In dealing with their teams, women leaders should deploy their sixth sense and horn in on their emotional intelligence, empathy, compassion, care, and survival instinct. They need to be versatile and utilise their agility to adapt and handle different waves that come at them from all directions and should strive to ensure they know their purpose and operate from that purpose.
A-CHOICES: What is your message to the people of Zambia
Dr. MUTALE: My message to the Zambian people is to always remember and live by our country’s motto: “One Zambia One Nation”. To always remember that we are a nation that is built on peace, love, harmony, and unity and to always live as one big happy human family.
Author: Gbenga Teejay Okunlola