Women Leaders in Zambia

Diaconia, along with our Zambian and European partners, offers Leadership Training courses and workshops that enable women to use their own skills and experiences to become dynamic leaders. The workshops encourage empowerment and agency.

Illiteracy and Dependence

Nearly 39% of adult women in Zambia are illiterate.  Hundreds of thousands of women can not read or write, and therefore, are unable to advocate for themselves. In certain areas of civic society, women struggle to proclaim their equal rights.  And inequity in regards to female education means that very few women are found in leadership roles in the country.

To attack this problem, we at Diaconia are supporting a joint project with our Zambian and European partners called Women in Leadership. Our goal is to support women as they work to obtain their education and independence. Within this project, we encourage women to meet regularly in their own self-help groups (called Women’s Leagues) where they exchange leadership tips and skills, tutor each other, and plan their futures.

Taking Charge

Mercy Sakala is a member of the Parish of St. Kizito in the Diocese of Solwezi and leads a Women’s League group there. In her group, women learn about their civil rights in relation to men, and are encouraged in their fight for equality in the home, at work, and in the public sphere. The Women’s League also serves as a therapeutic and defense group for those women who have experienced, or are currently experiencing, domestic violence.

Through the Women in Leadership Project, Mercy was able to take a few courses designed for women in leadership roles. The courses were instrumental in deepening Mercy’s understanding of her own leadership skills and style, along with strategies to break through gender discrimination and violence in the workplace and the household. And the courses are gaining traction, not only with women, but with men as well! Last year, several men attended the classes who wanted to be allies and partners for women in their fight for equality and empowerment.

I am now no longer a “Dictator”

Mercy was surprised at how useful the course was for her. “The course helped me to evaluate my own leadership abilities and style. Before, I did not consult with other members of my group prior to a decision. My leadership style was like that of a dictator,” said Mercy with a smile. “I thought that I already knew everything; after all, that is why the other women in the group elected me their leader. Now I see it differently. I recognize some of my own biases and know that sometimes I choose poorly.”

Mercy has now changed her leadership approach. Before each decision, Mercy seeks the opinions and suggestions of the other women in her group. “I’m a different person,” concluded Mercy. And through her more equitable leadership, the Women’s League is more able to  promote equality and provide support for women in challenging circumstances.

The Women in Leadership Course improved Mercy’s leadership acumen and strengthened her confidence. She realized that the way she was running her Women’s League needed to change. And through her new leadership style, Mercy is able to encourage the women in her group and help them strengthen their confidence and abilities. And, yes, the other women have noticed a difference as well.

“This type of leadership course should be offered in every region,” said Mercy. “It would definitely improve the quality of our leaders, and it would, over time, strengthen the social standing of women in society and enable us to be independent and be seen as equals with men

Jeremy Ault