Talk about us.Mrs Ali Kihnda Antoinette, a former political attaché at the Cameroon Embassy in Congo
Talk about us.Mrs. Ali A. Kihnda :
For every female entrepreneur there is a significant moment, sort of an eye opener where she comes to realize she holds her future in her own hands. Taping in the power within is a miraculous mind-shift in our personal and professional journey. In today’s interview we are inspired from the powerful story of Mrs Ali Kihnda Antoinette, a former political attaché at the Cameroon Embassy in the republic of Congo and current public affairs consultant and political research analyst.
Mrs Kihnda built resilience in an environment where sexual harassment is normalized. She was brave to reconstruct her career and find an entrepreneurial mission after a traumatic experience with systemic roots in Africa. This proves in the best way possible how one person can become the change we want to see in the world.
Topic I: Entrepreneurial Aspiration
1. Which values and skills an entrepreneur in Africa should have according to your view?
From my point of view, entrepreneurs in Africa must believe in certain values, have certain personal qualities and must acquire and develop certain skills. These values include merit-based support, hard work, determination and perseverance. These values underpin the entrepreneurial spirit. Determination is the first step, but to succeed in your entrepreneurial project, you also need to work with a motivated team and persevere. No success has ever been achieved without difficulty or even failure.
As far as qualities are concerned, the entrepreneur must be patient, persevering in leadership, i.e. know how to listen to others and mobilize them to achieve the objectives pursued within the framework of his/her company. Likewise, they must be rigorous, disciplined and have a taste for innovation and creativity.
As far as skills are concerned, they must be able to understand their target market in order to appreciate the threats and opportunities; they must be good managers of the company's resources and customer relations (public relations).
2. Is it more challenging for women in Africa to start their own business? Why is this the case?
The business environment is relatively less favorable to women. Access to capital is a major obstacle. For the most part, men resort to land ownership as collateral with banking institutions. Women's access to land ownership is problematic; socio-cultural or religious barriers in some cases, especially in countries with a Muslim tradition, and the social system marked by social relations of domination make them "second-class citizens". This situation leads to various forms of discrimination in terms of human rights and economic benefits. They rarely have access to control over resources. Unlike men, who occupy central roles in public and economic life, women have little or no decision-making power or control over their resources when they do. This is despite having a demographic share of about 50.14% of the population. Women in many countries often have good ideas and projects but do not dare to express or defend them because of the power of tradition, the traditional education they have received, the lack of confidence in their abilities and a relatively lower level of education to men. Consequently, programs to support women's leadership are becoming a necessity of paramount importance.
3. This doesn’t stop you. Share with our audience what led you down the entrepreneurial path?
Three factors explain to a large extent my entrepreneurial spirit: (i) the sense of rigour, courage and hard work instilled in me by my parents since my childhood; (ii) my determination to use the skills I have acquired and developed throughout my academic and professional career to blossom and become more efficient and productive(iii) the proverbial phrase ' when life gives you lemon, you make lemonade out of' wanted to make lemonade out of losing my job resulting from experiencing workplace sexual harassment .
Topic II: Past Experience (Workplace Sexual Harassment)
1. Is workplace sexual harassment structural in Africa? Would you say that women and men consider it normal?
Oh yes! You know, as with other forms of gender based sexual violence, workplace sexual harassment is major problem in Africa. I cannot begin to tell you how many women are being sexually objectified at their place of work and happen to go through all sorts of sexual violence et their job sites This is the atmosphere that many women experience all day long and throughout their professional careers. The situation in Africa is particular. First because it is normalized and secondly because women who re and have been victims don’t come forward or report this abominable acts. I would want to believe that factors such as cultural norms and values- stemming from traditional gender arrangement; distortions due to gender inequality; virtual absence of institutional and regulatory support; difficulties in proving sexual harassment). These factors therefor interact with each other to maintain and normalize these acts of violence. When a victim tries to complain, you will hear things like “oh come on it’s not that bad …it is normal…that is how men are… don’t forget we are in Africa...our men are like that” It is horrifying to her people say these things- and I’m speaking from my personal experience.
2. Why do you think there is no respect on this fundamental human right? Are African societies patriarchal?
Of course they are. The customs and traditions in most African societies have nearly institutionalized sexual access to women. It is heartbreaking because, in fact, the African woman (well, most) herself understands sexual violence within the patriarchal framework and thus rarely if at all question the cultural norms and practices that actually lay the root of sexual violence. Often than not, most women support those traditions and customs that validate the dominance and predatory behaviour of these men at home and at the workplace. In the African society, women are socialized into societal system that reinforces their sexual subordination to men. the patriarchal culture as research has proven, fuels male power aggression and as such, male sexual violence against the woman is viewed as customary so too the woman’s endurance of it .This social system comprising of its cultural norms and traditions does nothing but exposes women at their workplaces to systemic sexual violence.
3 How do you deal with that, considering your educational level and international exposure?
I am one of those African women whose parents made enormous sacrifice for their education. My academic and professional background has enabled me to acquire and develop skills that I am now harnessing to fight and oppose all forms of violation of human rights and dignity without exception. Committing myself to the fight for the respect of human rights in general and for women's rights in particular means committing myself to a multi-directional fight with the following key aspects: (i) the promotion of gender equality; (ii) the promotion of a political environment, a legislative and regulatory arsenal conducive to the inclusive protection and promotion of human rights; (iii) the promotion of girls' education in Africa and the intensification of awareness of women's rights, as the associations of women jurists in many African countries are doing; (iv) the promotion of spirit of "Empowerment" and the empowerment of urban and rural women to protect them from all forms of violence and abuse from some men and from their wild and demeaning practices.
Topic III: Bureaucratic Environment in Africa
1 How about the legal regime? Are there regulations/ laws and official bodies that a victim of workplace sexual harassment can refer to and find justice?
My fight for the promotion of a political environment and a legislative and regulatory framework favourable for the inclusive promotion of human rights is precisely due to the fact that in many African countries, sexual harassment is a legal category that does not exist. However in recent years, there’s been progress by some African countries to put in place legislative frameworks around gender based violence. However, there has been a problem in the implementation and enforcement of these laws due to lack of judicial and other institutional support needed by victims. Sources have reported poor services, hostile attitude from the same institution designed to implement the policies and laws put in place. Corruption and cultural stereotyping prevent most victims from having access to the institutional support they need when faced with sexual violence. Many victims are therefore forced suffer in silence in order not to be stigmatized.
2 Discussing the legal environment, what about bureaucracy? Is it relatively easy to start business?
Despite the efforts made here and there to improve the business environment in Africa, it must be noted that becoming a female entrepreneur is challenging. As mentioned earlier the problems of access to and control of the resources of productive accumulation; socio-cultural or religious barriers in some cases; corruption and bureaucratic hassles, etc. This being said, i have also pointed out that with determination, patience and perseverance an entrepreneur will succeed in transforming the obstacles in front of them into stepping stones to higher ground.
3 Would you say it is easier for men? If yes, Why so?
While it is true that in the business environment men are better off than women, it is equally true that they too are victims of bureaucratic red tape and corruption. However, entrenched gender roles (still significant and widespread in Africa) have women relegated to specific businesses. For example, businesses that require heavy machinery and mechanical tools are widely viewed as exclusively for men. These gender specific constraints and stereotypes makes it difficult for women start or succeed or in these type of businesses.
Topic IV: Building the Future (Documentary & Article)
1. What are your plans for the future?
I will continue to research and actively advocate for the inclusive promotion of human rights, including the empowerment of women. I intend, if my financial means permit, to carry out, on the basis of surveys in a few African countries and in the light of my personal experience, a study and a documentary on sexual harassment of women in the workplace. As a victim and from my gory experience, it is high time we mobilize women to stand up and speak out against all forms of sexual violence- workplace sexual harassment is too costly to be ignored in terms of the quality of life of women, in terms of their rights, the economic, health cost etc are enormous and we shouldn’t continue to sweep this issue under the carpet. From where i stand, lack of knowledge on the issue, silence of its victims and the impunity of its perpetrators is the fuel that feeds gender based sexual violence - in the same way, I will continue to exploit and capitalize on the business opportunities available to me while documenting and sharing my entrepreneurial experiences.
2. You are a great inspiration for all women out there. What is one piece of advice that you would like to share with our audience?
In the business world, women who wish to become entrepreneurs must be courageous and must overcome fear and setbacks Regardless of the gender, being an entrepreneur requires the same qualities and skills set. The portrait of an ideal woman entrepreneur will be judged by her ability to impose her where prejudices set up barriers.
Secondly, Whether you’re a victim of sexual violence at your workplace or at home- just anywhere , my advice would be to please reach out to a support group- talk to someone , they are charities, groups and organizations in our communities now that can also provide support. Your mental health is much more important than toxic work environment. So please do something – even if it is to name end shame the perpetrator. Let us do this for us, let’s do it for our daughters.
4 Why did you choose Coachability Foundation to share your story?
I chose Coachability Foundation to share my story because of its fundamental values and in particular its commitment to women empowerment, i.e. the ability of women to increase their capacity, autonomy and inner strength, to gain access to and control over material and non-material resources.
Find this extraordinary woman here
Thanks Mrs. Ali A. Kihnda for your time and thanks for sharing your experiences.
Written by Eleni Gkiola.