International Women’s Day: celebrating women in leadership

To mark International Women’s Day, we’re shining the spotlight on some of the women working on our programmes.

This year’s theme is: women in leadership: achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world. The topic resonates with Transaid CEO, Caroline Barber: “This year we have seen some of the strongest leadership around COVID-19 coming from countries with women in leadership positions.

“On International Women’s Day, I am grateful to be surrounded by so many inspirational women who work tirelessly to make the world a better and safer place. From the women delivering training on transport and logistics to community health workers reducing maternal and child deaths in their communities, to the extraordinary women on Transaid’s board and my wonderful colleagues who I learn from every single day. It is such a privilege to work with women who bring so much expertise, strength and grace to work every day.”

Leadership comes in many different forms. More than a job title or officially-held position, leadership is about inspiring others and making a change in your community. With that in mind, we spoke to a mix of Transaid women – from trustees to driver trainers –  to hear their thoughts on what this year’s theme means to them, and how Transaid’s programmes are benefitting from female leadership.

Phidelia Mwaba – Transaid Trustee

“In any crisis – war, health, poverty – the women are the ones who step up to make a difference, saving lives in their families and communities. This is why female leadership is so important during this pandemic. I always think of Florence Nightingale tending to wounded soldiers during the war. This is one of many examples of women stepping up in times of crisis.

“There are so many women who have inspired me. When I was younger, I looked up to my female teachers. Now, there are so many heroines that have inspired me: for example, the widows bringing up their children in difficult circumstances in developing countries. These women often don’t have a job or education, but still work hard to raise their children and put them through school.

“There are so many women working on Transaid’s programmes who inspire me, too: the community health volunteers (CHVs) working on MAM at Scale, the women riding bicycle ambulances, and the midwives and health workers who are keeping their communities healthy.

“During this time, I am also inspired by all the woman logisticians who are working tirelessly to deliver PPE, medical equipment, and ventilators to the frontline. They, along with the woman scientists developing the vaccine, are unsung heroes.

“Here in Zambia, we have woman politicians who are speaking for the voiceless. Our current Vice President, Inonge Wina, has a background in civil society and has spoken out against corruption. Our first lady, Esther Lungu, is also speaking out against early marriages, and is helping girls stay in school. This is really important, because when you educate a girl, you educate the community around her too. There are so many women who inspire me, but I’ll stop there for now!

“Whenever there’s a public health issue, the women bear the brunt because they are caregivers in most cases. They are the ones who handle health matters in their families and in their communities, so it’s important that their voices are heard when we discuss public health matters.

“I wish International Women’s Day was more about the women who really feel the burden of being women in a male dominated world – not those working in civil society, or corporate women, but the most marginalised women who often get overlooked in high level discussions about women’s rights.

“The women who walk 15 km one way to draw water; the women who walk 15 km one way to take their children to health facilities: they are the real fighters. We will make real progress when these women are involved in conversations about International Women’s Day.”

Sarah Tando Nanyangwe – Distance Learning and Extension Studies Coordinator, Industrial Training Centre (ITC)

Sarah coordinates distance learning at the Industrial Training Centre (ITC), in Zambia. She also delivers training of trainers for defensive driving. Based in Lusaka, the ITC has been delivering driver training in partnership with Transaid since 2008. Most recently, the ITC has been training supply chain workers at Zambia’s medical stores as part of a programme responding to the pandemic.

“I love imparting knowledge on people. This is why I became a trainer and lecturer, to teach new things to people.

“At the start of the pandemic, in March last year, distance learning coordinators were called at the Ministry with the Ministry of Higher Education. We came up with the mode of e-learning to guide the Ministry going forwards. This is something that will become part of education from now on. COVID-19 has been worrisome, but it has taught us a lot of things. We have learnt that we can’t rely on face-to-face learning, but we have come up with other modes of learning.”

With the ITC, Sarah is meeting the challenges of the pandemic by addressing what she sees as a key issue in the medical supply chain: road safety. “Supply chain workers are the key workers in the pandemic. We looked at the ways the project could protect these workers, but there was another aspect that wasn’t taken care of. We needed to educate the drivers working for medical stores on how to be safe on the road, as well as how to protect themselves during the pandemic.”

Sarah is one of the few female lecturers in this field, but she is trying to change that by encouraging other women to take engineering programmes. “We have few women at the ITC. In class, I give priority to female students and encourage them to sit at the front, at the few tables that we have. This is something that I have introduced to this particular intake. Many people think that women don’t take engineering programmes. So, we prioritised women to sit at the tables to motivate other women to come. It may be a small action, but it might have an impact somewhere.

“Most women are overlooked in transport and logistics. We have some women making an impact, but I encourage women to explore this sector. We can learn a lot from it and have the chance to make a huge change to the sector.

“Most of the people surrounding me are male. I look at myself amongst men, making a positive impact not only to the ITC, but also in Lusaka and in Zambia, through my work marking examinations nationally. It makes you think that women can change the world: when we put in what we can, we can really change things. I feel I am making an impact”.

In Zambia, International Women’s Day is a public holiday. “I am grateful to have a day for women – this day is important because our efforts are being recognised. It is the best day of all the holidays!”

Kim van der Weijde – Project Manager, Transaid

“I think this year’s theme of women in leadership applies to the work we’re doing with GCRF in Tunisia, Nigeria, and South Africa. The programme focuses on women’s rights and safety using transport, as well as equal opportunities in the transport sector.

“In Tunisia in particular, a focus of the project is levelling the playing field for women in the transport sector. At the moment around the world, a lot of people are losing jobs. Whilst that’s true for both women and men, women are already facing additional challenges as caregivers in their families. In a COVID-19 context, the care burden is greater than ever, so this project has come at a crucial time. We need to get to a place where women in leadership becomes the norm, in the transport sector and beyond.

“At Transaid, we have a good gender balance. To have a female CEO is really powerful. Through our programmes, I work alongside so many inspirational female leaders, business owners and entrepreneurs.

“Working on a programme based in Tunisia has been really interesting, as I’m learning a lot about the challenges women face there, but I’m also seeing a lot of female leadership. I’ve been lucky to work alongside Aicha Mabrouki, who is a director in the Tunisian Ministry of Transport. I think we’re living in a time where women are keen to prove themselves, and are the ones pushing for change. It’s exciting to be a part of that.

“Whilst we are having more conversations about gender today, it is still important to celebrate and showcase women, as well as identify where the challenges to equality lie. In the development sector, a lot of decisions are still being made on behalf of women – for example in maternal health. Women need to be part of the discussion as they understand what the challenges are, so they can offer valuable insights. It’s not a question of should they be at the table, it’s a question of why are they not, especially since women are often at the core of development issues.

“International Women’s Day is a day to give a platform to those women who are still not being heard. It’s about making sure the world is paying attention to us.”

Maeve Magner – Transaid trustee

“I am blessed to be surrounded by many strong women in my family. However, my paternal grandmother inspires me the most. She passed away at 98 years of age and during her lifetime she experienced huge changes in our country and across the globe, embracing each and every one of them. She also raised multiple families, including me and my siblings at the grand old age 70 after my mother passed away. She worked hard and even though we didn’t have a lot growing up, she helped those less fortunate than us. She understood the value of a community and despite her tough life, she had a great sense of humour (right up to the day she died) and was very resilient. These values have been instilled in me and are especially poignant for the global health work I do.

“Throughout Transaid’s history, women have always played a key role in the organization and programmes such as the Emergency Transport Scheme (ETS) and MAMaZ Against Malaria (MAM) are centred on ensuring women and children have access to lifesaving healthcare services. Over the years, our patron HRH The Princess Royal, Caroline Barber as CEO and Jo Godsmark as Board Chair have all demonstrated strong and thoughtful leadership to the organization.

“It is important to recognise the incredible work that women are doing around the globe in all sorts of professions. While it is important also to acknowledge the work of our male colleagues, I feel women’s contributions are more likely to be swept under the carpet as their tendencies are not to self-promote.

“International Women’s Day will provide me with the opportunity to pause and reflect on the incredible women in my life, family, friends and colleagues. But most especially to pause and consider those women working in low and middle income countries, whose jobs are critical to their communities.”

Brenda Kunda – Community Facilitator – MAM at Scale

Brenda Kunda is a Community Facilitator with MAM at Scale, a programme tackling severe malaria and COVID-19 in rural Zambia. A tragic experience in Brenda’s life eventually led to a positive change, not only for her, but for her family and her entire community. In 2004, Brenda lost her mother to tuberculosis after her family treated her with traditional medicine instead of taking her to a health facility. When her condition deteriorated she was rushed to a health facility, but by then it was too late. Since there was lack of knowledge in her community, Brenda decided to be an agent of change by teaching people the importance of seeking medical care at health institutions.

In 2014, her dreams came true as she became part of a project that works to address barriers in accessing health services at a community level. Brenda joined Mobilising Access to Maternal Health Services in Zambia (MORE-MAMaZ) as a Community Facilitator for Kabamba Rural Health Centre (RHC) in Serenje District. A Community Facilitator’s role is to mobilise communities, mentor and coach CHVs. and to create a link between communities and health facilities. Today, she continues working for MAM at Scale in the same capacity.

To increase demand for health services at Kabamba RHC, Brenda came up with an initiative to break affordability barriers in accessing health services, by boosting community savings schemes and food banks through income generating activities. She managed to organise two communities, Mazembe and Chanikila, to successfully start a poultry business to raise money for the community. With the help of the MAM@Scale team in Serenje, Brenda invited Mr. Teddy Mabamba, a fisheries assistant from the Ministry of Fisheries, to facilitate training on fish farming to CHVs in Kabamba. Her plan is to ensure that community food banks and savings schemes in Kabamba are sustained.

Brenda has a good working relationship with the facility staff and CHVs at Kabamba RHC. “I regard them as family, the CHVs are very free to express their challenges and to share successes on how work is moving in their communities. Some CHVs have shared with me personal problems outside of work which shows the level of trust and respect they have in me. When CHVs conduct group discussion sessions focused on severe malaria and other childhood illnesses, participation from the community is good. I am happy that the community has accepted our approach and everyone in the community pass through the CHVs when going to the facility.”

The level of dedication Brenda has to her work means that not even distance can stop her. “When conducting field visits to the communities to support and mentor the CHVs, I start off at 5 am on my bicycle and come back home late in the evening. In Kalibanama community where the villages are distantly spaced, I spend hours to reach villages in Chipendeshi where some CHVs are based. The terrain in Chipendeshi is very hilly which makes it impossible to ride a bicycle,” Brenda said.

Today, Brenda’s dream of ensuring people can reach medical help when they need it has become true in Kabamba. Her community have embraced the work of CHVs and are no longer relying on traditional medicines.