African football makes inroads in women recognition Fatma Samoura

Ruth Butaumocho African Agenda

The capital of Cameroon, Yaounde on Sunday broke into song and dance when thousands of fans convened at the Olembé Stadium for the 33rd edition of the African Cup of Nations ceremony.

Elsewhere, millions of football fans were also glued to their television sets as the much revered continental football fête finally kicked off in Central Africa, after a long sabbatical owing to Covid-19.

The opening ceremony was an assemblage of events that was spiced up with a good musical performance by one of Africa’s best, Congolese singer, Fally Ipupa, who enthralled fans with his rhumba dances.

Unknown to the legions of football fans, the celebrations were also a harbinger of a novel experience, which was to unfold two days later, when Salima Rhadia Mukansanga made history by becoming the first ever woman to officiate in a match at the tournament.

The 33-year-old Rwandese was the fourth official on Monday as Guinea took on Malawi at the Bafoussam Omnisport Stadium in Kouekong.

While that may not amount to much for some, the grand entry of Mukansanga in continental football, considered a male domain, affirms the long held principle that women are as capable as men, if given the necessary support.

Her selection to officiate such a high level football  match was meritocratic, and an affirmation that women can compete on the same pedestal with men, if there are supporting systems and structures for their ascendancy.

According to several online reports, Mukansanga has a rich history in football officiating, having also taken charge of games in other major tournaments before, including the Women’s World Cup, Africa Women’s Cup of Nations, and the CAF Women’s Champions League.

Getting such an opportunity did not come cheap, but she had to prove her mettle to meet the grade needed to officiate at such revered platforms, which are often reserved for highly seasoned match officials and men of integrity.

It is heartening to note that the Confederation of Africa Football, (CAF) is following in the footsteps of FIFA which appointed a female secretary-general, Senegalese Fatma Samba Diouf Samoura.

The decision to elect Samoura affirmed the assertion of former FIFA president Sepp Blatter that the future of soccer is feminine. He said this back in 2013, when he was still at the helm of the world governing body.

While Blatter’s comment was in reference to participation of women in women’s football, quite a number of women have taken a keen interest in football refereeing at global level.

Blatter’s assertion was neither  ill-conceived nor parochial, but it was grounded on the global trends where there was a growing interest in football and promotion of gender equality in different spaces back then in 2013.

Nearly 10 years later, the pace to include women in decision making has hastened, if ongoing developments are anything to go by.

From 1917, when Loretta Walsh became the first woman to join the army and became the first American Marine woman in active service, the gender equality discourse is shaping up, albeit with challenges.

Although the discourse is sometimes steered off the course by a few people for self-serving interests, it is clear that the world is slowly moving towards gendered leadership.

Globally, women are getting much space and recognition to prove their worth than what was the case four decades or so ago.

In politics, business and governance, a few women are now on the powerful tables that were once reserved for men. Such developments, though slow, are an affirmation of the hard work women are putting in to get recognition and walk alongside men.

Africa has not been left behind, but it is also now enjoying the benefits of gender equality and equity, although a lot would need to be done to open more spaces for women.

The swearing-in of President Samia Suluhu Hassan as Tanzania’s first female leader last year in March, becoming the third female president in Africa, is one of the rare, but exciting news the continent should celebrate and use it as basis for the ascendancy of women.

Ms Hassan joined Sahle-Work Zewde, the first elected President of Ethiopia, and Ellen Sirleaf Johnson, the 24 President of Liberia (2006 – 2018).Their election gives hope to nearly 700 million female voices across the continent, whose aspirations and expectations were not equally captured due to the gender dynamics in the leadership, that equality can be achieved.

Of course, the election of the three might be considered as insignificant, compared to the numerical significance of women in Africa, but the acknowledgment of their capabilities is what counts most.

It remains crucial for the African leadership to promote systems and structures that promote gender equality and gender equity, not as a privilege, accorded to women, but actually as a human right.

Global organisations and leaders are calling for inclusive leadership, where women are given opportunities in governance and decision-making. If anything, female leaders have qualities that are now being recognised as critical to the new leadership of the decade — empathy and collaboration.

Depending on which side of the fence one sits, both qualities are more admirable, in addition to vision, confidence and honesty.

In a world reeling under the effects of corruption, women have been found to be less corrupt than men, and have always strived to serve diligently, something that existing leadership badly needs for countries to move forward.

Women have also proved to be saleable brands in corporate organisations and surely they have proved their worthy in political leadership as well, if given the necessary support structures.

The onset of the New Year, should create an enabling environment for capable women to thrive in different spaces.

With so much talent, ingenuity and competence among close to 700 million women in Africa, the continent should be the bastion of gender equality.

The selection of Mukansanga to officiate at such a highly revered continental football platform speaks to the ingenuity that Africa has among its women. It is that ingenuity that Africa would to safeguard against brain drain to bolster human resource across the continent.

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