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Do We Expect Too Much From Female Leaders?

Overblown expectations and crushing dissapointments

BY Agnes Amondi

Sep 25, 2021, 03:56 PM

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When Samia Suluhu Hassan took over as the President of the United Republic of Tanzania, women in Africa and the world over celebrated and deservedly so. She is a woman of several firsts.

In 2015, she became the first female presidential running mate in the history of the Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) party, then became the first female Vice-President of the United Republic of Tanzania and with the demise of her predecessor, the late Dr John Pombe Magufuli, she is now the first female president, the only one from the island of Zanzibar to lead Tanzania.

Her rise to the highest political office in the land proved yet again that more women are vaulting to power. This comes at a time when the advocacy for women to be part of the decision-making process is at its peak. With this comes the hope that finally, women will be able to rise above society's prejudices. The idea here is that a female leader understands female issues thus better representation. 

Hence, Suluhu’s comments on Tuesday came as a shocker to many. If you still haven’t heard or read the story, do the needful and go here. This piece will not necessarily debate or discuss her comments. What this article aims to do is posit the following: Do female leaders get looked at through rose-tinted glasses?

You only have to go through the comments on social media and you’ll find lots of people expressing their disappointment towards her. The belief here is that Suluhu should know better because she is not just the President. She is not just representing Tanzanians but women in general. 

With this comes the expectation that she will be at the forefront in leading a societal change of how women are portrayed. That with a female leader, all forms of discrimination will be minimised if not cease to exist. That there will be an open acceptance of women in positions and places where they were not welcomed before. The goal is a total transformation of how society perceives women. 
So with Suluhu’s remarks, she deviated from all the aforementioned. For the longest time, women have always had to put up with judgements about their character, bodies and lives in general. The so-called beauty standards have been at the centre of lasting debate for decades on end as to what constitutes femininity. This still goes on. So with the Tz president poking holes into the physical appearance of female footballers, the argument is that she’s only reinforcing these thoughts. 

Therefore, she rolled back on the “progress” that’s been made, perceived or otherwise, in the fight towards inclusivity. This begs the question, is it realistic to expect one woman to steer a shift in mental attitudes of an entire society? 

There are a lot of articles written about what a female leader ought to be like. If she portrays traits like aggressiveness, assertiveness or is decisive, she may be deemed to be less likeable and more masculine. The other way around and she gets criticised for not being tough enough.

Here’s the thing. One female leader cannot change society. It’s a collective responsibility of the inhabitants of the society to make that change. This fight for inclusivity has almost been left to female leaders which raise the perception that one of their responsibilities, once they get to the top, is to “solve female issues". This is wrong. It takes both men and women in society to achieve that.

Here’s not what we are saying. We are not saying that Samia Suluhu is right. Neither are we suggesting otherwise. We’ll let you decide that. We are not saying that people cannot disagree with her statements. We do acknowledge the importance and the influence female leaders like her have which is why they might be held to a higher standard. 

Perhaps, we might want to be true and honest with ourselves and admit that female leaders don’t live in a vacuum. They have been brought up in a familiar environment that we have been in. Some if not most of what happens has influenced their lives in a variety of ways. That will definitely lead to differing views which is perfectly alright because we don't need an echo chamber. 

Think about it.