Minna Salami: I’m impatient with the idea that the reason we should empower women is to grow the economy

Minna Salami
Like all ideologies, feminism is an always changing one - Minna Salami Click To Tweet

Listed by ELLE Magazine as one of “12 women changing the world”, Minna Salami is a Nigerian-Finnish writer, blogger and commentator who has contributed to the popularisation of African feminism through her blog, MsAfropolitan

Her writing appears in the UK Guardian, Al Jazeera and The Independent. She is a columnist for the Huffington Post and The Guardian Nigeria, where she writes a bi-monthly column. Salami is a member of Duke University’s Global Educator Network and the Guardian Books and Africa Networks. 

Salami is a frequent speaker at international universities and featured on the BBC, SVT, Deutsche Welle, as well as TEDx Talks. She holds an MA (Distinction) in Gender Studies from the University of London, School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), and a BA (Distinction) in Political Science from the University of Lund, Sweden. 

She grew up in Lagos, Nigeria, in a multi-racial and inter-faith household where four languages were spoken, and has since lived in Sweden, Spain, New York and London. 

As a blogger who has written about feminist issues for many years, can you define in three words who a feminist is? Why does the word frighten some?

I’d like to first say that like all ideologies, feminism is an always changing one. So anything I say is simply my contribution to the forever changing landscape of what it means to be a feminist.

In that vein, here’s what I think. A feminist is a person who believes that feminism is the best tool (movement, framework, ideology) for the cultural, political, sexual and psychological liberation of women, men and all genders. By the way, I believe that although men, through manipulation, violence and force, now inhabit the top position in the gender pyramid, they are also imprisoned by our current forms of social relations, even if their “prison” has golden bars.

Anyway, in defining a feminist this way, I’m simultaneously suggesting that a feminist is not merely a strong woman who happens to be a politician, a single mother of three, a sassy seductress, a successful entrepreneur etc. as many seem to think. While such women may be living their lives in a feminist way, a feminist is ultimately one who at least has an awareness of the political philosophy of feminism.

That said, if the choice was between a great number of women living feminist lives but not referring to themselves as feminists –or– between a small number of women referring to themselves as feminist and living feminist lives, the former would be my clear preference.

The reason that I nevertheless formulate it the way I do is because I think that the canon of feminist philosophy is a treasure. Just like anyone who calls themselves a Marxist, would engage with economic systems, workers, the bourgeoisie etc., feminists benefit from engaging with feminist theory.

Sorry, that was more than three words. I really can’t define a feminist in three words!

Who is the empowered woman, and what’s your opinion on the use of the word ’empowered’ as a marketing tool?

At the risk of sounding too spiritual, or something, let me first say that I believe that if there is a purpose to life, then it is self-actualisation. Some might call this “becoming the highest version of yourself”.

Now, there are two types of obstacles to self-actualisation. The first are psychological obstacles, e.g. fear, family abuse, depression etc. The second are socially constructed obstacles. These can, depending on your gender, ethnicity, sexuality, class or race, follow similar patterns. To use an academic term – these obstacles form ‘institutionalised oppression’ – meaning that they are obstacles that are systematic and reinforced by established laws, customs, and practices.

I believe that if there is a purpose to life, then it is self-actualisation - @MsAfropolitan Click To Tweet

Bearing those two types of obstacles in mind, I would say that an empowered woman is one who is able to identify and subsequently transcend the obstacles that stand in the way of her self-actualisation. It’s not the same process for everyone, and it’s not an easy process for anyone, but society sets it up especially difficult for certain groups.

As for the business of empowerment, yes everyone from Coca-Cola to Ariel to H&M is now in the business of empowering women. The problem is that their formula is to cater to the first types of psychological obstacles I mentioned above while ignoring the institutionalised oppressions caused by traditions, social attitudes, sexual norms, the institution of family, international politics, the legal system, higher education, religions, professional spaces etc. This makes most so-called feminist marketing campaigns not only hypocritical but counterproductive.

That said, there are also brand campaigns that get it right and address both types of oppression in creative and innovative ways. Goldieblox had a pretty cool campaign some years ago. I’m not saying that using empowerment as a marketing tool is in itself an issue. What matters is that consumers discern genuine from faux empowerment.

What are the two biggest challenges facing professional women in Nigeria, and how can they be solved?

I would say, firstly, the absence of adequate constitutional rights. And secondly, the absence of a robust civil society fighting for adequate constitutional rights. The absence of both disturbs the smooth flow of a woman’s professional life. This is because there are no clear parameters for dealing with challenges that women are bound to encounter in professional life such as sexual harassment, maternity leave, domestic life-work balance, insurance policies, minimum wages, equal pay, and so on.

Feminist civil society groups are needed for various reasons. They educate women about their rights (or lack of rights) in the workplace through workshops, conferences etc. They formulate gender-sensitive policies and push for constitutional reform. Civil society groups teach women about feminism and how it can help them achieve real empowerment. They gather statistics and equip women with practical tools such as how to obtain bank loans or how to use technology to their advantage. They encourage women to become journalists, activists and to enter politics.

Organisations such as yours, She Leads Africa, are crucial for solving challenges in business. Other examples of vital organisations are the African Women’s Development Fund (AWDF) for funding initiatives, Women’s Rights and Health for health concerns and KIND for girls and leadership. At the end of the day, it is up to women to use and change the law to effect change.

The law is our best weapon against patriarchy.

A lot of women have been conditioned to see other women as the enemy. They refuse to collaborate with, amplify or help female colleagues, even though doing so benefits them. Why do you think that is? And what’s your advice for women working in male-dominated fields?

I guess there is a logic to the fact that when a group of people are marginalised they are bound to become competitive over the scraps left for them. But I would like to also consider the personal internal environment in which unhealthy competitiveness resides. It seems to me that our culture conditions women to feel a sense of lack within themselves.

In our society, there is always something a woman lacks —a husband, a boy child, a slim body, youth, wisdom, confidence, humbleness etc. Her internal world therefore becomes a milieu of confusion, one day she’s being asked to be this, the next day the opposite… So because she is constantly feeling that something is missing, she becomes bothered when she perceives another woman is in possession of it.

To end this, we need to cultivate a culture where women feel the opposite of lack, namely a sense of wholeness. Women working in male dominant fields, as most women are, need to cultivate a sense of inner acceptance that they are enough just as they are, which will enable them to want the same for others.

Minna Salami: We need to cultivate a culture where women feel the opposite of lack Click To Tweet

How to do that? I could write a book about it, but let me just say for now that it has to with placing female-centric values at the centre of our world view. Women will often evaluate themselves from a male-centric viewpoint which is never going to make them feel whole and complete.

There’s been a lot of discourse about empowering women for the sake of economic growth. Do you think it’s dangerous for policy makers to focus on achieving gender equality for economic reasons rather than because it’s a human right?

Yes, I’m impatient with the idea that the reason we should empower women is to grow the economy. Not because economic growth isn’t important, although I do think we focus on it excessively as the planet cannot handle continuous growth. Nor is it because economic growth does not benefit women, it certainly has the potential to.

However, equality should evidently be driven by other reasons than capitalism. It should be driven by visions of a holistic and prosperous society in which people of all genders gain satisfaction/value from their work. The more there is work satisfaction, the more the economy will become self-sufficient as people will spend money on local products, services, leisure activities etc.

Furthermore, the statistics raise a few questions. After all, more women are contributing to our economy and yet Nigeria is in a recession.

The question women should be asking is: How is the money they are contributing to the economy benefiting women? The system should work for us and not vice versa. Put it this way, gender equality is indeed necessary for economic growth, but economic growth is not the only reason we want gender equality.

You’ve given speeches around the world on feminism, what misconceptions do people have about African women with relation to gender equality and feminism?

The main misconception that people have is that African feminism is a “different” feminism in the sense that it is more lenient, that it lets men get away with still being the head of the family while the woman is the neck. That kind of thinking.

There is some truth to this presumption – that the type of feminist activism that revolutionises society at its core, as happened in much of the west in the 70s and that’s happening in Eastern Europe and some parts if Latin America now, is yet to change the status quo in the African continent.

However, it is in Africa that I have encountered women with the most dedication to the feminist revolution; women who do not pander to patriarchal narratives, and women who inject a deep humanism and criticism to the global feminist discussion.

What’s does the future hold for your award-winning blog, MsAfropolitan?

Hopefully more of the same. As well as new types of discussion and awareness-raising. At the moment, I’m developing an essay/concept titled “Oyalogy”, which is based on the Yoruba goddess [of winds, lightening, rebirth and death] Oya; and is a mythopoetic approach to African feminism.

I’m planning to turn it into a performance piece. The project is still in the early stages but my aim is to share it with women in different parts of the continent in order to encourage a dialogue around the issues raised in it.

If you’d like to share your story with She Leads Africa, let us know more about you and your story here.

Why we need to start empowering girls

zimbabwe girls empowering

A number of African cultures traditionally sideline girls leaving few opportunities for us to talk about the prevention of abuse. While some African governments have introduced laws aimed at protecting girls, protection alone is insufficient. We need the platform to show who we are and what we can do without being viewed as “just girls”.

Over the years, more women locally and internationally have responded positively to the upliftment of girls by taking on higher positions of authority in society and government, and pushing for change. Successful women respond to criticism by proving that life is not about being at home and raising the kids, but there is so much more we can do out there to change the political and economic situations all over. This stresses the need for us, as sisters to stand up and act.  Surely in a world where girls outnumber boys by 52 to 48 percent, the scales of authority should tip in our favour? We can’t have patriarchy controlling us from all corners.

The situation in Zimbabwe

Where I’m from, we are slowly reaching a far yet near destination in total emancipating girls. I say its far because of the mountains and obstacles to be moved and grappled with along the way. The situation of girls in Zimbabwe is a sorry state of oppression disguised as norms heavily imposed on girls. To adjust and adapt to the hostile environment and curve their own space in the world, girls use methods that often diminish their being.

Take for instance, the Blesser-Blessee “situationships”, where girls offer men sexual favours in return for their needs being met. It is exploitation, yet it happens because girls don’t see a way out. Then, some of us are criticized for our choices to remain single or childfree, even when it’s our choice to create our own path and not fall into traps created by society. Zimbabwean society even gives unmarried women nicknames such as “Chipo Chiroorwa”, which translates to “get married now or risk becoming ridiculed.”

quote-by-empowering-a-woman-we-empower-a-child-by-educating-a-girl-child-we-make-it-possible-winnie-byanyima-81-69-76Girls are good for more than marriage

I met a young girl from my hometown once, Ruvimbo. She fell pregnant at the age of 14 leading to a loss of parental love, education and deterioration of her physical health. She dropped out of school to look for work and fend for herself and the baby after been chased away from home and forced to elope. The boy, on the other hand, was allowed to continue with his studies. Ruvimbo suffered silently, unable to share her concerns for fear of rejection, stigma and discrimination. Her story brings to light how girls are more often than not, overpowered by societal pressure to get married even when they don’t want to.

Many young girls and women out there put on brave smiles that hide sad stories about the detrimental effects that adolescent pregnancy has had on their lives. By succumbing to such pressure, girls are forced to deal with the overwhelming psychological trauma of giving up their dreams, and being forced into parenthood at a young age without necessarily being prepared for it.

Stereotypes can be changed

We are brought up in a culture that indirectly promotes male chauvinism. Some of us believe that the only way to belong to society is to abide by social standards and chauvinistic rules. The problem is, behind these rules is a false idea that gendered roles, emotions and behaviors are biological. They say it’s natural for men to show superiority, dominance and aggression and for women to be weak and servile. Really? The truth is, these stereotypes can all be changed. Women need to kick start the revolution and increase the volume of voices to prove that we too can be superior and aggressive.

Ladies, let’s avoid people that try to belittle us and our ambitions. Small people always do that but the really great people make you feel that you too, can become great. Let’s review our own beliefs, attitudes and stop perpetuating the male chauvinism that limits our opportunities. We all want to see girls doing good for themselves. If each successful woman can hold one girl’s hand, imagine how many of our girls will be at peace.

Key steps to finding your voice

Like many girls and young women growing up in a patriarchal culture, I embodied this “less than” attitude as I grew up. While women are leaders in many regards, there is still a shadow that we live under. Women may have the education, the experience and the drive to successfully guide a team of people but still lack a well defined voice (and no, not “voice” as in Tenor and Bass).

Voice in this case is an extension of the person. It’s their brand, their way of doing things, their expertise and how it is communicated. Those who show strong leadership skills have often developed this sense of voice throughout their careers. For those who haven’t, it may be time to examine it further.

Determine your voice

A women, we need to be familiar enough with our voices to know how we come across to peers, staff and clients. Our personal set of values is directly connected to this, what we stand for, our values, what people can learn from us.

There is a need to be clear and concise about your voice, your stance and your ideas, and be sure that everything you do and say aligns with that.

Look for inspiration

There’s no shame in admiring the qualities of others, whether it’s a family member, a mentor, an industry leader, an iconic figure or a celebrity. Observe them closely. Have conversations with those you have access to.

For those whom you don’t have access to, watch their public appearances and read their writing. Find them wherever they are, in business, politics, sports, TV and note down the characteristics that appeal to you. It is not enough to just admire someone, figure out what it is about them specifically that draws you in. Note their confidence, their ability to build relationships, their network, their charisma, their intense knowledge of a particular area. Identify what intrigues you and roll with it. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel.

Experience matters

All the important lessons learned throughout the beginning and progression of your career are a part of your professional voice. The decisions you’ve made, the wins and the losses, they help to make up who you are.

One of the common mistakes women make is we feel that because we have a seat at the table and we say something, everything is good. It’s important for us to know that having a voice really means having a track record of success and accomplishments. That people want to listen to what you have to say because you’re saying something of value. So, use your voice and use it strategically.


For those women leaders looking to evolve, especially those in the younger end of the workforce spectrum, it might be time for experimentation. Identify low-risk scenarios in which different approaches are feasible. For this experiment, try to make a decision with consensus, then in an authoritative tone and then one in the middle. After doing this, it will become clear what style fits you.

You don’t have to do this in a high-risk client situation or in front of venture capitalists who will determine your funding future. Try making a plan with friends, getting your children to do what you need them to do, or sitting on a non-profit committee. Practice with your spouse, your friends, or your network. Just like building a business, this is a process. The earlier you are in your career, the more latitude you have to experiment.

Your voice and leadership matters.

When you begin to speak out for what you believe in and use your voice without apology, you not only empower yourself but all women and girls. You become a role model, and girls everywhere can begin to see themselves as leaders.

You might not get it right in the first year, the first business, the first finance pitch, the first launch, or maybe even the second or third.  But awareness is the first step.

Role models for the woman who doesn’t want kids

billie holiday didn't have kids

It’s time for a brutally honest conversation. Some women don’t want kids. Being a parent is just one of the many roles that women can play. I particularly feel angry when women are pushed into or forced to be parents when they have no intention, inclination or desire to be mothers. Parenting, including having kids, should be a matter of choice. A child does not want or need a reluctant or frustrated parent.

As women, we are human beings first with desires, ambitions, talents, skills and purpose. For those of us who choose nurturing as their primary goal be the best you can be, it’s a choice! Personally I preferred to have my children in my 20s as they are important in my life path. However, we should all respect that women have a different paths through which to contribute to society. Sometimes this does not include having kids. If you’ve felt alone by not feeling any maternal desires, this list of prominent childless women will remind you that you are not.

Rosa Parks, Civil-Rights Activist 

Rosa Parks is famous for refusing to give up her bus seat to a white passenger in Jim Crow era US. Her defiance lead her to became a symbol for the Civil Rights and she later received national recognition for her work as an activist.

Oprah Winfrey, Media proprietor and philanthropist

Oprah is undoubtedly the Queen of media. She doesn’t need an introduction, we know that she is the richest African American of our time and possibly the greatest black philanthropist in history.

judge-13214-mainRoselyn Naliaka Nambuye, Kenyan High Court Judge

The Court of Appeal judge with over 30 years experience in law, Roselyn was the chair of the Kenya Women Judges Association. She created scholarship for destitute children and is also known participate in communal activities like funerals and harambees.

Billie Holiday, Singer and songwriter

The iconic singer of the blues, Billie Holiday never had children. She pioneered new forms of singing and is known for her voice which captured her audience’s attention completely.

Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany, 2005-now 

The number 1 most powerful woman in world this year, according to Forbes, Angela Merkel is the first woman leader of the Christian Democratic Union party and the first woman Chancellor of Germany.

Condoleezza Rice, US Secretary of State 2005-2009 

Condoleezza Rice was the first woman to serve as National Security Advisor and the first African-American woman to be Secretary of State. Condoleezza is also a professor of political sciene affiliated with Stanford University.

For those who just don’t want to have children now, remember that child bearing can be deferred until even your forties. This can allow you to pursue any other ambitions you may have during the “prime” of you life (that is between the ages of 25 to 35) .


When is the right time to tie the knot?

tie the knot

This is question that runs through just about every girl’s mind once she counted as a woman. In the 70’s, women were often married off by the time they were 18-years-old, even earlier when cultural norms were considered. If you were 25 and still unmarried, you were seen as an old spinster. Emphasis on the word “old”. But after the 70’s, the average age at which women got married only continued to rise instead of falling despite terms like, “old spinster”. This happened across the world as the dynamics around what and who a woman was as well as what her duties and limitations are began to shift.

The historical angle

There was a point in time when the status a woman got was solely attached to her father’s name and her husband’s after that. For this reason, I think women, even those born into families with strong reputable names, made sure that they married into status. This had to be done as soon as possible, of course before all the good men with the good names got swept up.

But once women were able to get their own jobs, make their own money and demand more respect than they were only able to in previous times and environments, there was a sudden shift. Women had more liberties then and the need to achieve more for themselves outside the aspects of family grew. What all this has done in subsequent years is, it’s made more and more women think about themselves, their own name, reputations, careers, and futures. But we still yearn for companionship. We still want that place in a family as wife and mother.

A right time to tie the knot?

But is there a right time to tie that knot? Everyone has an opinion about when the right time is and their own reasons for backing it. Your grandmother might say the moment you turn 20 you are ready. Your auntie, the nosy one who’s in everyone’s face, might say when you’re 24. Your mother might say when you’re done with school. But when are you done with school? You get your first degree, and then perhaps your second. Then your masters and then suddenly getting a PhD seems like the next best option. There will be those people who will say that you just must marry before your eggs “grow old” and preferably before you turn 30, the apparent age when everything in your body starts to shut down, so that you can have kids and be young with your children.

“You don’t want to have to run after a 5-year-old when you’re an old and tired,” they will say. But now technology has given us a way to preserve our eggs, get sperm donors, use surrogates and along with the increased awareness and great regard for fitness and nutrition, this reason to tie the knot earlier rather than later has started to weigh less than it did before. More women are adjusting their timelines for just about everything.

What does the public say?

I went out to see what the Ugandan public thought was the right time to tie the knot. One lady I spoke to felt that any time is the right time when you’ve met the right person and are physically, emotionally, spiritually and financially ready to take that step while another without hesitation replied 28. One unmarried guy seemed to agree with this adding that you need to be at a place where you are willing and able to provide for a family. When the married people, both women and men, were asked for their opinion however, they had this to say,

“The time is right just when it is. There is no formula when it comes to emotions.”

“You’ll never have enough money. If you love her and she loves you back and you both see each other in each other’s lives long term, get married”

“You’ll never be perfect and rounded in all the ways you want to be. If you’re both on the same wavelength and love each other, just do it.”

“After you have found yourself and your centre because if it is because if your reason for marrying is loneliness then you’re making a big mistake. Loneliness is a spiritual, emotional condition.”

After considering the replies of happily married people, we can with some confidence, say this much. Before you join yourself in holy matrimony with someone else, make sure you are happy, fulfilled, whole, healthy as an individual and ready to give 100%. There is no certain universal time when a person is at this place in their lives. Despite all this, marriage is an institution that requires two whole persons not two half empty vessels.

When is the right time to tie the knot? You decide.

It’s time to question the strict gender roles placed on women

shehive nyc gender roles

One of the major gender roles set apart for women is that of the nurturer. But nurturing takes time. It keeps women away from other activities. It drains us emotionally. It makes us places nurturing above other roles. It costs money. It reduces resources available to women.

I was born into a family of 7 children and I have 3 children myself. While I am a huge supporter of family life, I believe nurturing is a huge factor of inequality between the genders. Women are raised to believe that nurturing is an exclusively for women. This is deduced from the inter dependency required during the first year or so of a child’s life. But nature does not make mistakes, it was not intended for intense inter dependency to go on forever.

In fulfilling gender roles, some women believe that everything else takes a back seat to nurturing. In my opinion this is a box that women create to limit themselves. We have an inherent gift of multitasking and delegation. Yet, a good number of us spend an inordinate amount of time planning and thinking about our roles as mothers or wives. Consider too that other women will go against their instincts to perform these roles due to societal norms, even when they are honestly not interested in being nurturers.

The reality

Nurturing is an important role for both genders. The inter dependency between a mother and child should be balanced with a father’s participation. A father is just as valuable a parent as a mother and is key to the emotional growth of a child. It’s a partnership and not a sole proprietorship! So dads, bringing in the bacon is not enough. Children also need your socialization, encouragement, advise, direction and love.

Having a support system is important for any woman who has a child. We need time to do other things for our own mental stability. Yet, many women pour in too much time on their children and into their children’s life. You don’t need to take your child everywhere. You don’t need to be a drone mum using espionage-like tactics to constantly keep an eye on your child. My children surprise me everyday with their innovative thinking when I give them space to explore and make their own choices. So mums, child rearing is not a 24 hour business. Balance it out, live your life. Be the lioness who hunts and leads with the lion, even though she has cubs.

Technology equalises the imbalance

Society can balance gender roles with technology. Women can use technology to participate more to society and not feel stifled or limited to the nurturing role. With technology, we can contribute from anywhere and work faster. Women can handle domestic roles and still have time to pursue their aspirations and dreams. For example, parents can can supervise their homes in their absence through nanny cams.

Jobs that were previously time and energy consuming can be done quicker and easily with technological innovation. Women have the choice to participate be both mothers and professionals. Education, personal development and skill acquisition are available at a click of a button. E-learning platforms allow users to interact, access premier education without from the comfort of home. I personally favour listening to audiobooks so that I can multitask.

Furthermore, technological advances in the prevention and treatment in medicine mean parents don’t have to fret so much over children’s health. This allow parents time to pursue other pursuits. A number of the restrictions and barriers have been lifted by technology. We need to come up with more strategies to equalize gender roles so that men and women can live fulfilling and significant live while still being nurturers. Technology provides us that opportunity, why not capitalize on it?


How to be career focused and not disappoint your mother

It started as a conversation with my friend. We were talking about topics we’d love to read about and I said I wished someone would write a manual on how to not disappoint your mom.

Mothers…bless their souls, we love them but there’s something about knowing you’ve disappointed your mother that leaves an indelible mark on your consciousness. A mark you’ll continue trying to obliterate or make amends for -both exercises in futility really because how do you fix what you didn’t set out to ruin?

See I’m 26 and I’m a single girl living and working in Lagos, far away from the comfort of my family. That on its own is enough to cause most parents to worry, my parents don’t live in Nigeria.

Thus the responsibility of parenting me has been outsourced to a gaggle of well-intentioned, if incredibly parochial, aunts whose reports about my actions are the only things my parents have going for them right now.

This unfortunately means that over the last year and a half since arriving in Nigeria, every other phone call to my mother has been an episode of ‘New Ways to Break a Mom’s Heart’. Often due to one aunt or the other complaining about something I’ve done to her.

By all accounts, the aunties have valid cases against me. My job means that I work long days that often become longer nights; and on days when I simply can’t go home, I stay in hotels.

When you factor in that according to Nigerian aunties, only a certain type of lady regularly patronizes hotels, you begin to understand why my innocuous actions are an affront to their quiet sensibilities. By focusing on work, I disappoint their expectations of proper Nigerian womanhood.

I get it, I don’t agree with it but I get it.

I used to obsess about my work-life balance and how I was not fulfilling some arbitrary Nigerian ideas I believed I had to satisfy. But now I step away from it all. It’s really just BS. I came across an article once that argued there shouldn’t be anything like work-life balance.

The writer stated that this way of thinking doomed us into thinking it was a zero sum game. They instead chose to think of work and life as a delicate relationship that although might sometimes appear to be skewed, are in reality both being satisfied in different ways. This helped me understand that I do not disappoint, and neither do you.

I’m still not sure how to balance my work with my life or perhaps more importantly how to ensure my mother doesn’t get disappointed with me (everyday). Yet if there’s one thing I know, it’s the inevitability of mistakes.

Sometimes, your work will appear to take precedence for months on end and you won’t always do what’s right by mom. So, maybe don’t obsess over assumed failures?

These days, when I get to steal time away from work to gossip with mom over phone about bosses or new opportunities, I can hear her pride.  I feel how proud she is of my ability to make things work in my career despite not being the daughter she might have wanted me to be. That’s really all there is to it at the end of the day.

20 powerful Chimamanda Adichie quotes for today’s boss women

chimamanda adichie

Nigerian writer, speaker, and activist, Chimamanda Adichie, is beloved by many. The award winning novelist and Ted talk sensation is fiercely revered for being a thought leader on Africa and contemporary African politics. With her recent feature on Beyonce’s self titled album, Beyonce, many have come to know her for talk, “We should all be feminist”. But Adichie speaks on more fronts than one, from the personal and private to the institutional and public.

Below, we share 20 of our favorite quotes by Adichie that shed light on some of the topics and issues today’s boss women care about: being our true and best selves, navigating social roles, confronting gender and racial injustice, love and relationships, the motherland, and of course, money and being a creative. While short, each quote is steeped deep in history and context and is worth pondering over.
chimamanda adichie

On being a powerful woman

1. Never ever accept ‘Because You Are A Woman’ as a reason for doing or not doing anything.

2. I want to be respected in all of my femaleness because I deserve to be.

3. Minister to the world in a way that can change it. Minister radically in a real, active, practical, get your hands dirty way.

On life

4. Your standard ideologies will not always fit your life. Because life is messy.

5. Please do not twist yourself into shapes to please. Don’t do it. If someone likes that version of you, that version of you that is false and holds back, then they actually just like that twisted shape, and not you. And the world is such a gloriously multifaceted, diverse place that there are people in the world who will like you, the real you, as you are.

6. The truth has become an insult.

On Men, Love, and Relationships

7. Masculinity is a hard, small cage, and we put boys inside this cage.

8. Of course I am not worried about intimating men. The type of man who will be intimidated is exactly the type of man I have no interest in.

9. Please love by giving and by taking. Give and be given. If you are only giving and not taking, you’ll know. You’ll know from that small and true voice inside you that we females are so often socialized to silence. Don’t silence that voice. Dare to take.

chimamanda adichie

On injustice

10. Racism should never have happened and so you don’t get a cookie for reducing it.

11. The real tragedy of our postcolonial world is not that the majority of people had no say in whether or not they wanted this new world; rather, it is that the majority have not been given the tools to negotiate this new world.

On Gender and Feminism

12. I am trying to unlearn many lessons of gender I internalized while growing up. But I sometimes still feel vulnerable in the face of gender expectations.

13. Some people ask: “Why the word feminist? Why not just say you are a believer in human rights, or something like that?” Because that would be dishonest. Feminism is, of course, part of human rights in general—but to choose to use the vague expression human rights is to deny the specific and particular problem of gender. It would be a way of pretending that it was not women who have, for centuries, been excluded. It would be a way of denying that the problem of gender targets women.

14. Culture does not make people. People make culture. If it is true that the full humanity of women is not our culture, then we can and must make it our culture.

On Africa and being African

15. I recently spoke at a university where a student told me it was such a shame that Nigerian men were physical abusers like the father character in my novel. I told him that I had recently read a novel called American Psycho, and that it was a shame that young Americans were serial murderers.

16. They themselves mocked Africa, trading stories of absurdity, of stupidity, and they felt safe to mock, because it was a mockery born of longing, and of the heartbroken desire to see a place made whole again.

17. Because although there’s a lot of gender bullshit in Nigeria, I think women in the west have a lot more invested in being liked. And being liked if you’re female means a certain thing. So in workplaces, women who are bosses in Nigeria are fierce. The people who work for them, men and women, respect them. But, these are women who very keenly perform gender stereotypes when they go back home. And if they give a public interview, they have to say, ‘My husband supported me and allowed me to …’.

On Money and wealth

18. Creative writing programmes are not very necessary. They just exist so that people like us can make a living.

19. There are many different ways to be poor in the world but increasingly there seems to be one single way to be rich.

20. How can we resist exploitation if we don’t have the tools to understand exploitation.

Which of your favourite quotes by Chimamanda did we miss?

We should all be feminists: The business case for women’s inclusion

Mao Zedong once said: “Women hold up half the sky”. While I wholeheartedly agree with this notion— I must add that in Africa, women not only  hold up half the sky but also hold down the land and everything therein. Let’s examine the facts:

  • According to ActionAid International, women make up more than half of African farmers and produce up to 90% of Africa’s food
  • Women constitute over 50% of Africa’s growing population

It is simply impossible to imagine Africa without its women.

UN women
Source: UN Women

However, as Africa has rapidly progressed, there has been a lack of proportional representation of women. Women are often missing in the narrative of Africa’s growth and are clearly underrepresented in governance.  The concepts of growth and governance are in many ways intertwined and key to a prosperous Africa.  To drive growth, Africa needs leaders with diverse skills, talents and backgrounds. Given women’s make up over 50% of Africa’s human capital, Africa can’t achieve any milestones without them. There are clear benefits for integrating women into Africa’s growth story and dire consequences for excluding them.

Economists estimate that Africa needs to grow at a rate of at least 7% per year to put a meaningful dent on poverty. While some countries are on track to meet this target, others are lagging behind. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development found that an increase in female labor force participation –or a reduction in the gap between women’s and men’s labor force participation—results in faster economic growth. Also, development economics expert Stephan Klasen found that gender inequality in employment negatively impacts growth in Sub-Saharan Africa— the continent directly suffers losses of 0.3% per year compared to East Asia due to this problem.

Fundamentally, the principle of economics tells us there are 3 key ingredients for economic growth: land, capital and labor. Economic growth is maximized when all of these factors are fully tapped into and being utilized. There is no nation in the history of the world that has achieved meaningful economic growth without engaging its female population.  Further, the Nike Foundation found that women reinvest 90% of their income back into the household, whereas men only reinvest 35-40%. Cross referenced, the data suggests that the path to sustainable growth for Africa is one that needs women at its forefront. Hence, governments, private sector firms and individuals need to make a conscious effort to promote female participation in building the kind of economy Africa deserves.

Global Partnerships

That said, Africa needs visionary and ethical leaders. Since gaining independence from colonial powers, many African countries have been ruled by male leaders (often dictators), and in that time we have not made meaningful progress. According to the World Bank, East Asia managed to reduce extreme poverty from 78% in 1981 to 8% in 2011. In South Asia, the share of the population living in extreme poverty is now the lowest since 1981, dropping from 61% in 1981 to 25% in 2011. Sub-Saharan Africa on the other hand, has only reduced its rate of extreme poverty from 53% in 1981 to 47% in 2011.

While one can argue that external factors have contributed to this reality, I emphasize that a large part of Africa’s failure to live up to its potential has been due to poor leadership.


Numerous behavioral studies have found women to be more trustworthy and publicly spirited than men and particularly effective in honest governance. A study by the World Bank Development Research Group found that higher rates of female participation in government are associated with lower levels of corruption. One can argue that these studies are neither all-encompassing nor conclusive. However, given that our current modus operandi has largely failed, I suggest we employ another approach towards the leadership of our continent – one that has more female leaders at the table.

Inclusive Security
Source: Inclusive Security

The World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report shows Rwanda as being in the top 10 countries of gender equality globally. One area of particular strength is the political empowerment of Rwanda’s women. The country’s women hold 64% of parliament seats (highest in the world) and 39% of ministerial positions. Rwanda also holds the number 1 rank globally for female labor participation, where the country has more women than men contributing to the GDP (with a female to male ratio of 1.02). It is no surprise, then, that Rwanda’s economy grew by 7% in 2014 and is projected to grow by 7.5% in both 2015 and 2016 according to the African Economic Outlook. The success Rwanda has shown in engaging women in political leadership is a glimpse of what the rest of Africa can accomplish with more women at the table.

The business case for aggressively engaging women in the development story of Africa is clear— we simply cannot achieve growth without them. While there have been some bright spots, leadership has been poor. To realize our potential across every sector, women need to be engaged women at all levels. Women will not solve all our problems, but leveraging our most talented people—both female and male—promises to be the only sustainable solution.