In a world marked by change and complexity, leadership is taking on new dimensions. At PATH, women leaders stand as shining examples of not only navigating but thriving in these intricate landscapes. Their stories inspire colleagues as well as women across the continent on their leadership journeys. This is a reflection on PATH’s Pan African Women’s Day celebration, where we had the privilege of hearing from remarkable women who are setting a new standard for leadership within the organization and throughout the Africa region.
Pan African Women's Day: A tribute to resilience and empowerment
Pan African Women’s Day, a celebration recognized by the African Union, is a day dedicated every year on July 31 to honor courageous women who fought for Africa’s liberation and development. It is also an occasion to acknowledge exceptional contributions made by African women across diverse fields. At PATH, this celebration is not just about honoring the past but also a time to spotlight the trailblazing women shaping the future of public health. According to the most recent data, 54 percent of all PATH staff are women.
The history of Pan African Women’s Day
Lovena Owuor, PATH’s Africa Regional Technical Advisor for Gender Equity in Programming, kicked off with an exploration of the history of Pan African Women’s Day.
“Pan African Women’s Day was established on July 31, 1962, following recommendations from the All-African Women’s Conference in Guinea,” she said. This historic event paved the way for the annual African Women’s Conferences and the amplification of African women’s voices.
“In July 1962, in then Tanganyika (now Tanzania), the Pan African Women’s Organization (PAWO) was established, becoming the first continental women’s organization,” Lovena continued. “PAWO was integrated one year before the establishment of the African Union by the heads of state and governments of independent African countries. In 1970, during a PAWO conference in Liberia, July 31 was officially institutionalized as Pan African Women’s Day.”
The aim and importance of Pan African Women’s Day
The aim of Pan African Women’s Day is to help women celebrate their uniqueness, struggles, and achievements, Lovena elaborated. It is a day to reflect on the philosophy of Pan Africanism, promoting solidarity and diverse unity for women’s empowerment.
“The day highlights women’s role in technological advancements, educational progress, and decision-making at all levels,” she said, adding, “by acknowledging women’s achievements and promoting their rights, the recognition encourages ongoing actions to combat human rights violations and create a more equal and empowered society.”
Revolutionizing gender equity in leadership
The Chief of PATH’s Africa Region, Dr. Nanthalile Mugala, radiated pride as she gave her remarks.
“Gender equity and equality in leadership should not merely be an evolution; it should be a revolution,” she said. Her words encapsulated the theme of this year’s Pan African Women’s Day: ‘Innovation and Technology for Equality.’
“Women at PATH are not just participants; they’re changemakers,” Nanthalile said.
“Women’s leadership is not confined by borders but resonates across continents. Today, we celebrate not only women in the Africa region but also those of African descent around the globe.”
Do not conform—carve your unique path
PATH’s Global Immunization and Maternal Newborn and Child Health Advocacy Lead Esther Nasikye’s reflection resonated deeply with many aspiring leaders. She shared her initial struggle against the glass ceiling and how she was able to shatter those barriers.
“In March, there was a report released that indicated that health care leadership is mainly occupied by one gender. It is a situation where health care is delivered by women and led by men,” she remarked. “This forum allows us to keep pushing for gender parity and to elevate ourselves in leadership.”
Esther’s journey shows the value of fearlessness. She said, “I realized that rather than trying to fit into someone else’s shoes, I needed to find my own path and style. By embracing my uniqueness and pursuing my vision, I was able to break through challenges and achieve recognition.”
Esther’s story is a testament to the power of women in leadership. It speaks of how carving one’s path, rather than conforming, leads to extraordinary success.
Strategies for success
Carolyne Njuguna, PATH’s East Africa Hub Director, offered a roadmap for women aspiring to lead. Carolyne, who is also PATH Kenya’s Country Director, advised women not to live in denial or ignorance, but to recognize existing biases so they know how to navigate and equip themselves appropriately.
“Women must be proactive in seeking opportunities. Women should be very intentional about building a diverse network, both internally and externally,” she urged. “And go even a step further and map out their networks and understand the role of every person in their network.”
Carolyne’s message is clear: leadership is not a passive journey but a proactive one.
Bring your own seat to the table
Chabu Mulundu, Associate Recruiter for PATH’s Southern Africa Hub, agreed with Carolyne in encouraging women to be proactive.
“From the recruitment side, at PATH we do have policies to promote gender equality,” Chabu explained. “However, challenges arise when there are few women applicants for certain technical roles. It is important for women to apply for positions they believe they can do. PATH is intentional in elevating women, but we can’t be successful without women actively applying.”
She encouraged women to be ambitious, learn continuously, and ask for opportunities.
“We should bring our own seats to the table if they’re not provided and even create our own tables, if necessary,” Chabu said.
Chabu underlined the need for sustained efforts to drive gender equality, beyond special days like the Pan African Women’s Day. It has to happen every day, at every opportunity. It also demands advocacy for policies promoting gender parity, supporting education and empowerment, and challenging stereotypes.
The last word
In her keynote address, Nanthalile reminded everyone that the journey toward gender equity is a collective effort.
“Our success is not only a matter of personal achievement but also contributes to a more equitable world.”
She underscored PATH’s deep appreciation and recognition of women’s invaluable contributions in health service delivery. “Through the Women at PATH initiative, PATH is committed to fostering an inclusive and empowering environment that not only acknowledges but actively celebrates the role of women at all levels of the organization.”
“The Women at PATH platform fosters an environment for women to share experiences, mentor each other, and address their unique challenges.”— The Chief of PATH’s Africa Region, Dr. Nanthalile Mugala