A New Generation of Female Leaders
In sub-Saharan Africa, women typically face more difficulties than men pursuing higher education. According to Education Sub-Saharan Africa, 7.19% of women are enrolled in universities and colleges in sub-Saharan Africa compared to the 10.41% of men enrolled. This number is significantly lower than the global average for women, 41.66%. The disparity has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, especially after school closures and the economic recession, which have affected girls and women disproportionately.
In its commitment to contributing to the development of sub-Saharan Africa, the Ashinaga Africa Initiative (AAI) Recruitment Team aims to encourage more female students to apply to the program. The AAI Recruitment Team held its third webinar on December 10 with the theme of developing female leadership within Ashinaga. The goal was to provide potential applicants, especially female applicants, with information on applying and share stories of female AAI Scholars and Graduates.
AAI Scholars Betty and Rose and AAI Graduate Suzan shared their experiences with the application process and their journey studying abroad. They also discussed what female leadership means to them.
The speakers expressed that they felt lucky that their families were supportive. They also highlighted the support they received from Ashinaga, which provided all necessary information, communicated with their guardians, covered all travel costs to attend the interview, and was flexible with deadlines. Rose recalled that her grandmother felt more trustful of Ashinaga when they offered to reimburse for Rose’s trip to undergo the interview at the Embassy of Japan in Pretoria, South Africa.
Betty shared that what comforted her was the continuous support she received from Ashinaga staff members throughout the application process. She said, “I realized that this was more than a scholarship. Ashinaga gives you a family and a large support system that goes beyond financial support.”
Girls and women who aim to study abroad face considerable resistance from their families. The guardians’ main concerns include safety, lack of support, and cultural differences they may experience in their country of study. The Student Relations Manager at Ashinaga, Jennifer, shared how the team supports AAI Scholars from the point of selection, arrival to their country of study, and throughout their time at university. In addition to receiving academic and emotional support, Scholars work with the Professional Network and Career Development Team to develop their professional skills and start their careers on solid foundations.
Given such support, AAI Scholars work on their kokorozashi and identify a problem they would like to address. Scholars believe that they do not have to wait until they reach a leadership position to have a positive impact. As Suzan mentioned, “leadership is about serving your community.”
For Rose, female leadership defies the narratives and preconceptions society imposes on women. She recalled times at school where she was told that women are not supposed to apply for specific positions or work in certain fields. “I refused to let that become my reality. I went against the odds, especially that my two brothers dropped out of school.” After joining Ashinaga, Rose was inspired by her peers and her research to start an organization in South Africa to empower and mentor girls living with or affected by HIV. “This is a cause that is very close to my heart since I lost my mother to HIV. Thanks to Ashinaga, I received the necessary support to identify ways to solve the problem.”
Suzan, an AAI Graduate and current AMIA (Ashinaga Masters in Africa) Scholar, added that the support does not stop upon graduation. She continued to receive professional help throughout her job-hunting process after completing her undergraduate degree and is currently pursuing her postgraduate studies with Ashinaga’s support in her home country of Tanzania.
Overall, Betty, Rose, and Suzan’s advice for future female applicants was to collect all the necessary information and reach out for support from Ashinaga. Betty said, “I encourage all the applicants, especially females, to gather all necessary information and documents. Talk to your family and explain how the Ashinaga Africa Initiative will help you achieve your dream. It is also important to remember that the AAI is more than a scholarship. In addition to financial support, Ashinaga gives you a family and an extensive network of people who are invested in your growth and success.”
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