Women in the World

03.10.12

Where Women Went Wrong in Egypt

They fought for revolution but weren’t organized, getting pushed aside in the new government, says Kah Walla, a political leader in Cameroon. She and other leaders call on global women to regroup.
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In a fiery call to arms Saturday morning, Kah Walla, the president of Cameroon People’s Party, said women need to get their act together and run for office around the globe. “One thing that happened in Egypt, women were not organized,” she said at the Women in the World summit. “They were in the street, they were fighting along with the men, but they were not part of formal organizations.” When it came to running the country, she said, organizations, not individuals, were enlisted.

“We don’t have critical mass,” she told moderator Andrea Mitchell on a panel about women world leaders. “As women, we need to understand it is in the politics—it’s politics that defines the economy, the social norms. Until we get political power, we are not going to make great strides. Every woman here needs to be involved in getting a woman elected. We need to be organized.”

Walla, an entrepreneur who ran for president of Cameroon in 2011, also talked about leadership in her native Africa, saying, “We have extraordinary potential. In the media you see these pictures—always the worst. But in Africa, we produce 9 percent of the world’s oil. Africa is not poor, it is poorly run.”

That’s where women come in, she said.

The four other panelists agreed, each weighing in with thoughts on how women need to regroup. Margot Wallstrom, the chairwoman of the Council of Women World Leaders and a U.N. Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, said female leaders are especially key in conflict zones. “In modern wars and conflicts, women have ended up on the front line—it can often be more dangerous to be a woman than a soldier,” she said. “Access to justice is so difficult for women still. That’s a huge challenge.”

Also on the panel, Jane Harman, director, president, and CEO of the Woodrow Wilson Center, announced that fellow panelist Atifete Jahjaga, the president of the Republic of Kosovo, is the latest woman to join the Council of Women World Leaders.

Alyse Nelson, president and CEO of Vital Voices, called on women leaders such as Jahjaga to mentor their younger counterparts in the political arena. “We may have 19 percent of seats in parliament around the world, but we don’t have 19 percent of power. We’re not in senior leadership,” she said. “Mentoring is critical.”

NBC’s Mitchell, who opened the event at Lincoln Center by joking that, “As an aspiring violinist, I always hoped I’d be on this stage,” noted that one of her toughest interviews as a journalist was with Margaret Thatcher. “She would never let you get away with anything,” she said. “That’s something you see in a lot of women.”