If you live in a world where you don’t need ramps, you simply do not notice  — Lionesses of Africa

by Lionesses of Africa Operations Department

The above powerful photo of Sázia Sousa, in her words “a proud member of Lionesses”, the General Director of Technoplus, Lda, Mozambique (here), taken by the brilliant Giulia Bosis, says it all for what we are, as she says:

A note for the International Women Entrepreneur’s Day:

Be a # woman and be a # entrepreneur! I have this photo as a symbol of much that I have achieved so far. And for all women I scream: We do not want to be equal to men. We do not want to stop taking care of the house or the children. We just want them to stop looking at women as a being incapable of opinion, intelligence, and strength. We want to stop conditioning our life to a successful marriage. We want to continue being women, but above all, we want to be human beings able to help our community.

Surely a battle cry from all Lionesses as we are not looking for charity, we are not looking to become someone different, not looking to be squeezed into a different shaped box, we just want a removal of the invisible obstacles and barriers that keep us intentionally or unintentionally down.

We were reminded of all the barriers mentioned by Sázia when we read a post on LinkedIn from one of our Lionesses, Eugénia Langa, founder and CEO of Nweba, Lda in Mozambique. Winner of the 2019 Outstanding Award of Mozambican Oil & Gas sector 2018, the Leadership in Quality Award, and the first Mozambican Company dedicated to Procurement and Logistics for Civil Construction with a team Certified as International Procurement Professionals (CIPP), she clearly knows her stuff.

I recently participated in a tender for an individual consultant for an organization in one of the provinces in Mozambique. It was related to my area of work and when I read the terms of reference I thought that with my 12 years of experience and the requirements requested, I had a good chance.

I was very excited to participate because It was related to my work passion, my area of experience, in my country, in a sector that I know.

I submitted my expression of interest and to my delight I was called for an interview.

70% of my interview was related to my age, physiognomy and gender. And they explained to me what they expected of the Eugenia Langa, with whom they spoke on the phone when they invited me for the interview:

20% was to explain to me the difficulties I would have to perform the work and that it would often be necessary to travel and work out of hours, and that being young, not sure if I had children or not, few husbands would accept such an absence and that I would have to be sure what to expect.

10% was to explain more about the job and what was expected of me.

90% of my approach was to explain my career path, my qualifications, the projects and the level of complexity that I participated.

10%  I explained that I had 12 years of experience,  34 years old, married to someone who already knew the challenges of the nature of my  work and that he was my main support whenever I had to work or travel. That I was a mother and I was very proud to be a woman.

Fortunately I reached the short list of candidates (top 3) but they chose to select a man and a foreigner. My first reaction was that I wasn’t selected because of my gender, 2nd because of my nationality (despite being a job in Mozambique).

Later, forgetting the psychological aggression that was my interview, I thought of other probable reasons for not being selected:

Top 3 is good but not good enough.

There is someone with a better profile.

The expected professional profile was not found locally.

But honestly, if the person selected were a woman, I wouldn’t feel this weight of defeat that I feel now. Unfortunately this is not my first experience in which the gender is prioritized over technical capacity.

But our battle is still a long one. I am always happy when I see that organizations like:

IMPACT women who lead and Anicha Abdul who are focused on supporting women entrepreneurs in Mozambique.

MWE – Mozambique Women of Energy and Talumba Katawala that has programs aimed at women in sectors commonly referred to as men.

ATITTUDE and Marlene de Sousa who has a massive movement where they work hard to improve the quality of HR professionals.

And international organizations such as #lionessesofafrica that is one of the biggest platforms for African women in business and Melanie’s team, who are at the forefront when the cause is to increase the space for Women in Business in the World.

You can see her LinkedIn post here, please take a moment to like and share with your connections as this is sadly not unusual and the more who understand the pressures Lionesses face daily, the more that a wider audience see the obstacles that are put in our path, the more light we shine on these barriers, so the closer we shall get to tearing them down.

But there is clearly this flight to apparent ‘safety’ through concern for age, gender, children and husbands, that draws those with the power (as George Orwell said: “Those who control the money, control the future.”), be they Government, Provinces, Municipalities, DFIs or Banks away from women led businesses that we constantly see across our network, that we must force to change. 

According to Pitchbook:

With women founders crushing it on every metric—except VC fundraising—it is clear that the industry’s refusal to support these women is based on an unwillingness to adopt new processes for sourcing, evaluating and selecting deals,” (here)


a self-fulfilling prophecy…It’s easier to fundraise because other investors also value experience, increasing competition and de-risking future rounds…makes it even more important for investors to be cognizant of bias against…underrepresented founders.” (here)

Or as we reported in one of our previous articles (here):

“[Whilst] Female-founded companies are raising venture capital at significantly higher levels than at any point in the last decade…the gap in funding between all-women teams and mixed-gender teams continues to grow.” (here)

So that’s the VC and PE world where (least we forget) according to Harvard, the language and questions used by such investors differ dramatically if they are questioning a male or if a female founder! Harvard found out (here) that they ask questions based on hopes, achievements, advancement, and ideals (these are termed promotion orientation questions) to male founders of companies and more safety, responsibility, security, and vigilance (prevention orientation) questions (such as with Eugénia above) to female founders. To put it in sporting terms, men are put on the front foot, women on the back foot.

The banking world? The World Bank itself confirms the male centric demands from that industry through their data that shows the average collateral required for a loan (note average) in Africa is over 200%! (here) In the Journal of International Women’s Studies (here), in the article: ‘Gender Discrimination in Accessing Finance by Women-Owned Businesses’ by Sumanjeet Singh, Bishnu Mohan Dash, they showed that: 

The evidence collected from the credit markets of 47 African countries indicate that women-led businesses in North Africa and Central Africa opt out of credit markets because of lower creditworthiness. Women feel less confident as they apply for financial aid because of their presumption of application rejection. Not only this, but the loan officers apply conditions that make access to credit unattainable for women entrepreneurs.” 

The issue is not just investors, but the law too is not equal, as The World Bank showed in their report ‘Women, Business and the Law 2021’ (here) where they showed that although there is movement in the right direction: “…many laws continue to inhibit women’s ability to enter the workforce or start a business. 

On average, women have just three-quarters of the rights of men.

{In fact if you study the results on P.10 of the report, you will note that most of Africa is below the average.}

Yet “A significant body of research links legal reforms aimed at achieving gender equality to women’s economic outcomes. Women’s economic empowerment benefits the wider economy by reducing income inequality and increasing diversity and economic resilience. Furthermore, gender gaps in entrepreneurship and employment are associated with lower levels of income and productivity. Economies at higher levels of economic development have, in general, greater levels of gender equality. In fact, in the relationship between economic development and legal gender equality, the causality likely runs in both directions.” Surely that is an opportunity the world must grab?

Still, we are constantly told that the opportunities are there if women just grab them – but is that so? The door is open, yet so many cannot come in, as Trevor Noah (the great South African comedian – and just so we are clear, many comedians such as Trevor become great through observing society and then through humour, shine the truth) says in an excellent interview here. He calls them “invisible barriers that are holding people back”. He had a guest on his show who talked of a time when no one noticed that stairs, no ramps and no elevators closed off entire buildings for people in wheelchairs. As she told him: “No one noticed.” The world continued spinning, everyone carried on with their day whilst this person in a wheelchair waited and waited until someone finally helped. Great School, fantastic opportunity – but no way in! By the time she did get in, the best seats were taken, the doughnuts eaten and the interesting conversation had moved on… “No one noticed”. As Trevor says, this also applies across society.

If you live in a world where you don’t need ramps, 

you simply do not notice.

To force the change, to ensure we don’t continue facing these road bumps and barriers, and to help those with the power build the ramps, we as a community, as Lionesses, must take notice of when this happens, amplify it, magnify it, on LinkedIn, on Social Media, in newspapers and in discussions. This is so that those who have never needed ramps can see that whatever they think is happening, whatever they say is happening, whatever they are told is happening, is simply not being reflected on the streets and in our businesses…and at long last –  

The ramps might be built and the doors truly opened for all.

Stay safe.

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