Graça Machel delivered the keynote speech at The Trialogue Business in Society Conference in Johannesburg on 16 May. The famed humanitarian, politician and widow of Nelson Mandela addressed the role of women in the socio-economic transformation of Africa. She argued that it is imperative to allow women to reach their full potential and contribute to the African GDP.

Including women isn’t an act of charity

Graça Machel highlighted the enormous potential contribution that women could make to the African economy. She argued that advancement of women is very little to do with charity, but something that makes real business sense.

‘Bringing women into the formal economy‚ making them grow within our companies up to leadership roles is not charity’, she said. ‘It is a business case. It is to improve how your companies are going to perform‚ how they are going to be profitable and how you are going to have a better working environment if you do so.’

‘Women must be allowed to assume positions where they can unleash their transformational power in business and society. There’s still an enduring view that women have a collateral and auxiliary role‚ rather than reflecting the 52% of the society which they make up,’ she added.

The higher you go, the less women there are

There is still a long way to go when looking at the current statistics on the economic inclusion of women in Africa. Machel referenced a report by McKinsey titled Women Matter Africa, which found that in Africa women make up:

  • 5% of CEOs
  • 22% of cabinet members
  • 25% of parliamentarians
  • 29% of senior managers

Graça Machel. Photo credit: Rexfeatures

Machel concluded with a challenge to the conference’s leaders. ‘Formulate ways in which you can play a greater role in your spheres of influence and make sure that women’s voices are heard. Ensure that they have a seat at the decision making table and they are enabled to participate fully in the economy,’ she said.

Human rights have always been a concern for Machel and she has fought tirelessly to empower women and children. Her trust focuses on the economic and financial empowerment of women, ending child marriage and creating food security.

The Trialogue Conference is an annual meeting of thought leaders from government, media, NPOs and academia. On the agenda was a discussion of socioeconomic development through funding for social justice and corporate philanthropy.