COSAFA Women’s Leadership Programme hailed as unqualified success

The COSAFA Women’s Leadership Programme (WLP) has produced its first graduates as 37 participants drawn from all 14 COSAFA member associations were recognised for completing the six-month course on Monday, providing a new generation of trailblazers across the region.

The graduates each received recognition for their work in the programme, while there were also individual category winners announced.

FIFA’s Chief Women’s Football Officer Sarai Bareman addressed the graduates, while a pioneer in her own right, Comrades Marathon Chairperson Cheryl Winn, also gave a keynote address.

“It is fantastic to see the work that has been done, and the knowledge and experience that has been shared on the last six months of this programme,” Bareman told participants.   “It is programmes like this that make such a huge difference. I would not be in the position I am today if it weren’t for a programme like this one. Being able to meet other women and network.”

“There are three pieces of advice I would like to share which have helped me to where I am today. Firstly, no matter what position you are in, on the field or off it, you must always be prepared. You must be the most knowledgeable person on your topic, whatever it may be.”

“The second thing is to learn about the politics and the structure of the organisation you are in. Who are the people that can influence the decision-making, and who are the allies that can support you in your initiatives.”

“Thirdly, you have to support each other and use this network. As leaders we cannot be afraid to surround ourselves with people who are better than us. That is something that requires you to humble yourself.”

Bareman also had special praise for COSAFA General Secretary Sue Destombes, and the work the latter has advocated in promoting women in the Southern African football ecosystem.

“I want to especially acknowledge Sue Destombes, who is someone that from the very moment I met her, has put talk into action in terms of supporting other women within football. She is by far the most active and organized General Secretary of a zonal region, and you see the results in the number of activities and competitions that are taking place.”

The vision of the project is a world where women in the COSAFA region are empowered and elevated to leadership roles; and reach equal representation at decision-making level within the COSAFA region and its 14 member associations.

Winn, who is hugely respected in sports administration, gave a rallying cry in her keynote address for women to be “changemakers”, and to herald in a new era for global sport.

“The sad reality is that women make up 40% of sportspeople but receive only around 4% of the total sports media exposure,” Winn said. “And since media coverage directly influences a sport’s ability to attract sponsorships, such absence of media exposure can have a negative impact on the appeal of female sportspersons and related events to potential commercial sponsors.

“As people of influence in our professions, friendship circles and in society, we need to re- look for ways of amplifying women’s voices and expanding their roles as leaders, influencers, ambassadors and changemakers.”

Destombes says the value of the programme, which she hopes will be just the start of a number of initiatives, cannot be underestimated.

“We are proud to be playing our part as COSAFA in the development in football, both on and off the pitch,” she says. “Programmes such as this, with the content delivered at such a high level, are crucial in helping to redress the imbalance in football and provide more women with the chance to make a career in the game.”

There were four category winners from the WLP. South African Siyabulela Loyilane won the Leadership Excellence category, while Women’s Empowerment went to Felister Dossi from Malawi.

The Innovation category was won by Ilda Pedro and Veronica Lando from Angola for their women’s street soccer association initiative in Luanda. And the Football & Education category was won by Mila Motur and Caitkie Ranchhordas Vaghjee from Mauritius.

“We were hugely impressed with all the participants in the programme and the quality of their work,” says Mayi Cruz Blanco from the Sports Equity International Foundation, who organized the WLP in partnership with COSAFA. “The experience and skills gained by these women over the last six months will hopefully see them break down barriers and take the next step in their careers.”