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Women and Democratic Revolution
Reporting live from the Aspen Ideas Festival through U.S. Trust's Legacy Lens: WHAT IS a legacy WORTH?
In the last 50 years, Cameroon has had two presidents, and the current head of state has held power for 30 years. The average age of government employees is 65 years old, while 50 percent of the population is under 20.
Cameroon's current political system represents a crisis of leadership that can be seen around the world in developing countries, according to Kah Walla, a Cameroonian activist and managing director of STRATEGIES!.
It's not limited to Africa or Asia. "In the developing world today we also see a crisis of leadership, whether in the U.S. or Europe," said Walla. "In 2011, the people manifested in the streets all across the world and showed they are unhappy with their leadership and that leadership no longer represents what they want for their everyday lives."
Walla said she believes these crises represent a crucial moment in which women need to step up to become leaders. "We the people and we as women do not understand power. It is a construction. It is a system. It has ways that it functions and it does not suffice to bring down that one guy. Because the system is still in place," said Walla. "We need to make sure we are sufficiently organized that we understand this construction of power to be able to transform it."
Walla was joined on stage at the Hotel Jerome in Aspen for an Aspen Ideas Festival panel about the "Power of Women Leading Change in the World" with Laura Alonso, a parliament member in Argentina, and Amira Yahyaoui, a political and human rights activist from Tunisia. All three are recipients of the Vital Voices Leadership Awards, which honors women leaders around the world. Vital Voices is an organization whose mission is to identify, invest in and bring visibility to extraordinary women around the world through their leadership potential to transform lives and accelerate peace and prosperity in their communities. The organization is partnering with Bank of America over the next five years in support of their Global Ambassadors Program.
Yahyaoui spoke on the role of youth in birthing political transformation, pointing out that while the older generation of Tunisians put up with authoritarian rule, the average age of those who died in last year's revolution was 35 years old.
"Now it's our turn. Really, when I speak to misters or deputies," said Yahyaoui, "[I say] you are here, ok we elected you, but you are not here to represent yourself. You represent me and the people. I am above you and you are below me, and you have to hear what I say and what the people say."
Yahyaoui, who is 27 years-old and recently turned down two offers for positions in the new Tunisian government, added, "Not only do you not have the right to do that, but we are not going to let you do that."
Alonso expressed her belief that women need to organize themselves to recreate the democratic spirit that has swept through Latin America in the past. "You will never do the right thing alone," she said. "This year in Latin America and the past decade, the spirit of democracy is not there anymore. I came into politics after a long career in civil society organizations because I want to feel the spirit of democracy again."
Yahyaoui spoke on this theme as well, "The time of one leader is gone. Now is the time for a group of people fighting for an idea."