Women’s Leadership in Africa: Challenges and Opportunities

On June 30, Distinguished Fellow Dr. Joyce Banda met with a group of 70 MBA students from University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business Affairs to discuss women’s leadership in the broader context of regional affairs in Africa. She shared her personal path to various leadership positions in the government and highlighted the need for women in public office.

As President of Malawi, Dr. Banda appointed nine women leaders to fill her cabinet. She also led the Presidential Initiative on Maternal Healthy & Safe Motherhood which brought private and nonprofit sectors together to provide access for women seeking medical care.

Looking at the existing system in Africa, Dr. Banda emphasized the significance of the rich history of women in positions of leadership on the continent during the pre-colonial, colonial, and post-independence period. She cited examples of four female presidents elected in Africa, with the most recent example of President Ameenah Gurib-Fakim of Mauritius in 2015. More women are also being appointed to serve in non-traditional ministries such as Ngozi Okonjo Iweala in Nigeria’s Ministry of Finance and Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula in South Africa’s Ministry of Defence.

Along with these accomplishments, Dr. Banda noted some challenges facing Africa in promoting women’s leadership, namely the lack of education, legal protection, and access to training to run for office. In addition, women still receive threats of violence and a biased media coverage that perpetuate stereotypes and undermines the power of women leaders. In tackling the current political climate, Dr. Banda suggested increasing access to education for girls as well as investing in resources on women’s leadership to strengthen political will and equip emerging leaders with necessary tools.