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Taking Action to Advance Women Leaders in Africa

Time and Place

6th Floor, The Wilson Center

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Event Details

While Africa’s history celebrates many women political leaders, former President of Malawi Dr. Joyce Banda argues that this rich tradition will only continue if policymakers, community leaders, and civil society take steps to advance those born to lead.

On July 17th, the Women in Public Service Project and Africa Program at the Wilson Center co-hosted a conversation with Dr. Joyce Banda, former President of Malawi and Wilson Center Distinguished Fellow, and civil society leaders to discuss the progress and challenges for women to become political leaders in Africa. The panel was moderated by Gwen K. Young, Director of the Global Women’s Leadership Initiative and the Women in Public Service Project at the Wilson Center.

While Africa is already leading the way in appointing women to government, it remains an ongoing effort for women and girls to navigate the traditional system and become leaders in the society. Drawing insights from her March 2017 policy paper “From Day One: An Agenda for Advancing Women Leaders in Africa,” Dr. Banda presented a policy toolkit of action points and best practices to implement five key recommendations, including political will, mobility in the rural industry, leaders’ network, data for leadership, and legal environment—designed to guide policymakers and community leaders to support women leaders.

Dr. Banda quote

Key Quotes

Dr. Joyce Banda

Dr. Banda

“When women become leaders, they focus on issues of women and children.”

“We need a toolkit to continue to fight for women’s participation in leadership because the continent of Africa has made good progress.”

“Now we know that it can be done, therefore we must run. We must be talking to our friends and partners that can help us accelerate that speed, making sure that we get as many women as possible into leadership.”

“I’m calling up on my fellow women to rise, to understand, to be counted, to fight, to change mindsets at [the] grassroots.”

“Women are risk-takers […] they put their people first. It’s not about the votes, it’s about the people who gave them the mandate to lead in the first place.”

Dr. Joannie Marlene Bewa

Joannie Bewa

“Women’s leadership is not only about having great dreams but also being able to have a strong ecosystem of alliance that can support [women] in implementing and guides women in decision making.”

“As part of the African continent, we have values specific to ourselves that we don’t defend and we still believe in … this is a great opportunity for us to leverage skills within this community of traditional religious leaders.”

“What doesn’t get measured doesn’t get attention.”

Karen Sherman

Karen Sherman

“Education is key to workforce outcome.”

“The woman earning an income is really a game-changer in the family and in the community. It changes how she’s treated, elevates her status—it gives her voice and agency within that family and within that community.”

Pape Samb

Pape Samb

“We need to educate men to be a partner in empowering women. […] We need to educate men and young boys to understand how we define work in the household, how we define work in the economic market and in the social market.”

“Within our government, we should start having a network of men advocating for women.”


Coming from diverse backgrounds in public health, entrepreneurship, and business, the panelists put forward different approaches that would further Africa’s progress in women’s leadership. They highlighted the need for education and mentorship for young women and girls, which is crucial to changing conventional mindsets about gender roles within the household and the community. Moreover, women should not be the sole agents in the effort toward global parity—both women and men should engage in a reciprocal commitment that nurtures an environment for women’s leadership.

In an effort to address these and other recommendations, Dr. Joyce Banda’s policy toolkit will serve as a substantive action plan for advocates, policymakers and communities to accomplish the necessary steps to achieve gender parity in policy and political leadership in Africa.

By Hoa Nguyen, WPSP Intern

Find more photos via Flickr.


Africa Program

This event was hosted in partnership with the Africa Program at the Wilson Center.

Cover photo: UN Women via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

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