Advancing Women Leaders in Africa: A Discussion with Her Excellency Dr. Joyce Banda, Former President of Malawi
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On Friday, January 27th, the Women in Public Service Project and the Wilson Center Africa Program hosted GWLI Distinguished Fellow Her Excellency Dr. Joyce Banda, the former, and first female, President of the Republic of Malawi. Dr. Banda discussed her research and recommendations around advancing women’s leadership. At the Wilson Center, Dr. Banda has focused her research on what can be done to help women participate in leadership in Africa, and the event showcased the main themes of her research.
Dr. Banda opened the discussion with remarks on the UN Sustainable Development Goals, stressing that a critical mass of women leaders will be needed in Africa if we are to achieve them. She noted that the two UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) the world failed to reach, gender equality and maternal health, had to do with advancing the health and prosperity of women. Dr. Banda suggested that with more women in African leadership, a focus on equality in the public sphere, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will have a better chance of succeeding. She added that a woman acting as leaders in Africa was not new, but that historically, structures haven’t been in place to support women. Even still, Africa is doing better than most. The continent currently has two female presidents (in Liberia and Mauritius) and high numbers of women judges and legislatures in several countries.
Dr. Banda argued it is necessary to have female leaders. She noted that women leaders mobilize and work together. They network for the benefit of others, reach out and support others, take risks and fight corruption. Dr. Banda discussed the African Women’s Fund, an organization that provides support to women’s organizations on the African continent and supported both her and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia.
Dr. Banda discussed her hypothesis that many individuals are born with the traits that help one become a successful leader but that these traits are not often nurtured in young women. She cited challenges to the development of women leaders such as a lack of economic empowerment, inadequate training, and poor or inaccurate media coverage. Dr. Banda further argued that the scandalization of women in politics is discouraging fellow women from entering the field, a phenomenon she experienced herself.
Dr. Banda ended her presentation with recommendations for how to get women into African leadership. She stressed providing girls with quality education, strengthening regional and international women’s networks, and allocating resources for data collection, analysis and research around women in leadership. She added that it is important to mobilize rural leadership and to support local organizations that offer culturally appropriate training programs. Dr. Banda ended with a call to action for other women leaders around the world: “We have a moral responsibility to reach out and support other women; it is our duty to mobilize, mentor, and support young women.”
Following Dr. Banda’s presentation, the Women in Public Service Project Director, Gwen K. Young, introduced young female leaders Mongai Fankam and Alessia Alessandra de Borbon. The young women offered advice on how to become a leader at a young age, at school and in the community. Following their remarks, there was an open Q&A period. An audience member asked Dr. Banda how we can promote women in the judiciary, to which she answered, “Networking and working together as partners.” Another audience member asked how we can get rid of the idea that independent women are a threat to their communities. Dr. Banda replied, “We have to start at the household level to change beliefs. We have to make families want to send their girls to school. Then we must talk to chiefs, who are custodians of culture and tradition.”
Ms. Young concluded the panel by thanking Dr. Banda and the young women leaders.