Dr. Joyce Banda, the former President of Malawi and a Distinguished Fellow at the Wilson Center’s Africa Program, recently spoke about her toolkit From Day One: An Agenda for Advancing Women Leaders in Africa. Her toolkit’s foundation rests on income, girl’s education, maternal health and HIV/AIDS, and leadership. These four pillars support her main mission of creating equality and parity for women. She maintains that policymakers, civil society organizations, community leaders, and the international community must take steps to advance those born to lead, in order to maintain a tradition of women in policy and political leadership positions in Africa.
Dr. Banda began with focusing on the role her father’s support played in allowing her to reach leadership positions. He supported her autonomy and status as a young woman growing up in Malawi and talked to her about topics ranging from the environment to girls’ education when other girls weren’t talking to their fathers, let alone about these topics. He didn’t put her down and instead allowed her to blossom, and allowed her to grow up in a safe environment where she felt supported.
On the contrary, Dr. Banda now sees that most girls she encounters need to convince male family members that it makes sense to educate them as opposed to marriage and children. Parents believe it is a wasted investment if their daughters don’t get a paying job. Due to this, women earning income is a game-changer in the family and the community because it gives her a voice, status, and agency to make decisions within both.
Dr. Banda has reached the conclusion that although the global community has allocated resources to support girls aged 10-14, the lack of support for girls from birth to age 10 renders the resources for the girls at an older age futile; it is simply too late.
Despite this lack of support for young girls, Africa has the highest number of women in governmental positions in the world. The continent of Africa has had four women presidents. The highest number of women in Cabinet is Zambia at 33% and the highest number of women in Parliament is Rwanda with 64%. This is important because as Dr. Banda notes, “when women become leaders, they focus on issues of women and children.”
Finally, Dr. Banda advises that there must be a strengthening of the network between current and emerging women leaders and that resources must be allocated towards data and research so that the advancement of women in leadership roles can be further supported and backed by evidence. She will continue to use her toolkit as her agenda moving forward, make noise, and lobby going forward knowing that she is backed by evidence. For her, one of the main benefits of having women leaders is that, “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.” Women will truly act as civil servants and not simply politicians, for the better.