subscribe: Posts | Comments

A meeting of two African presidents – and they’re both women


Deborah Cowan
WVoN co-editor 

When Ellen Johnson Sirleaf became president of Liberia in January 2006, history was made.  She became the first ever elected female head of state in Africa.

In April of this year, Joyce Banda joined Sirleaf in the African history books, becoming the first female president of Malawi (see WVoN story).

This week, the two women met as Banda travelled to Liberia to meet the woman she has described as her ‘role model’.

Of her inaugural visit, she said “I should have visited neighbouring countries as some suggested to me, but I decided to visit Liberia first in my tour.

“I thought of President Sirleaf, who is my role model, to sit and chat with her on how we can contribute to the development of Africa along with our male counterparts.

“I will need your support in this endeavour to make a mark that will reflect African women’s image on the continent, and if I succeed, it is your success, and [my] failure your failure.”

The meeting of the two women was clearly also a meeting of minds.  They have much in common.

Both have battled with anti-progressive political forces and have had to fight to prove themselves not just as politicians but as women politicians.

Both are vocal campaigners for women’s rights and gender equality and both have held rare positions of power in the corporate and private sector.

Banda has dedicated her career to the advancement of women.

In 1990 she set up the National Association of Business Women, providing leadership, loans and business training to women setting up small businesses, and specifically concentrating on the economic empowerment and education of women in rural areas.

She also set up the Joyce Banda Foundation, which funds Malawian children through education.

In Malawi, only about 79 per cent of girls attend primary school on a regular basis, while less than a quarter of girls are enrolled in secondary schooling.

Banda is determined to fix this problem.

Since taking over the presidency of Malawi, she has set about rebuilding a country whose economy is in tatters and has pledged to end the systemic poverty and abuse to which so many women fall victim.

The meeting between the two women was clearly highly anticipated and loaded with expectation.

Ebrahim Faqir, manager for governance at the South African-based Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa says that the success of both Sirleaf and Banda will have a significant impact on the lives of women, and substantively alter the traditional view that women have no place in the public forum.

Because of them, he says “There are massive shifts taking place across the African continent. There is a rise of a civil society, a rise of direct citizen action.

“And I think much of this does find in evidence an increasing role for women, not just among civil and political actors, but also in the economy.”

To the women of Liberia, Banda herself spoke more simply:

“…….. I hope you know that we are doing better than most countries. America is still struggling to put a woman in the White House but we have two, so we’re doing fine. This is what people did not expect us to achieve but we have.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *