News

    Banda, Sirleaf Pave Way for More African Female Leaders

    Malawi's new President Joyce Banda gives a press conference in Lilongwe. Banda said she was pinning her hopes on donors to re-open aid taps after she started talking to them on possible resumption of aid frozen over governance and macroeconomic concerns,
    Malawi's new President Joyce Banda gives a press conference in Lilongwe. Banda said she was pinning her hopes on donors to re-open aid taps after she started talking to them on possible resumption of aid frozen over governance and macroeconomic concerns,

    Joyce Banda’s swearing in as president of Malawi this month made her the second female head of state in Africa - following Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s election victory in Liberia in 2005. Many see this as a key advance for women on a continent that has been dominated by male political figures.

    Joyce Banda

    John Kapito, chairman of the Malawi Human Rights Commission, has been following Joyce Banda’s career for many years. He watched in 1990 as Banda founded the National Association of Business Women, which provides training and loans to women wanting to start up small-scale businesses.  

    He also followed the creation of the Joyce Banda Foundation, a charity that helps orphans and low-income children in Malawi get an education. In 1997 Banda was awarded the Africa Prize for Leadership for the Sustainable End of Hunger - conferred by the U.S.-based Hunger Project.

    Banda’s slow but steady climb to the top has not been easy. She walked away from an abusive marriage in 1981 at a time when most women stayed in such situations. Much later, as vice president of Malawi and also deputy president of the ruling party, she lost her party position after refusing to support then-president Bingu wa Mutharika in his bid to have his brother take over the presidency.

    Becoming president

    So, after Mutharika died suddenly at the beginning of April, Vice President Joyce Banda became President Joyce Banda.

    Malawi Human Rights Commission chairman Kapito says Banda is a role model for women and the nation as a whole - well able to ensure that the rights of the poor, especially rural women, are respected. 

    “As a woman I think she has demonstrated that, one, she can be listened to," said Kapito. "She cannot be manipulated quickly. Most of the businesses in Malawi are run by the male, and they are dominated by the male. And that, I think, will be a test where she can put her foot down and say, I would want to transfer all these resources to the rural people, to the poor people in the rural areas.”

    Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

    Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf sits at a ceremony to mark her second presidential inauguration at the Capitol in Monrovia, Liberia, January 16, 2012.
    Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf sits at a ceremony to mark her second presidential inauguration at the Capitol in Monrovia, Liberia, January 16, 2012.
    Skip over to the other side of the continent, where Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is enjoying her second term as president of formerly war-torn Liberia.

    Ebrahim Faqir, manager for governance at the South African-based Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa, notes that both Presidents Banda and Sirleaf have had strong track records in promoting women’s rights as well as holding positions in the corporate and private sector - skills, knowledge, and experiences that they brought to their presidencies.

    President Sirleaf, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011, was an executive in the international banking community and a former economist working for The World Bank and Citibank in Africa.

    Like Joyce Banda, Sirleaf has taken heat for some unpopular stances, including a crackdown on corruption, stringent debt-reduction measures, and what some considered an over-reliance on foreign aid.

    Living up to hopes

    Faqir says he thinks Sirleaf has largely lived up to the great hope that surrounded her 2005 election.

    “She instituted a truth and reconciliation commission," said Faqir. "She announced very drastic policy changes - the most key among them free education at least for children up to a certain age. She introduced some kind of policy change for revitalization in the health sector and in the economy, and trying to stem the tide of corruption.”

    Faqir says Sirleaf’s and Banda’s successes come at a time when child-rearing and domestic chores still limit many women from pursuing high-level positions in public office - and that a lack of support for women in these areas is a world-wide phenomenon. He says in many parts of Africa, there is still a clash between traditional and modern views of women’s role in public life - but that is changing rapidly.

    Role of women in Africa

    “There are massive shifts taking place across the African continent," added Faqir. "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.”

    In the opinion of Elisha Attai, founder of the African Women in Leadership Organization, the Sirleaf and Banda presidencies highlight qualities inherent in women that seem to suggest they can be better leaders in places like his home country, Nigeria.

    “Most of these positions that have done so well - whether in government, whether in national industry - are being manned by women; and you do not have issues," said Attai. "But most of the corrupted offices that we had problems with, are being handled by men. So I just feel naturally a strong woman, who is well-educated, is not really corrupt.”

    In addition to possibly being less corrupt, he says he thinks women are less likely to go to war or to get caught up in politically-motivated wrangling.

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Two-thirds of World Faces Water Shortagei
    X
    February 12, 2016 7:31 PM
    Four billion people — or two out of every three on the planet — do not have enough water to meet their basic needs. That is far greater than previously thought, according to a new study that presents a more accurate picture of the problem. As VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports, the findings will help policymakers and the public craft solutions to address the threat.
    Video

    Video Two-thirds of World Faces Water Shortage

    Four billion people — or two out of every three on the planet — do not have enough water to meet their basic needs. That is far greater than previously thought, according to a new study that presents a more accurate picture of the problem. As VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports, the findings will help policymakers and the public craft solutions to address the threat.
    Video

    Video Gateway to Mecca: Historical Old Jeddah

    Local leader Sami Nawar's family has been in the Old City of Jeddah for hundreds of years and takes us on a tour of this ancient route to Mecca, also believed to be the final resting place of Adam's wife, Eve.
    Video

    Video New Technology Aims to Bring Election Transparency to Uganda

    A team of recent graduates from Uganda’s Makerere University has created a mobile application designed to help monitor elections and expose possible rigging. The developers say the app, called E-Poll, will make Uganda's democratic process fairer. From Kampala, VOA's Serginho Roosblad reports.
    Video

    Video As Refugees Perish, Greek Graveyards Fill

    Aid workers on the Greek island of Lesbos say they are struggling to bury the increasing number of bodies of refugees that have been recovered or washed up ashore in recent months.  The graveyards are all full, they say, yet as tens of thousands of people clamor to get out of Syria, it is clear refugees will still be coming in record numbers. For VOA, Hamada Elrasam reports from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video Russia Bristles at NATO Expansion in E. Europe

    Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is meeting Friday with the head of NATO after the Western military alliance and the United States announced plans for the biggest military build-up in Europe since the Cold War. Russia has called NATO's moves a threat to stability in Europe. But NATO says the troop rotations and equipment are aimed at reassuring allies concerned about Russia as VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video To Fight Zika, Scientists Target Mosquitoes

    Mosquitoes strike again. The Zika virus outbreak is just the latest headline-grabbing epidemic carried by these biting pests, but researchers are fighting back with new ways to control them. VOA's Steve Baragona takes a look.
    Video

    Video Mosul Refugees Talk About Life Under IS

    A top U.S. intelligence official told Congress this week that a planned Iraqi-led operation to re-take the city of Mosul from Islamic State militants is unlikely to take place this year. IS took over the city in June 2014, and for the past year and a half, Mosul residents have been held captive under its rule. VOA's Zana Omar talked to some families who managed to escape. Bronwyn Benito narrates his report.
    Video

    Video Scientists Make Progress Toward Better Diabetes Treatment, Cure

    Scientists at two of the top U.S. universities say they have made significant advances in their quest to find a more efficient treatment for diabetes and eventually a cure. According to the International Diabetes Federation, the disease affects more than 370 million people worldwide. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video NATO to Target Migrant Smugglers

    NATO has announced plans to send warships to the Aegean Sea to target migrant smugglers in the alliance's most direct intervention so far since a wave of people began trying to reach European shores.
    Video

    Video Russia's Catholics, Orthodox Hopeful on Historic Pope-Patriarch Meeting

    Russia's Catholic minority has welcomed an historic first meeting Friday in Cuba between the Pope and the Patriarch of Russia's dominant Orthodox Church. The Orthodox Church split with Rome in 1054 and analysts say politics, both church and state, have been driving the relationship in the centuries since. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video Used Books Get a New Life on the Streets of Lagos

    Used booksellers are importing books from abroad and selling them on the streets of Africa's largest city. What‘s popular with readers may surprise you. Chris Stein reports from Lagos.
    Video

    Video After NH Primaries All Eyes on South Carolina

    After Tuesday's primary in New Hampshire, US presidential candidates swiftly turned to the next election coming up in South Carolina. The so-called “first-in-the-South” poll may help further narrow down the field of candidates. Zlatica Hoke reports.
    Video

    Video Smartphone Helps Grow Vegetables

    One day, you may be using your smartphone to grow your vegetables. A Taipei-based company has developed a farm cube — a small, enclosed ecosystem designed to grow plants indoors. The environment inside is automatically adjusted by the cube, but it can also be controlled through an app. VOA's Deborah Block has more on the gardening system.
    Video

    Video Exhibit Turns da Vinci’s Drawings Into Real Objects

    In addition to being a successful artist, Renaissance genius Leonardo da Vinci designed many practical machines, some of which are still in use today, although in different forms. But a number of his projects were never realized — until today. VOA’s George Putic reports.