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.
Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountaini
X
July 02, 2015 4:10 AM
Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs