When Africa’s Women Rise, Africa Rises

This is a guest post written by Her Excellency Dr. Joyce Banda, Former President of the Republic of Malawi and Founder of the Joyce Banda Foundation International, and Edith Kachale Banda, Director of Africa Programs, Humanitas Global

 

Women make up more than half of the African continent.  They toil the land, teach our children, provide goods and services, cook, clean and nourish our communities, and more.  In precolonial times, women across the African continent had economic and social power and prestige, presided over lands, held chieftancies, and led core functions across their villages.[1]

Women in Africa hold the key to the region’s future, because they are the leaders from Africa’s past. Today, Africa’s women are an untapped economic and political force.  If supported, they will catalyze progress, and the end of poverty for the region.

The year 2020 marks important milestones in the continental and global calendar for gender equality and the empowerment of women.

At the continental level, it is the end of the African Women’s Decade (AWD) that began in 2010. Globally, 2020 commemorates 25 years since the adoption of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action as well as the beginning of UN Women led multigenerational campaign, “Generation Equality: Realizing women’s rights for an equal future.” It is also the 20th anniversary of the United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1325 on women and peace and security, which acknowledged the disproportionate and unique impact that conflict has on women and girls and affirmed the vital role that women around the world play in prevention and resolution of conflict.

Women leaders across Africa have made the commitment to collaborate to build up other women leaders on the continent.  The African Women Leaders Network (AWLN), launched in June 2017 during the “Women Leaders Forum for Africa’s Transformation,” is one such example.  Composed of more than 300 African women leaders from various sectors and initially launched at the UN Headquarters, it was formally established during at the African Union Commission in April 2018. The AWLN, in addition to other initiatives led by women, for the empowerment of women, is an example of the extensive work that women leaders have done across the continent to build each other up and create gender parity.

Africa-born women’s initiatives such as the Joyce Banda Foundation International’s MWAI Network, President Sirleaf Johnson’s Amujae Initiative, the SHEROES Foundation headquarted in Accra, Ghana, and the African Union Development Agency (AUDA) Women’s Leadership Fund are all powerful examples of the dedication to empowering and enabling leadership of women across all sectors and levels of society.  In addition, international organizations, such as Vital Voices, propel women to connect with programs and networks that foster peer-to-peer collaboration and innovation among women entrepreneurs, leaders, and policymakers across Africa and around the world,

As we aim for gender parity, taking advantage of opportunities to connect women is critically important. With ten years to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, these networks are powerful in bringing communities along, and building and activating leadership capacity that will be sustained. The priority to enable the next generation of African women leaders is clear, but where to deploy them and invest in them is key.

  • Deliver on the global promise to educate women and girls. UNESCO reports that there are 1.5 billion learners across 165 countries affected by COVID-19 school closures. Hundreds of millions of these students reside in Africa. While there is a risk that these learners will fall back, or fall out from the education system entirely, there were already hundreds of millions of children in Africa, disproportionately girls, who were never in school to begin with.[2]

Learning will remain out of reach, unless we prioritize quality, accessible education for all, starting with girls and young women. When young women and girls attain an education, they are unstoppable, and they bring their communities along. Just as we are adapting and investing in learning approaches in this time of crisis, we are required to continue do so once the crisis has subsided. Innovation, best practices, tools and funding directed to African domestic and local organizations, are urgent.  These organizations are working on the frontlines to transform education for youth and young women in manners that are well-received by and influential to local communities.  We must start there, and be deliberate about creating and funding a whole community movement where education for girls is prioritized, pursued and celebrated by the very communities affected by high rates of poverty and inequality.

  • Place women at the forefront of Africa’s learning, healthcare and agricultural revolution. Women are disproportionately left behind. Because they have been a part of a system that has failed them for far too long, they know what does not work, and readily embrace what does. We can rely on their leadership to efficiently and effectively reshape how we teach, provide healthcare and grow food. To inspire their success, we must arm them with access to tools, technology, best practices, and mentorship. 
  • Ensure women have access to capital to drive innovation. Women have less access to resources than men around the world, but we have the opportunity to prioritize their ability to be the greatest innovators in our lifetime by arming them with capital. Give women teachers and school leaders the classrooms, books and supplies they need to empower future generations. Give women farmers agricultural inputs and technology to produce nutritious food to sell and feed their families. Give women midwives, nurses, and doctors the training, tools and space they need to provide care and knowledge to their communities.
  • Create networks to embolden women to serve in leadership roles. Serving in a leadership role without pioneering women role models to work alongside, can be intimidating and demotivating. If we create networks of women leaders, we can embolden women to take on leadership roles and feel supported within those roles. Success at achieving gender parity will require women empowering each other. 
  • Drive equitable outcomes for Africa by banding together. Inequity across gender, socio-economic status, race and more is the norm across Africa, and we should no longer accept it. Coming together to build up strong women leaders will undoubtedly help promote more equitable outcomes. If women have the opportunity to learn, earn and thrive at their full potential, community at large will be better for it. Youth, especially the girl child, will have better chances at education at a young age, be healthier, and have greater power and voice to advocate for the course of their lives. We can build up communities around the African continent if we work together to empower women to be economic actors and propel them to reach new heights.

 

We must prioritize and learn from the example of organizations and individual women leaders using their position, skills and experiences to empower other women. Women have the power to change the African continent for the better, and we must capitalize on any and all opportunities to help them reach that goal.

 

Her Excellency, Dr. Joyce Banda was the President of Malawi from 2012 to 2014 and is the founder and leader of Malawi’s People’s Party. An educator and grassroots women’s rights activist, she was Minister of Foreign Affairs from 2006-09 and Vice-President of Malawi from May 2009 to April 2012. Before her active career in politics she was the founder of the Joyce Banda Foundation International. She was a Visiting Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center and the Center for Global Development, under whose auspices she wrote the book From Day One on the African girl child. In June 2014, Forbes named President Banda as the 40th most powerful woman in the world and the most powerful woman in Africa. In October 2014, she was included in the BBC’s 100 Women. She is an Adviser to Humanitas Global. She is based in Malawi. @DrJoyceBanda

 

Edith Kachale Banda is Director of Africa Programs for Humanitas Global, a Washington, DC-based international development consultancy that works with UN agencies and international institutions, leading non-profits and corporations to scale up agriculture, nutrition, education, economic development and public health initiatives across Africa, Asia and Latin America and the Caribbean.  Edith has dedicated her career to empowering and mobilizing youth and women through a range of country and regional initiatives and has worked with national governments and regional entities to build enabling environments where women and youth can thrive. In addition to being a driving force for change in her own right, she is the proud daughter of Her Excellency, Dr. Joyce Banda. She is based in Washington, DC. @humanitasglobal @EdiAkridge

 

[1] Isola, Abidemi Abiola and Alao,Bukola A. “African Women and Leadership Role”

IOSR Journal Of Humanities And Social Science (IOSR-JHSS), Volume 24, Issue 9, Series. 5 (September. 2019) 05-08. p-ISSN: 2279-0845.

http://www.iosrjournals.org/iosr-jhss/papers/Vol.%2024%20Issue9/Series-5/B2409050508.pdf

[2] http://uis.unesco.org/en/news/263-million-children-and-youth-are-out-school