“I’ve spent all my life fighting for the rights of women and girls. My mission in life is to assist women and girls in gaining social empowerment”, she stated during this symposium held parallel to the 72nd session of the UN general assembly.
President Banda focused her speech on the three issues that have driven her career and that are basic for the participation of women in leadership: education, health and domestic violence.
To explain them, Ms. Banda told her own story. She explained how in her village in Malawi she was supposed to grow up to become a housewife, but her father wanted to send her to school so she could become a powerful woman. In a village where matriarchal structures where in place, it was a tough and controversial choice in her house. When she got to secondary school she realized schooling was a privilege not afforded to most people, especially girls. “I was 14 years old when I woke up to the injustice of this world”, she said, and explained that at that moment she made up her mind: “I would send as many girls as possible to school. I will build schools”, she decided.
When giving birth to one of her children, she faced death too. Deaths for childbirth mean the highest rate of deaths for women in Africa. “I suffered it myself. Why women must die giving life?” she asked, and explained that then she decided she wanted to save as many girls as possible from dying from this unnecessary cause.
She then continued talking about domestic violence. After being in an abusive marriage for ten years, she made up her mind and decided to fight that violence. At 54 years of age, she became Minister of women and children in her country, and designed a law to protect women and men from home abuses. “In 2006, the Domestic violence law was passed”.
An Inspiring Woman
On Wednesday September 20, Professor Colette Mazzucelli from New York University already opened the first session of this symposium by citing Ms. Banda. She also mentioned Mary Robinson, President of Ireland (1990-1997) and Member of the Club de Madrid, and Elizabeth Guigou, President of the Anna Lindh Foundation. Professor Mazzucelli attended the Club de Madrid conference on Security and Development held the day in before in New York City, in which the three leaders were speakers. “I was inspired by listening to Ms. Banda”, said Mazzucelli, who then decided to invite the former President of Malawi to the university.
“Women’s leadership is under attack”, she exhorted and explained the necessity to find ways of assisting women in leadership because “women are getting into leadership, but we don’t know how to stay there”, said HE Ms. Banda mentioning the cases of women in high political positions in Chile, USA, New Zealand who are suffering campaigns against them. In Africa, “women are natural leaders” and we need to support and assist them.
The event took place in NYU's LaGuardia Co-op, a student technology center in Greenwich Village integrating Cisco system international videoconference options, one of the buildings that the New York University has in the city. In a room full of young people, President Banda finished saying: “I try to do a lot, but I want you to understand that there are so many Joyce Bandas where I come from!”
And President Banda added that feminism, a very popular term nowadays, means for her that men and women work together. “Engaging men you achieve more. We don’t confront or antagonize men. If we say they are part of the problem, we should engage them to be part of the solution”.
Watch the full speech on President's Banda Facebook account.
Read Professor Mazzucelli's opening speech here.
Picture: Professor Colette Mazzucelli, President Joyce Banda and Mark Donfried (Academy for Cultural Diplomacy) at NYU.