The New African Woman Forum Interviews
At the New African Woman Forum and Awards 2016, there was no red carpet rolling and no paparazzi cameras. Just glamorous inspirational, powerful women, done with the “what are you wearing” or “who did your hair and make-up?” stereotype. They were at London’s Andaz Hotel to discuss, debate and proffer solutions to the mounting and changing discourse on the status of women in Africa. We share abridged snippets of what some of them had to say in interviews with NAW’s Assistant Editor Belinda Otas
“Elect her into office – empowered women need to be where laws are made – parliament”, Joyce Banda – Former and Malawi’s first female President
“One paramount thing, which we need to do, is to get the right people into African parliaments. And for that to happen we need women leaders like myself and others, who have done it before, and even if retired, to mobilise ourselves as a force that mobilises other women that are younger and coming up. That is why we have initiatives such as Elect her into office, which was launched in Accra, Ghana, under the Joyce Banda Foundation. Our intention is to go across Africa, in countries where they are having elections, and support women to be elected into parliament. Secondly, the media needs to help change the perception about women in Africa.
Many professional women get discouraged from entering politics because of the treatment they get when they are trying to get into positions of power – the name-calling, the scandalisation, the smear campaigns and much more.
This is a big problem, because the empowered woman, the well-educated woman does not end up where the laws are made, changed or passed. Women have to be in parliament to take part in all those important political decisions.
There’s a proverb in Malawi that says, ‘a female cow does not pull a cart, the female cow is kept for milking’. So the two years that I was president, the opposition kept questioning why Malawians were allowing a woman to pull the cart.
Today, Malawians are saying we were better off with the female president pulling the cart. What I am saying is, we need to give women the opportunity to get into leadership, and we need to be pushing women forward.
The New African Woman magazine should be part of, and can begin that process as one of its initiatives. One way of doing that, I would propose, is that your front Covers should include women in leadership.
But again, politics in Africa is about money, so money plays a very important role. However, again it is the men who have the capacity to dish out money and buy all the votes. Therefore capacity is crucial to supporting women to get to the top. And to do that women have to build their economic bases first. That’s why for me – business is first. Once a woman becomes a successful businesswoman, they have built capacity that will enable them to compete side by side with your male counterparts.
I have stood for parliament twice. Even if you are standing against a man, if you have the resources people will vote for you. But the greatest challenge is that largely, women just never get the capacity to compete with the men. At the core of my ability to stand for parliament in my constituency, was that I had the capacity to do so.
Also crucial is the issue of education. If girls are not educated they are likely to end up in early marriages or with teen pregnancies. In most countries in Africa education is not free, which makes it difficult particularly for women and girls. But women must be educated, girls must be educated. And then there is the issue of how harmful traditions and cultures stand in the way of the African woman’s advancement. I know women, including journalists, that shy away from talking about this issue. The silence comes with a cost.
How can we be silent when grown men sleep with small girls in the belief that such an obnoxious act will cure them of HIV/Aids?
In sum, we need two crucial working organs: one is banks, to help provide financial resources for the women and girls so they can build their own capacity to lead them up the political ladder and decision-making institutions; the other is the media’s role in how they portray African women. This New African Woman magazine Forum has done just that and it’s a critical role that needs progression for the benefit of all African women and men.”