Video: Former President, Dr. Joyce Banda Keynote address at the 2015 GC4W International Women’s Awards & Gala Benefit at Library of Congress, Washington, DC. (Complete Transcript)

Here is the transcript of the Former President of Malawi, Dr. Joyce Banda presented by the Global Connections for Women Foundation (GC4W).


Former President of Malawi, Dr. Joyce Banda Keynote Address:

Your Excellency, the ambassador of Nigeria to the US, retired Chief Justice Richard Banda, my dear daughter and sister Lilian, fellow honorees, distinguished ladies and gentlemen.

I have noticed that all those that came to the podium were very, very brief so I’ve left my speech behind and I’ll also try and be as brief as I can. Let me take this opportunity to Thank God for this day.

And to thank you Lilian for your love, it is my pleasure to see here younger women come to the podium and receive awards, because as I’ve always said, as far I’m concerned leadership is about the young, the young leaders of today and not of tomorrow. 

But sometimes in Africa we want to tell our leaders, our young leaders that they should wait, we postpone their participation in decision-making. I want to thank those that decided that I should receive this award and I don’t take it for granted and I received it on behalf of my constituents. My constituency is the rural women and children of Africa.

10 years ago I was invited to come to the World Bank and we were discussing MDG3’s and 5. Particularly MDG3, there was concerned that it wasn’t moving there moving as fast as other MDGs and in my submission that day I said, we shall not be able to achieve MDG3 , particularly where I come from if we don’t take a holistic approach and usually those of us who are leaders in Africa, sometimes feel that nobody’s listening to us, but isn’t it a shame that next week, starting from tomorrow we shall be in New York at the CSW. 

Twenty years after Beijing taking stock, of what we have achieved on the platform of action that we drew in Beijing, but isn’t it a shame that those two that we should not have achieved are the ones that relates to women, MDG 3 and MDG 5.

I have worked in the women’s movement at grassroots, as an activist, as an entrepreneur, and in public life – and I have worked with women at all levels. And, I want to report that where I come from, in Africa, whether women are poor or not educated,

but they definitely know what the need to do to change their situation and I want to assure you distinguished ladies and gentlemen that my fellow African women at grassroots, they are not just sitting there waiting for handouts they know what they should do change their situation.

And so as an advocate for their voice what I’ve always asked the world to do, our sisters and brothers here, is to come into African and forge partnerships with us. It saddens me sometimes when people come and believe that they can do it for us, but I also respect those that come and forge smart partnerships with us and work with us, because we know exactly what to do.

Lilian is here and all those honorees that you saw know what they should do to change the situation of women in Africa and I hope that you can find it in your heart to partner with us and work with us to make that happen.

So what do I mean by a holistic approach? I truly believe that the situations of women in Africa can only change – if women are economically empowered. My mission in life is to assist women and youth in social and political empowerment through business and education — and I believe that this situation of women in Africa will change when that household has money.

When women are given the opportunity to do business, when the women can participate in contributing financially to the household, because when money gets into the house at grassroots – the girls are going to school, because when resources are low, the boys are going, the girls are not going

– and I have found that girls that have gone to school will also send their children to school and the three areas that I have advocated for throughout my adult life have originated from personal experience in my life.

So when I was growing up, going back to stay with my grandmother every weekend I had a very good friend in the village who was just as bright as I was going to the village school, we went all the way to primary school, we were selected to the best secondary schools, I went, the next time I came back from the holidays, she wasn’t on the roadside to meet me and

I was told that she had dropped out because her family couldn’t raise the six dollars she needed to go to school and I remembered at that point saying when I grow up I will send as many girls as possible to school.

My friend Christine, as I speak she is where I left her – and I went all the way to State House and I think that’s not fair and I think the education for girl child is a human right

#2, #3, #1 is income so that the girls can go to school, my pillar #3 is maternal health and HIV AIDS, because research has shown that when the girls don’t go to school their community is encouraging them to get married very early and when they get married early are dying while giving birth. My research shows that those who are dying while giving birth, maternal morality, are between the ages of fifteen and nineteen. So, keeping the girl child in school for more years is also saving her life.

My pillar #4 is leadership and I’m a living example of what can happen when you get into leadership and I have also seen what happened in Malawi when I was brought into state house,

I promoted as many women as possible, in fact the Chief Justice of Malawi, who was a woman I was told retired this week. The solicitor general is a woman and the two inspector deputy governors of the reserve bank are women, eight district commissioners and the list goes on — why because I believe that when women get into leadership on all levels focus more on issues on women and children.

My pillar #5 is that of rights and it is a cross cutting pillar into the four pillars and I believe that women must have the right to have access to income and control their income – and I believe that our girl child has the right to stay in school and I believe that the girl child or the young lady must have the right to get married when she wants to and to have children at an age that is safe for her.

Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, this model is what I have tried, the Joyce Banda Foundation was established sixteen years ago when I received the Africa prize in New York and the prize money was fifty thousand dollars and I took the 50,000 back home and started the foundation, because I believe it didn’t belong to me, but to the women that supported me. And as I speak the Joyce Banda Foundation has reached 1.3 Million Malawians. (Applause)

When I got into public office, I took advantage of the opportunity, as Minister of Gender I Championed the passing of the domestic violence bill. This past week, Malawi takes pride that it passed a law against marriage before the age of 18.

My experience has shown that passing laws is one thing, but making sure that they are implemented is another. You can tell a girl child not to get married before 18, but she must have the means to go to school in order to stay away from marriage.

So distinguished ladies and gentlemen I have been Minister of gender, I have been Foreign Minister, I have been the Vice President and I’ve been the President of a countrybut all these are nothing if we leave the thousands of women behind, because where I come from the face of poverty is women and therefore it is my pleasure that younger women like Lilian are coming up and taking over from us.

I established the Joyce Banda Foundation that runs schools and we are celebrating 10 years, because it is now sixteen-years-old celebrating 10 years, there was a creep where there was this young missed Joyce Banda dressed as I am here, this eight year old girl child was going to a press conference and the other students were the journalists and reporters. And so one of them asked this younger Mrs. Joyce Banda and said “Mrs Joyce Banda you have achieved so much in your life, now you are Foreign Minister, what are your future plans?”

And this young girls said “Oh my god, I wish I could now establish a university, I have established schools and I have established women’s groups and the Joyce Banda Foundation has 550,000 rural market women, but I wish I could establish a university, but as you can see I’m running out of time.”

And I listened to this girl and everybody laughed and I felt sorry for myself and so indeed allow me to end on that note. I am running out of time, but there’s still a lot of work to be done and in Africa and everywhere else, women are in majority, I have had the privilege of getting a lot of support from men, even more than from my fellow women.

And, so what has been the missing link, since Beijing, in 20 years, we have left out our brothers who should have assisted us to achieve more.

And I would like to say that as far as possible in this discussion, on this day, we must ensure that our men are sitting there and helping us achieve our platform for action, we have been talking to ourselves for too long, in any case our men realize that we are in the majority, but our men also appreciate that we brought into this world the other half. 

Thank you very much Distinguish Ladies and Gentlemen.

The End.

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