Malawi’s First Female President: African Women Don’t Need Western Lectures

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Joyce Banda.
Joyce Banda.Photo: Cindy Ord

Joyce Banda, the first female president of Malawi, who since leaving office in 2014 has been running the program Elect Her in Africa, had a few thoughts on the Western way of female empowerment at a conference on Sunday. Since one of the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals is to bring women worldwide fully into all levels of life, Banda said at the Sheroes forum in Dubai that one way to accomplish that is to stop impressing Western values onto African women.

Banda described how when visiting New York she had been giving women’s-leadership training and participants “were told to be assertive, stand straight and look people in the eye,” Reuters reports. But Banda said in her speech that this kind of practice would never work in Africa. “If I had done that, for example while talking to a traditional ruler in Africa, I would have been rejected immediately,” Banda said. “If you want to take the western route, all you will get is rejection, frustration. Confrontation will never work.” Banda also explained that she believed in equal rights for women, but “in doing things the African way.”

Banda said that the real power the Western world could give to African women is economic power: “When you don’t have the money, you can’t stand for elective power, not in Africa,” she said. Elect Her in Africa is Banda’s initiative that encourages women to run for political office on the continent.