•Professor Craig Calhoun, Director of London School of Economics;
•Prof. Haleh Afshar, Above the Parapet Lecture Chair,
•The Academic Community;
•Distinguished ladies and gentlemen.

Let me thank the Institute of Public Affairs of the London School of Economics and Political Science, for offering me “Above the Parapet Visiting Professor in Practice” at this distinguished academic institution.

Allow me to acknowledge the presence of my husband, Africa’s first and only former First Gentleman, His Excellency Chief Justice Richard Banda, retired.

I am here to give a public lecture on: “Investigating women’s journey into public life: Above the Parapet”: where I will look at the following questions:

“Why is it important in my view that women feature in public life? What difference does it make if women do hold senior positions? How has this worked in Malawi and in Africa? And what is my experience of coming into the Head of State role in Malawi, especially surrounded by men and how I dealt with any adverse responses from senior men and the male public?”

As I was thinking about what I should share with you, I thought about what Robert K. Greenleaf said in his article titled The Servant Leadership:, and I quote:

“… the servant leader is servant first…it begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. That person is sharply different from one who is a leader first, perhaps because of the need to assuage an unusual power drive or to acquire material possessions. For such it will be a later choice to serve- after leadership is established. The leader-first and servant –first are two extreme types. …”

This quote aligns with my philosophy about leadership. For your information, at 30 years I drew my mission statement in my life which says: to assist women and youth gain socio and economic empowerment through business and education.

The question of whether a leader is born or made is an ongoing debate. What is important is the need to nurture, support and mentor those that are spotted with leadership instinct even though they may be marginalised. And this includes women most of whom are indeed marginalised.

With this debate in mind, there cannot be any better time than now when many global initiatives that sought to strategically empower women are either being reviewed or evaluated. Among these are: the Beijing Platform for Action and the follow up conferences; the 58th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women, the Millennium Development Goals with its successor the Post 2015 Sustainable Development Agenda.

This moment is also a time when, as a global family, we will be celebrating the 20th Anniversary of the United Nations’ Beijing plus 20 and therefore the issues of women are becoming areas of great priority to many.

As a woman leader, 20 years after Beijing, I have learnt that we should have engaged men more from the beginning and they should have been part of the women leadership agenda, for the advancement of women and in closing the gender gap.

As we analyse the status of women in the world today and their journeys into public life, it is important to reflect on what Libby Sartain of Yahoo Inc had to say,;

‘… So much of what it takes to be a leader has been historically defined by men, and while I was determined to be a leader, the last thing in the world I was going to do was to try to be like a man so that I could be taken seriously. I had to continue to be myself and create a leadership style that worked for me. I ‘m just not capable of being anyone other than who I am…”

Indeed as we discuss the journeys women have taken into public life, issues of poverty, underdevelopment, under-representation, equality, equity and inclusivity immediately come to mind. As we know, women constitute the majority of our populations in the world and when we talk about these issues, we are actually talking mostly about women who are in majority.

I wish to note that despite there being progress for women moving into decision making positions as witnessed by the rise of women at all levels of society including becoming Heads of State and Government; women still face various challenges in their journeys to public life.

Without painting a gloomy picture, allow me to cite some of the challenges that women face on their journey to public life and also analyse what solutions, support mechanisms and survival tactics enable them to rise to various senior decision making positions:

• Limited access to formal education

In many countries, women face constrained access to formal education. As a result of this, they have lower access to opportunities in employment, business and financial services.

A recent study on education showed that of the 11 percent of the people who cannot read and write in the world, 90 percent are women.

This emphasises the urgent need to educate our women and the girl child. Education is a promoter and a defense. It helps people to raise themselves up and assist them in breaking barriers for their development.

A study of 60 developing countries estimated that the economic loss from not educating girls at the same level as boys amounted to $90 billion a year. And yet another study suggests that women invest up to 90 percent of their earnings as opposed to just 30 to 40 percent for men.

• Lack of economic empowerment

Lack of economic empowerment contributes to gender inequality and inequality of economic opportunities for women as well as unequal social status and rights.

These inequalities slow down development for women and their ability to rise to public offices.

In many parts of the world, men participate in the economy and public offices more than women. These gender gaps range from 12 percent in the developed economies to more than 50 percent in developing countries.

Unfortunately, too many women are unaccounted for, under-utilized, and overexploited. But history has shown us that when women contribute more, economies do better.

Therefore, there is need for political will at all levels of decision making to create business opportunities for women. For example, in Malawi, in the 1990s Government created Malawi Enterprise Development Fund for small medium entrepreneurs that empowered business women to access capital who later were able to build financial capacity to compete with their male counterparts and ended up being Members of Parliament and cabinet Ministers.

In Africa, we have seen Presidents appointing women as Vice Presidents, like in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Uganda and The Gambia. We have also seen affirmative action policies in South Africa opening opportunities for women into various senior decision making positions.

• Patriarchal society
Patriarchal society has hindered many women to enter public life in many parts of the world. Faulty socialisation processes at household level and community orientation have led women not being accepted into leadership positions. This has also impacted on the women to feel that they don’t have to fight for leadership positions.

These behaviour patterns have mostly been influenced by negative attitudes, traditions and customs.

I believe that real change must start with changing attitudes, traditions and behaviours in our families, communities and institutions.
We need to sensitise societies on the negative effects of these attitudes, traditions and cultures and where necessary pass legislation to enforce compulsory education and outlawing early marriages among others.

For example
In Malawi, late President Bingu wa Mutharika appointed Mrs Mary Nangwale as the first female Inspector General of Police. She acted in that position and demonstrated strong leadership skills and capabilities, but her appointment was not confirmed by a male dominated Parliament mainly because she was a woman.

Australia’s former Prime Minister Julia Gillard in her Misogyny Speech to Parliament passionately recounts how women leaders are treated and focused on her time in office: how she was humiliated and looked down upon; even to the extent of being called “a bitch and a witch”. It is very educative to examine how many women leaders have been treated and how they left office as in many instances after women leaders have cleaned up the mess they are very often pushed out from their positions.

• Lack of role models and mentoring

Role models and mentorship are critical in motivating women to enter public office.

Women need to look to each other for inspiration. However, most women lack role models and mentors to support them. Furthermore, the manner in which successful women leaders are treated discourages many women to aspire entering public office.

It is common knowledge, across all sectors of society that the higher you go the fewer women you see. The statistics are glaring: only 4 percent of Chief Executives in the Standard and Poor’s 500 company list are women; only 20 percent of parliamentary seats across the world are occupied by women; and less than 10 percent of countries in the world have female leaders.

Despite these statistics, evidence has shown that infact when women get the chance to lead, they lead better than men. This is because women are risk takers, they feel and connect with the plight of basic livelihood. Women leaders are brave and when problems arise, they do not cover up or look away. They are more persuasive, assertive and willing to take more risks than male leaders.

A study of over 7,000 leaders showed that women fared better in 12 of 16 competencies in 12 of 15 sectors.

Another study showed that women are very often hired to save companies or organizations in trouble. In most cases, they are also likely to be fired after fixing the problem.

i) Women leaders feel the urgency of doing something about this situation. They see and feel the plight of families, of children, of communities and indeed of countries. They recognise that they are the face of poverty, education, health, water and sanitation, leadership, energy and climate change variability. They understand and can relate to the above statistics in their homes and around the world. To women leaders these statistics are not mere figures but burden and suffering that need to be reversed and be reversed as quickly as possible. For me I have seen it, felt it, and lived it. For me therefore it is a moral obligation to spend my life doing something about the situation.

For example, in 1989, I established National Association of Business Women (NABW) to help empower many women who were like me to move out of poverty, oppressive environments and become active citizens. We reached more than 20,000 women. And many of the members of NABW moved up and took many leadership roles in their communities, in churches and even in politics.

The impact study on the project, which was funded by United States Agency for International Development (USAID), showed that 73 percent of the beneficiaries were out of poverty, 84 percent earned respect at household level and in their societies, 40 percent had graduated from informal economy to small and medium enterprises.

The study also showed that children born into these families were able to go to school; the women were able to take up leadership positions in their communities and contributed to their household upkeep. The study further showed that most women who stood for public office were those who had attained economic empowerment through business.

It is because of this work that the Hunger Project gave me an award in 1997. I used the prize money to establish the Joyce Banda Foundation to further the work for advancement of women and youth on issues I have raised in this lecture.

My worry was and still is that we have failed to achieve Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 3 (promote gender equality and empower women) and MGD 5 (improve maternal health) because we did not take a holistic approach: economic empowerment, education, health, leadership and rights.

ii) Women leaders bring human face into policies and programs where issues of women and children come to the policy table.
In many cases women see what men do not see with regard to women and children issues and in general perspectives on how these impact on the overall agenda of sustainable development.

During my human rights activism, I campaigned against violence against women, rights of children especially their right to education.
In 2004 to 2006, I was appointed Minister of Gender and Child Welfare. Upon assuming office as Minister of Gender and Child Welfare in 2004, my first responsibility was to enact “Domestic Violence Bill”. I am happy to report that by the time I had moved from the Ministry, the Bill was passed; a school bursary for girls’ education program was introduced.

iii) Women leaders are able to strike a balance between big projects and small ones in order to realise sustainable development and deliver healthy and happy communities.

(Examples: a cow a family, zero tolerance against child abuse, appointment of Child Protection Officers at community level, etc).
I have heard some leaders trivialising small social protection projects forgetting that these are building blocks for shaping an equitable and inclusive society.

It will be noted that in most countries where policies and programs pay special attention to women and children, they have economically progressed faster and enjoyed a higher degree of relative happiness and inclusivity between men and women which are key indicators of sustainable development.

iv) Women leaders have an inclusive, team building leadership style of problem solving and decision making.

I recall that by the time I assumed the office of President, the country was polarised on tribal and regional lines where most of key government positions were mostly occupied by one tribe. The country had poor relations with our neighbours and the development partners.

As President, I adopted an inclusive and participatory policy where I appointed an all inclusive Cabinet. I also engaged all stakeholders for consultations on key and important national policy issues. For example, I took an inclusive consultative approach on the Lake Malawi border dispute between Malawi and Tanzania and the fight against theft of public funds where I engaged with members of opposition political parties, faith based communities and civil society.

Our regional and sub-regional bodies have also mainstreamed protocols, policies and programs that focus on the empowerment of women including promoting women into senior decision making positions. Africa has produced three women Presidents. The African Union Commission and The Southern African Development Community (SADC) Secretariat are now headed by women, by Dr Nkosazana Dhlamini Zuma and Dr Stergomena Lawrence Tax, respectively.

Rwanda has the highest percentage of women representation in Parliament and senior decision making positions in Africa. Sweden has one of the highest female participation rates in the world partly because of its policies to support child care and early education, and putting a premium on flexible work arrangements and parental leave policies.

We have also seen political will by African Presidents in appointing female Vice Presidents such as The Gambia, Uganda, Zimbabwe and South Africa, past and present.

The rise of women into senior decision making positions in various sectors has surely contributed to the significant growth that we are witnessing on the African Continent today. In addition to political reforms, the combined effects of economic and financial reforms have added to the positive outlook for the continent.

Experts predict that the continent’s combined consumer spending will grow to about US$1.4 trillion in 2020.

They also estimate that 128 million African households will be in middle class income by 2020 just as India. They further estimate that 1.1 billion Africans will be of working age in 2040.

What I have also observed is that most Africa’s economies are becoming increasingly diversified in various sectors like financial services, health and pharmaceuticals, infrastructure, energy, construction, information and communication technology.

The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development in 2013 estimated that Foreign Direct Investment flows to African countries increased by 5 percent to US$50 billion in 2012 even as global foreign direct investment fell by 18 percent. This can only bear testimony that returns on investment in Africa are among some of the highest in the world. More positively, however, a number of African states managed impressive economic growth rates of over 4 percent since the 1990s.

In addition, infrastructure and technology are moving fast connecting the African countries to each other and the world at an unprecedented rate. There have been about 316 million new mobile phone users in Africa since 2000. Mobile phone usage has increased by 20 percent a year for the last 5 years opening up access to banking and other financial services. For example, rural farmers that previously wouldn’t have used banks can now access financial products through their mobile phones.

It is correct to observe that the main drivers and beneficiaries of this impressive growth in Africa are women.

This testifies to the view that when women contribute more, the economies do better.

This is a century for Africa. Most of the fastest growing economies now are in Africa. This is happening due to committed and dynamic leadership of men and women leaders, on the continent.

During my time as Gender Minister, Foreign Minister, Vice President and then as State President of Malawi and Chair of Southern African Development Community (SADC), I benefitted a lot from their support.

On this journey, the lesson I have drawn is that I received a lot of support from men and I do not remember when I was undermined by them. If anything, negative attitudes, insults and name calling came from outside main stream Government system.

Against all odds, insinuations and perceptions that Malawi was not ready for a woman President particularly at time when the country was a verge of collapse, I made several critical policy decisions that demonstrated that women leaders are risk takers.

Firstly, Devaluation

I had to make a painful but necessary decision to devalue the currency by almost 40 percent in order to save the economy from collapse, knowing very well the consequences of such decision on the popularity of my leadership. However, I was convinced that it was the best decision I could do for my country and my people.

Secondly, Press Freedom

My government pursued an open and inclusive society. All those who were refused radio and television licences merely on political grounds were given. New media operations were free to start up as my Government liberalised the issuance of radio and television licenses based on the quality of their application and not on political considerations. Organisations that were refused licenses were able to operate freely without harassment, restrictions and violence against journalists.

Furthermore, my Government repealed most of the oppressive laws that impinged on peoples’ freedoms and rights. These included Section 46 of the Penal Code which empowered the Minister of Information to close media houses.

It will be noted that these changes contributed significantly to the overall growth and in making Malawi to achieve the biggest leap in the 2013 World Press Index on press freedom.

As a result of my Government’s actions, Malawi moved from position 146 in 2012 to position 75 in 2013 in the World Press Index.

Thirdly, Liquidation of Air Malawi

I liquidated Air Malawi which had collapsed and became a burden on the Government budget for many years. My predecessors had failed to deal with the matter on many occasions for fear of public reaction. Today, we have established a new airline in a Joint Venture with Ethiopian Airlines.

Fourth, Tripartite Elections

My Government instituted legal framework for the holding of local government elections as I believed that without devolution of power and services, we could not meaningfully develop our people. For people to meaningfully participate in development, they need to own the process and participate in the governance of things that affect them. Indeed for the first time in Malawi, we had tripartite elections leading to the establishment of Local Governments. Malawi had operated without Local Councils for more than 18 years.

Fifth, Economic Recovery Plan

As soon as I took over power, I developed Economic Recovery Plan which sought to spearhead the economic recovery process of the country. We had prioritized five sectors: agriculture, mining, tourism, energy and infrastructure development. Each sector had three priority projects which were designed to spur growth and a turnaround of the economy. The Plan also provided for social protection programs that cushioned the poor and disadvantaged from the adverse effects of the reforms.

Six, Theft

Upon learning the nature and gravity of theft of resources in the public service, I immediately instituted a forensic audit by external auditors. I had decided to get to the bottom of the problem and stop theft and corruption in government once and for all. Government audit reports indicated that this systemic cancer had started way back in 2001 but had been left to permeate and mature. We arrested 68 suspects most of them civil servants. Most of them are answering charges in court now. We had frozen 30 bank accounts. I had committed myself to fight corruption without fear knowing very well the repercussions on my political career as elections were just months away.

I had realized that if we stopped theft and corruption in Government, we would save close to 30 percent of our national budget. I made these decisions knowing very well that those affected will fight back, smear and blackmail me with all sorts of name calling and threats including death threats. But I needed to deal with the matter once and for all.

I wish to thank the British Government for providing to my Government financial support to conduct an external forensic audit and also the German Government who have taken my request to finance the second phase of the forensic audit into 2009 to 2012 period.

I also wish to applaud my successor President Peter Mutharika for deciding to continue with this program to fight theft and corruption in the country.

In Malawi, for example, when I became President, I realised that we could not meaningfully uplift our country out of poverty without engaging women. Being the first woman President in the country, it was also incumbent upon me to ensure that issues of women are at the centre of government policies. Most of my policy positions were informed by my experiences as I was a product of a woman who could move from less than a $1 a day to State House. I was clearly aware that many women and girls looked up to me as a model and a mentor.

I believe in the principle of ‘nothing for us without us”. Issues of ownership, partnership and participation are key in building long sustainable development. Therefore I decided that we shall not talk about women, youth or people with disabilities without them.
Upon becoming State President, I established the Presidential Initiative for Maternal Health and Safe Motherhood where we mobilised traditional leaders, women, communities and the private sector to rally support for the safe motherhood and maternal health. Indeed these initiatives helped to remarkably improve the situation I found. We were able to reduce maternal mortality from 675 to 460 deaths per 100,000 live births. United Nations Family Planning Agency (UNFPA) acknowledged this achievement and The African Union Commission gave an award to Malawi for this achievement in 2013.

I also established the Presidential Initiative for Poverty and Hunger Reduction where we mobilised women and youth into cooperatives, farming clubs and linked them to anchor farms for mentorship. We gave them seeds, a cow a family, linked them to markets and introduced them to modern farming technologies. I up scaled irrigation agriculture and introduced two crops a year to overcome dependence on rain fed farming and thereby broaden our production base and enhance foreign exchange generation.

These Initiatives were meant to fast track the economic recovery program in mobilising foreign exchange, ensuring food security; enhance incomes and nutrition at household level.

Appreciating the importance of energy to industry and households, I fast tracked the rollout of rural electrification programme where we installed electricity to 81 trading centres in the rural and sub-urban areas; and added 64 megawatts to our national grid with a view that this would impact on many livelihoods majority of whom are women.
We managed to move the country from 2.1 million people who were food insecure in 2012 to a harvest of 3.9 million metric tonnes maize production in 2013/14 season representing 9 percent higher than the previous season. This accounted for overall 1.5 million metric tonnes surplus maize and with 10 percent increases in other food crop production.

We recovered the economy from 1.8 percent in 2012 grew it by 6.3 percent GDP in 2013. We increased our foreign exchange reserve cover from under one week in 2012 to over three months in 2014. The factories were operating at 35 percent when I came in where operating at more than 85 percent when I left. Fuel supply was at less than a day when I came in, and moved to more than 15 days when I left.

We had initiated a water project in every district; and a model village in every district.

For me, I believe that growth is not merely GDP growth. Growth is about wealth and prosperity for all, opportunity for all, happiness for all, political and economic freedom for all. Growth is also about growing the number of children in school, and young people in jobs. Growth is about growing the number of mothers who give safe birth in a hospital, of growing the number of families who have plenty of food.
In short I could say that I had made progress towards healing the country from tribal and political divisions and strife; I had sufficiently recovered the economy; I had laid the foundation for sustainable growth; and diversified sources of economic growth through the five priority sectors: agriculture, mining, tourism, energy and infrastructure.

An international audit firm, Ernst and Young predicted that Malawi was positioned to be one of the five fastest growing economies in Africa in the next five years (2012-2017) of 7 percent growth rate. Malawi was projected to be the highest on the Continent of Africa as estimated by Ernst and Young based on the country’s economic performance of 2012-2014.

This success story could not have been possible without my deliberate effort to create space for all Malawians to participate in the nation building process. I appealed to the people and made them understand the need to sacrifice in order to recover the economy. In developing the Economic Recovery Plan, we brought all stakeholders together: civil society, public service, private sector, development partners and a team of both local and international advisors.
In the fight against theft in government, I received very good support from civil servants where we drew the Action Plan to reforming the Financial Management Information System in the public service.
Fellow leaders in Africa and the international community provided valuable support all of which contributed greatly to my Presidency.


As indicated earlier, my mission in life is to empower women and youth through business and education. I am a self made leader and I am privileged to have lived most of the challenges highlighted above. I have pushed these things from a personal experience, from an emotional point of view and from a practical perspective. I have moved from where I was not sure where my next meal would come from.

On this journey, I have believed that leadership is about falling in love with the people you serve and the people falling in love with you. I truly believe in servant leadership. The grain of leadership in men or women alike will need nurturing to come to full maturity. For many women, their grain of leadership has withered away too early too soon as a result they of the challenges cited in this lecture. It is a tragedy that they have not realised their full leadership potential.
On my journey as a Malawian woman who is deeply conscious of the history and struggles of Malawian women and girls; as an African woman who knows the challenges of African women and girls; as a global human rights activist who has championed for the plight of marginalized women and girls and the advancement of women; and as a former Head of State who has campaigned for the Malawian people, the African people and those of the World, I have come to believe that the participation of women in leadership has to be a common agenda for both men and women.

As Robert K Greenfield has argued in the quotation above, women by natural design are born leaders as in most cases they seek to serve starting from the home through all levels: communities, captains of industry in private sector, in Parliament, in cabinet and even at Presidential levels. Their services are transformational.

As Dr. Greenberg argues: and I quote:
“… women leaders are venturesome, less interested in what has been than what can be. They will run the risk of occasionally being wrong in order to get things done. And with their fine abstract reasoning skills, they will learn from any mistakes and carry on…”
In most part of our societies, most people believe that might is always right. The strong and powerful can bring a leader down but people will remain in love with the servant leader. We have seen in many parts of the world where the might may attempt to rig an election, but they cannot rig the mind of the people as the people still rally behind a servant leader.

I thank you for your attention

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