President Joyce Banda: New Focus on Women's Health and Empowerment


When Joyce Banda unexpectedly ascended to the presidency of Malawi last April, after the death of President Mutharika, many in her country and around the world wondered what her impact would be as Malawi’s first female president. Among the many challenges, her government faces high rates of maternal mortality, high total fertility rates, and high HIV prevalence among women and girls, combined with low levels of women’s economic empowerment and widespread violence against women.

CSIS wanted to learn more about how women leaders in Africa are bringing new attention to women’s health and empowerment in their own countries, and to bring those voices into the discussion about U.S. policy priorities for women’s global health. To do this, we sent a small team to Malawi and Zambia in December 2012.

During an interview with President Banda in Malawi, which we have turned into this short video, we were able to ask her about these issues. Her response underscored the exciting prospects raised by her tenure as well as the daunting challenges ahead: “You know when a woman gets into State House, they notice the little things that would otherwise be ignored by a man,” with particular emphasis on family planning, maternal mortality, and malnutrition. President Banda was especially passionate that the economic empowerment of women is an essential step to ensure that there is effective family planning: “it is only when a women is economically empowered that she can negotiate at household level with her husband about the number of children that body of hers can have.”

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