Meet Joyce Banda, Malawi’s First Female President

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Something refreshingly new is taking place in Malawi—in the form of a dress.

Women’s rights campaigner and former vice president, Joyce Banda, has been sworn in as the new Malawian president, following the late Bingu Wa Mutharika.

The 62-year-old Banda is the third female president on the African continent. She was elected as the first female vice president of the country, and was sworn in as the fourth Malawian president on April 7 following Mutharika’s sudden death.

She is a champion for women’s rights in Malawi and has long served to promote educational advancement for women in the country.

Born in 1950, Joyce Hilda Ntila grew up in a small district of what was then known as the Zomba District of Nyasaland. Banda earned a Cambridge School Certificate, a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Early Childhood Education from Columbus University in Louisiana, and a Diploma in Management that she received in Italy.

By the age of 25, Banda, living in Nairobi, Kenya, left an abusive marriage and took her three children to Malawi. Fleeing this abusive relationship gave Banda the empowerment she needed to start her own foundation in her home country. She later married former Chief Justice of the Republic of Malawi, Richard Banda, and had two children with him.

Throughout her career, Banda has held numerous positions of power in the country, directly correlated to her grassroots activism to empower women’s leadership.

Banda’s philanthropic and humanitarian spirit led her to develop three non-profit organizations in Malawi that would assist women, low-income citizens and children. She is also the founder of the Young Women’s Leadership Network and The Hunger Project.

Throughout her lifetime, Banda has been the winner of numerous international awards for her humanitarian efforts and support of women’s rights. In 2011 Forbes named Banda as the third most powerful woman in Africa. She is also the recipient of the 2010 Woman of Substance award and 1997 and 1998 Woman of the Year award for Malawi.

Her vast and extensive political career has had many beneficial effects on the development of women’s rights in Malawi. In an interview with Al Jazeera, Banda said Africans are ready to see progress in Malawi and on the continent.

“Africans have decided that the time is now, that women can also participate in leadership,” said Banda. “It is a profound moment of progress for our continent. It expands the possibilities for African girls and women to dream new dreams and aspire beyond their means.”

Mona Okimi, contributor to OKA, said that while some Malawi citizens say, “She is a female. She will fail,” many citizens are encouraged that Banda is a woman.

She said, “There is power in the dress.”

Click below to watch a video of her being sworn in:

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