In what Chancellor Jack Hawkins Jr. described as “a historical event at a historical place,” the President of the African nation of Malawi, Joyce Banda, visited Montgomery on Friday to speak to a delegation of Troy University students, faculty, guests, and members of the NAACP, ISCO and M.I.S.S Elite Society.
The first female President of Malawi and a prominent advocate of women’s rights and gender equality talked about her past and ongoing efforts to uplift the status of women in Malawi, an agenda that her political career has primarily been built on.
“It is an absolute pleasure to talk about women here at the Rosa Parks Museum,” she said.
“Mrs. Rosa Parks epitomized the strength of women, and her commitment is admirable, and she is a source of inspiration,” Banda said about the civil rights activist whom the university-owned exhibit is named after and dedicated to.
Banda spoke about her various initiatives in Malawi that focus on promoting safe motherhood, reducing gender discrimination, endorsing literacy and employment opportunities through the Joyce Banda Foundation and safeguarding the health of children born to HIV positive women through the UNICEF sponsored Option B+ program.
“In past years, up to 1,250 women died during child birth. The number is down to 460 and our goal is to eliminate deaths,” Banda said.
She also described the drive behind her social projects as coming from her own personal life. Her involvement in reducing maternal mortality rate is the result of her own postnatal complications that she overcame, and her drive to provide equal footing to men and women is to inspire women to break traditional boundaries in a patriarchal society in order to empower themselves, much as she did herself.
“Promoting women in leadership positions is the smart and right way to go,” she said.
Furthermore, Banda shared the three political strategies that she has adopted in her term as a head of state.
“Firstly, I’ve reached out to the opposition,” she said.
Banda’s first policy has been to make decisions on critical issues on common ground. Her second approach has been to make crucial decisions without regards to how it may affect her elections next term.
“If it is critical in saving the collapsing economy, I will undertake it,” she said.
Banda’s final approach has been to reduce her own salary by 30 percent and selling the presidential jet in order to donate the saved money for the rehabilitation of the disabled.
Banda’s visit was initiated in collaboration between Troy University and the 100x Development Foundation. The latter is a nonprofit organization working in eight developing nations, including Malawi, to eradicate poverty and its subsequent effects.
In March, the foundation awarded three Malawian students scholarships to study at Troy at an event held in Washington, D.C.
LaKerri R. Mack, assistant professor in the political science department at Troy, represented the university at the event and met Banda.
Because Banda is revisiting the US for the 68th United Nations General Assembly, Troy took the opportunity to invite her to speak.
“Resources get in the way of timing, not vision,” she said as she thanked Troy University and the 100x Foundation for the scholarships provided to the Malawian students.
“She is amazing,” Mack said. “She has such spirit and personality. She is so welcoming and personable, and she is the smartest women I know.”
Mack added that “Banda is a superb role model because she demonstrates that you can be what you want to be; there are enough opportunities out there for us.”
“I think she is a remarkable woman. She fights for justice and women’s rights. This is absolutely a memorable experience for me,” said Mei He, a junior hospitality and tourism management major from China who attended the program.
Also at the event, Todd Strange, the mayor of Montgomery, presented President Banda with a ceremonial key to the city and M.I.S.S Elite Society, which was the official host of the event, recognized her as an honorary member.