Q: What are your thoughts about the transition from Vice President to President?
A: I am proud that Malawi had a peaceful and smooth transition of power after President Mutharika’s death. The Constitution was very clear, and I had no question that my job was to uphold the Constitution. This is a great opportunity to create positive change for the people of Malawi. I am confident that together we will make Malawi strong. As President, I believe it is a moral imperative to do all I can to improve the health, education and economic status of all Malawi’s citizens.
Q: What are your priorities for the first 6 months?
A: As the first woman Vice President of Malawi and now the first woman President of Malawi, I want to make sure that this is a time of hope and transformation for all our citizens, but especially for women. In my life I have always fought for women, and as president that will not change. However, every person in Malawi needs the government to be strong and to work to build a more equitable future for all.
From my earliest days, I have fought for the rights of women and girls–organizing rural women and women entrepreneurs, fighting for access to education, jobs and health services.
I think the government should be a transformational force for good. Since 2004, when I joined the government as Minister of Gender, Child Welfare and Community Services, I have used the government to improve the lives of women. I fought hard to draft and pass the first legislation in Malawi on domestic violence. I used the legislative process to address this sensitive topic, and helped make it possible for women to get the help they needed to leave abusive relationships. As Minister of Foreign Affairs and as Vice President in 2009, I have remained a voice for women and for all people.
My work has convinced me that for Malawi to prosper, we need quality health care, excellent education and economic opportunities for both women and men. I know that for our country to succeed, all its citizens must be engaged. Gender equality cannot be an empty phrase–it must be our shared reality.
This will not happen overnight, but I am committed to this fight. The government is working hard to make sure that all children have access to primary care, vaccinations and good nutrition. Too many children in Malawi die from preventable childhood diseases (such as measles, diarrhea, malaria, malnutrition and HIV/AIDS), and too many young people are denied access to education that could transform their lives.
In Malawi, many women still die during childbirth or from pregnancy-related complications: I was almost one of these women. In giving birth to my fourth child, I suffered a post-partum hemorrhage and almost died. Doctors saved my life, and I became more convinced that the women of Malawi need improved access to reproductive health and pregnancy related services. Malawi must increase the number of women who receive skilled care at delivery, and increase the number of skilled birth attendants we train and support. I know this can save lives.
With access to good health care (including family planning education and services and quality education), we can prepare our young people to be healthy and productive members of our society. Young women who complete secondary school marry later, have healthier and fewer children and make larger contributions to the economic well being of their families, communities and countries.
I know this to be true—I have experienced it in my own life. My best friend, Chrissie, from childhood did not complete secondary school because her family lacked the ability to pay her school fees. She went home to our village, married young, raised many children and still lives in our village. Because of Chrissie and the many young women of Malawi, I have fought for education, health care and economic opportunities for girls and women.
Q: What can the men of Malawi expect from you as President?
A: Sometimes I am asked, “What about the men?” I say very clearly that when women are healthy, the men are healthy. Women in Malawi are like me—mothers, wives, daughters, care givers, teachers, political leaders and more. When women are healthy and strong they have healthy families and that is good for men.
Men also have a role to play in making sure that girls and women are safe from gender-based violence. Fathers must model respect and teach their sons to protect their sisters and wives. I am committed to working with men and especially with our traditional leaders—they are critical partners in changing our nation.
Q: What can Malawi’s youth expect from you as president?
A: As President, I think I have a special and critical responsibility for the youth of Malawi. Young people are our future and our hope, and all political leaders should look at their young citizens and ask if we are making decisions that will provide a sound basis for a healthy and prosperous future for this generation. We must help them dream of a future where all people have great economic opportunities and share in a new global economy. I know that as President, my decisions and the decisions of my cabinet will have a long-lasting impact on today’s youth.
In Malawi, we must keep girls and boys in school, and we must make sure that our secondary schools are training our young people for future jobs and economic opportunities. We must highlight efforts such as the Young Women Leaders Network in Malawi, and train both young men and young women to be leaders. We need their energy, their passion and their dreams, and as President I will make young people a special focus of my efforts.
Q: What can the international community do to support you?
A: Donors should know that under my presidency, I will make accountability and transparency a cornerstone of our government. Strategic partnerships that are driven by my government and based in mutual respect will be very much welcomed. It is a new day for all the people of Malawi, and I welcome the opportunity to renew relationships and explore the ways in which we can create a healthy and more prosperous nation together.