On April 7th, 2012, Malawi elected its first female president. Mrs. Joyce Banda is the daughter of a policeman and the eldest of five children; her rise to power took her swiftly up through the ranks of a mainly conservative and male-dominated society. She is only the second woman to lead a country in Africa. The other is Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the president of Liberia (and herself the recipient of a Nobel Peace prize).
All too often western perceptions of the African continent are clichéd and outdated; yet these two African countries have elected women as their leaders, something that many western nations, including the United States, have yet to do.
My Dialogue for Action Africa conference, which will be held in Gabon this year, celebrates these achievements. It also demands that more progress follow, not just in African countries but in lots of other nations too.
We all know that women are at the center of our world's development. Women are the mothers who bear and (often) take care of the children, and they are frequently the main caretakers of older relatives too. However, more and more they also have an important economic role to play: a recent U.N. survey found that empowering women was key to boosting the well-being of many rural societies.
This is why I'm so excited about the Dialogue for Action Africa. It will focus on a number of themes, looking at issues like domestic violence, the education of girls, at health, at business, and at women's potential as agents for peace.
Our speakers are a wonderfully talented and dynamic group. We will have Hon. Aicha Bah Diallo, the chairperson of the Forum for African Women Educationalists, an organization that seeks to empower women and girls through education; Sade Baderinwa, an award-winning news anchor for Eyewitness News, who has worked in her spare time with disadvantaged students in New York city; and Dr. Amy Lehman, who has set up an organization that helps women in Central Africa gain access to healthcare; and many more.
It's not possible to list the achievements of all who will attend here (for more information, please take a look at the conference website). Perhaps most of all, and certainly for me, the Dialogue for Action Africa will be an opportunity to listen and learn, and to share our thoughts about how to make life better for women and for children -- and of course for men too -- across the world.
The DFAA is part of the Cecilia Attias Foundation, a New York-based institution which I have set to up as a platform for fostering a conversation about women's role. I hope you will join in!