Joyce Banda’s rise to political success became every Malawian woman’s inspiration to fight for their rights and strive to get equal opportunities with men. She got to where she is now because of her unique upbringing and her innate desire to make something of her life. What draws people to Joyce is the fact that she is one with them—she’s ready to suffer with her countrymen.
After a year of inheriting the highest political seat in Malawi following the death of the incumbent President Bingu wa Mutharika, Joyce was welcomed by the people of Malawi with open arms. Neither the economic instability nor the cold treatment of Mutharika’s cronies kept Joyce from being sworn into office. The task ahead of her is maddeningly intimidating—without other countries’ aids, Malawi’s economy hang in the balance; add to that the people’s growing disillusionment in the corrupt governance of their late president. But instead of cowering, Joyce fought for her constitutional rights as the country’s Vice President. In the end, justice prevailed and Joyce created history.
To those who aren’t aware, Joyce is no greenhorn in the arena of public service. She championed organizations such as the National Association of Business Women, the Joyce Banda Foundation, the Young Women Leaders Network, and the Hunger Project in Malawi way before she even joined politics. Her educational background is just as commendable. She has a Cambridge School Certificate, a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Early Childhood Education from Columbus University, a Bachelor of Social Studies in Gender Studies from the Atlantic International University, and a Diploma in Management of NGOs from the International Labour Organization (ILO) Centre.
On the other side of the spectrum, she has known suffering like the back of her hand. An abused wife, Joyce endured 10 years of being maltreated emotionally and physically like most women in her patriarchal society. However, Joyce refused to live the rest of her life in such a miserable state. She stood up and decided to take charge of her life. Two decades later, she has become one of the most influential people in her country and made history as South Africa’s first female president.
Where did Joyce Banda get the courage to challenge the norms and break away from the mold Malawi society has made of their women? Let’s take a trip down the memory lane to get to know one of the most respected leaders of the 21st century.
Joyce Hilda Ntila was born on 12 April 1950 in Zomba, Malawi in a village called Malemia to an average family. Her father, a leader of a police brass band, treated her and his other four children equally. He was very unlike other fathers who prioritized sons over daughters, seeing the latter merely as commodities. Joyce grew up with a sense of self-respect, something utterly rare in their gender-biased community.
When she was about five years old, one of her father’s friends said that Joyce will become successful someday. Her father believed his friend’s word and saw to it that Joyce’s needs were attended. She was sent to school—another privilege that not all girls in Malawi enjoy. Chrissie, her closest childhood friend, was her classmate. If she were to be asked, Chrissie was way smarter in class than her. Unfortunately, Chrissie’s family was poor and they couldn’t afford the six-dollar enrollment fee in secondary school. So Joyce went on to finish her studies while Chrissie was forced to wait on her family at home and marry early.
That was Joyce’s initiation to the harsh reality of being a woman in Malawi. Families support their sons’ education while their sisters are left on the sidelines. She felt sorry for Chrissie and other promising girls like her friend who are forced to leave school because of abject poverty or gender discrimination. As the eldest daughter, Joyce was tasked to care for her younger siblings and do the chores around the house while both her parents work. Her early training enhanced her leadership skills and equipped her with management know-how.
Joyce went on to complete not only an undergraduate degree but also secured diploma in Management of NGOs from the International Labour Organization (ILO) Centre and a Cambridge School Certificate.
Surviving 10 Years of Abusive Marriage
But her other educational achievements would come later in life. Roy Kachale became Joyce’s husband when she was only 21 years old. She bore him three children. Marrying Roy did not do Joyce any good. He turned out to be just like any other men in Malawi—abusive of women. For ten years, Joyce endured living a hellish life with Roy for the sake of their kids. She was then living in Kenya, away from her family in Malawi.
Her father began to doubt what his friend told him about Joyce becoming successful. They knew the kind of life Joyce has with Roy and there was little to no hope that she would ever get out of her miserable life. No woman has ever left her husband no matter how unhappy they are with the marriage. Joyce would be the first to do so. At 31 years old, Joyce packed her bags and brought her three children with her back to Malawi. She started her business and sold mandasi (fritters in English) just to get by. With three mouths to feed, Joyce couldn’t be picky.
Luckily for her, she’s got a natural acumen for business. In 1985, she established two businesses: Ndekani Garments and Akajuwe Enterprises. Both ventures became successful. It was during the heights of her entrepreneurial victory that Joyce felt the need to help fellow Malawian women who aren’t as fortunate as her. She explained in an interview:
"I started to worry about other women. I sat down in 1989 and I made up my mind at that point that I was going to spend the rest of my life assisting women and youth to gain social and political empowerment through business and education. I convinced myself economic empowerment of women was going to be key, especially in a country like this where most women didn't go to school." (Source: The Guardian)
Founding the National Association of Business Women and the Joyce Banda Foundation
In 1989, just as when her businesses were thriving, she established the National Association of Business Women. It was founded in order to help women put up their own business by giving them a starting capital. According to Joyce, the less dependent women are on their husbands concerning livelihood and income, the more empowered they will be. Her organization has helped improve the way of life of thousands of Malawian women. This initiative endeared her to the people.
The National Association of Business Women was a huge success and paved the way for Joyce to establish her own foundation, the Joyce Banda Foundation. What it focused on was the education of children. The Joyce Banda Foundation currently has three schools in Malawi. Their school provides free education to poor children, more than half of the schools’ population are composed of women.
The organization also have 35 Orphan Care Centers, each taking care of around 70 homeless and abandoned children. These children also get education aside from nutritious food. Children are not their only focus as the Joyce Banda Foundation also have what is called Youth Programs. They are programs tailor-made for Malawians aged 15 to 30 years old. They work like a fellowship where young people mingle and collectively do something for the good of the community. These kids also help the foundation in their building projects.
Since Malawi is an agricultural country, Joyce’s foundation created MWAI Farm located in Lilongwe. It was established to create jobs for the local people. It has recently begun the Passover Program wherein:
- A poor family will receive a pregnant a cow.
- They are then able to sell the milk and feed their families with the milk.
- When the cow gives birth, they pass on the calf to another poor family
- Once the cow grows and births a calf of its own, the calf is passed on to another poor family, and the Passover cycle continues (Source: Joyce Banda Foundation)
Joining Malawi Politics
It was not until 1999 that Joyce Banda became a politician. This time, she’s married to an amazing man, retired Chief Justice Richard Banda. The couple has two children. By the time she has won a parliamentary seat in Malawi's third democratic election, Joyce has become a celebrity in her own right. In 1997 and 1998, she was named Woman of the Year in Malawi and even received the Africa Prize for Leadership for the Sustainable End of Hunger for her work in the National Association of Business Women.
In the same year that she started her own foundation, Joyce received the International award for entrepreneurship development from the Africa Federation of Woman Entrepreneurs and Economic Commission for Africa and was a recipient of the 100 Heroines Award.
From 2004 to 2006, President Muluzi appointed her as Minister of Gender, Child Welfare and Community Services because of her involvement in women and children's rights. Under her leadership, the Prevention of Domestic Violence Bill was finally enacted in 2007 after being derailed many times. She also championed the campaign on zero tolerance on child abuse and human trafficking and initiated the piloting of the social cash transfer for the vulnerable groups. She also revived the campaign for the review of the Property Inheritance Law. Because of her achievements, she has earned the “Role Models of Excellence” recognition.
The next cabinet position she held was the Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, this time, she was appointed by then-President Bingu wa Mutharika. During the 2009 presidential elections, the whole Malawi was surprised when Bingu wa Mutharika handpicked Joyce to become his running mate for his re-election bid. Some speculate that his move was largely influenced by his desperation to get re-elected. With Joyce being well-loved by the people, Bingu wa Mutharika’s 70% of votes were attributed to her influence.
Becoming Malawi’s First Female Vice President and Soon the Country’s Head of State
While her successful vice presidential bid pulled up Bingu wa Mutharika’s popularity, Joyce would soon have a falling out with the president because of her unwillingness to support their plans of grooming his brother Peter Mutharika to be his successor. Much as she would like to keep her relationship with the president cordial, setting up another political dynasty is against her principle. There was no way she could be talked into cooperating with the incumbent president’s scheme.
Joyce was then expelled from the ruling Democratic Progressive Party, which pushed her to establish the People’s Party in 2010. By then, Mutharika’s government had earned the ire of international organizations and nations whose aids provided 40% of the country’s income. This drove Malawi’s economy to a fatal crash. The corruption only worsened the situation and exacerbated the people’s suffering.
No one knew that Mutharika’s leadership would come to an abrupt end. He died in April due to cardiac arrest and Joyce was the last to know that their president is dead and his cabinet members and allies were already plotting a coup to overthrow her presidency. Refusing to be sidelined, Joyce called General Henry Odillo, Malawi's army commander, and asked for his support.
The unpopular president’s cronies did not stand a chance with the people’s united cry for the constitutional bylaws to be upheld. She was sworn in as Malawi’s president in 7 April 2012, five days prior her 62nd birthday.
The First Female President of Malawi
Joyce immediately chose her cabinet members—of course most of them were women. Asked why she believes so much in women’s leadership skills, she said:
“You know when a woman gets into State House, they notice the little things that would otherwise be ignored by a man.” (Source: Smart Global Health)
But that does not mean that she has disregarded the role of men in her life. According to her, when she was enduring beatings and harsh criticisms, it was men who stood by her side and became her closest allies. She also adamantly recounts how Richard, her husband, has provided the kind of support and balance she needed.
Being president of one of the poorest nations in the world isn’t a piece of cake. And Joyce knows that full well. She had to make bold decisions. She began with devaluating their currency up to 50%. While the International Monetary Fund was elated by her decision, it caused an outcry in her nation because the price of basic commodities skyrocketed, resulting in massive panic-buying. She also wooed their benefactors back by visiting them and talking with their heads of state. Again, some Malawians weren’t happy with the president’s frequent travels. She severed ties with Taiwan to focus on Beijing because of the latter’s pure entrepreneurial approach. In order to be one with her people in their suffering, she sold the presidential jet and 60 luxury Mercedes cars collected by the former president. As if that weren’t enough, she reduced her salary from £37,000 a year to £26,000.
Joyce is no fool to believe that Malawi’s problems will be solved in her regime, but what she wants to achieve is restore the people’s hope. In her inaugural address, she appealed to her fellow Malawians:
"I want all of us to move into the future with hope and with the spirit of oneness and unity... I hope we shall stand united and I hope that as a God-fearing nation we allow God to come before us, because if we don't do that then we have failed."
Organizations and Programmes Supported
- Joyce Banda Foundation
- National Association of Business Women (NABW)
- Young Women Leaders Network
- Hunger Project
- Gender and Community Services
- Domestic Violence Bill
- National Platform for Action on Orphans and Vulnerable Children
- Zero Tolerance Campaign Against Child Abuse
- Jack Brewer Foundation
- Humanist Institute for Development Cooperation
- Bridging a World Divided
- Advisory Board for Education (Member)
- Federation of World Peace and Love in Taiwan (Member)
- Global Leaders Council for Reproductive Health
- Aspen Global Health (Member)
- Clinton Foundation
- Clinton Health Access Initiative
- Presidential Initiative on Hunger and Poverty Reduction
- The Economic Recovery Program
- Agricultural Development and Marketing Corporation (Chairperson)
- Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority (Chairperson)
- Malawi Housing Corporation (Chairperson)
- Blantyre water Board (Chairperson)
- Market Women in Development
- Passover Program
- Presidential Initiative for Maternal Health and Safe Motherhood
Awards and Achievements
- 1985: Established Ndekani Garments
- 1985: Established Akajuwe Enterprises
- 1989: Founded the National Association of Business Women (NABW)
- 1995: Established Kalingidza Bakery
- 1997: Received the Africa Prize for Leadership for the Sustainable End of Hunger
- 1997 and 1998: Named Woman of the Year, Malawi
- 1997: Sculpted for the Hall of Fame in recognition for championing women and children’s rights
- 1998: Founded the Joyce Banda Foundation
- 1998: Received the International award for entrepreneurship development from the Africa Federation of Woman Entrepreneurs and Economic Commission for Africa
- 1998: Received the 100 Heroines Award
- 1999: Won a parliamentary seat in Malawi's third democratic election
- 2001: Awarded Certificate of Honors by the Federation of World Peace and Love, Taiwan, Republic of China
- 2004: Re-elected as member of Muluzi's Party
- 2004-2006: Served as Minister of Gender, Child Welfare and Community Services
- 2005: Received the “Role Models of Excellence” recognition
- 2006: Appointed as Foreign Minister
- 2006: Received the International Award for the Health and Dignity of Women for her dedication to the rights of the women of Malawi
- 2006-2009: Served as Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation
- 2009-2012: Served as Malawi's first female Vice President
- 2009: Received Award of Recognition from the Black Mayors Caucus
- 2009: Received the Lifetime achiever Award by the Rehoboth Trust
- 2010: Became a member of the Global Leaders Council for Reproductive Health
- 2010: Named Nyasa Times Multimedia 'Person of the Year'
- 2010: Received the Woman of Substance Award from the African Women Development Fund
- 2010: Started the Market Women in Development
- 2011: Founded and led the People's Party
- 2011: Ranked 3rd in Forbes list of Most Powerful Women in Africa
- 2012: Became the fourth President of Malawi and the first female to hold the highest office
- 2012: Cut her salary by 30%
- 2012: Received the Martin Luther King Drum Major Award
- 2012: Awarded the Legends Award for Leadership by the Greater African Methodist Episcopal Church
- 2012: Ranked 71st in Forbes list of Most powerful Women in the World
- 2012: Ranked 1st in Forbes list of Most powerful Women in Africa
- Member of Parliament and Minister for Gender, Children's Affairs and Community Services
- Founded Young Women Leaders Network and the Hunger Project in Malawi
- Has a Cambridge School Certificate, a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Early Childhood Education from Columbus University, a Bachelor of Social Studies in Gender Studies from the Atlantic International University, and a Diploma in Management of NGOs from the International Labour Organization (ILO) Centre
- Reading for a Master of Arts Degree in Leadership at Royal Roads University
- Fought to enact the Domestic Violence Bill
- Designed the National Platform for Action on Orphans and Vulnerable Children
- Designed the Zero Tolerance Campaign Against Child Abuse
- 2013: Received an honorary doctorate degree from Jeonju University
Time (The 2013 TIME 100)
Wikipedia (Joyce Banda)
All Africa (Malawi: President Slashes Her Own Salary)
Global Post (Joyce Banda: "Women lacked training, credit and information")
Facebook (Her Excellency Dr Joyce Banda)
Forbes (Joyce Banda)
Joyce Banda Foundation (Her Excellency, Joyce Hilda Banda)
Joyce Banda Foundation (Programs)
News 24 (Joyce Banda - job could make her 'mad')
Independent.co.uk (Malawi President Joyce Banda: When Madonna met her match)
CNN (Educating girls like Chrissie can save a nation)
BBC (Joyce Banda: Malawi's first female president)
Al Jazeera (Profile: Joyce Banda)
The Guardian (Joyce Banda: 'I want Malawians to say our country became a better place')
The CSIS Global Health Policy Center (President Joyce Banda: New Focus on Women’s Health and Empowerment in Malawi)
AP (Interview: Malawi unlikely to ax anti-gay laws)
Who's Who (Joyce Banda)