This week, 14 first ladies from across Africa convened in Los Angeles for the African First Ladies Health Summit to discuss some of the most pressing issues facing the continent - women's health, education for girls and the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
Coordinated by U.S. Doctors for Africa (USDFA) and African Synergy against AIDS and Suffering (created in 2002 by 22 first ladies from Africa), first ladies from Angola, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Cape Verde, the Central African Republic, Kenya, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Swaziland, Tanzania, and Zambia met with experts, educators, leaders in business, analysts and doctors to identify new ways of moving forward to help empower Africa's women and girls.
On the first day of the summit, the newly appointed U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women's Issues, the Honorable Melanne Verveer addressed the attendees, calling for a greater commitment to the health and wellbeing of women and girls in Africa.
• "Health is not a small problem and the persistent gender inequality contributes to women and girls suffering the most,” she said. “Investing in women has to be at the core of any strategy to attack health disparities and the lack of opportunities.”
Her Excellency Hadjia Laraba Tandja of Niger arrives at the summit. •
The first ladies attended closed panel sessions on topics like Maternal Health, Tackling HIV/AIDS and Malaria, Girls Education, and Corporate Citizenship (facilitated by representatives from Chevron, GE, Chevron, Pfizer and Proctor and Gamble). Though some of the first ladies are better known for their shopping habits than their humanitarian efforts, many see the summit as an opportunity to help create change on the continent through education, awareness and dialog.
• Among the celebrities in attendance, actress and activist Camryn Manheim says she hopes the summit provides an opportunity for the first women to share information.
Back row from left: Ida Odinga of Kenya; Hadjia Laraba Tandja of Niger; Penehupifo Pohamba of Namibia; Thandiwe Banda of Zambia; Maria da Luz Dai Guebuza of Mozambique; Mathato Sarah Mosisili of Lesotho and Sia Nyama Koroma of Sierra Leone. Seated front row from left: Adelcia Barreto Pires of Cape Verde; Chantal Biya of Cameroon; Ana Paula Dos Santos of Angola; Queen Inkhosikati LaMbikiza of Swaziland and Dr. Turai Umaru Yar'Adua of Nigeria. •
“I’m hoping that the project and progress that certain countries have made can influence others," she said. "Any time you can continue the dialog for empowering women, particularly young girls, and make them leaders in their communities, more problems get solved.”
Many of the issues covered at the summit have been tackled by our contributors in Africa: Pilirani Semu-Banda has explored the devastating effects of obstetric fistula in Malawi; Halimah Abdallah Kisule has described the plight of Orphans and Vulnerable Children (OVC) in Uganda; Delphine Zulu explored the tragic myth that having sex with a virgin will cure AIDS in Zambia; Remi Adeoye revealed how women and girls are disproportionately affected by violence in the Niger Delta; Philo Ikonya decried the lack of women’s voices in the rebuilding of Kenya after last year’s post-election violence; and Constance Manika celebrated child rights activist Betty Makoni’s efforts to empower abused girls in Zimbabwe.
• As the women return home, summit coordinators will continue to collaborate with the first ladies by sending teams of experts to Africa to analyze their respective efforts and make recommendations for improvement.
Activist and actress Maria Bello (left) organized the attendance of Hollywood celebrities like Diane Lane who are concerned with women's health in Africa. •
Manheim acknowledges the truth that we’ve discovered on the pages of The WIP time and time again: “When women are in positions of power, everyone benefits,” she says. “We have to provide outlets for them to have economic, educational and political strength.”
To see more images from the summit,
visit The WIP’s Flickr set.
- All photographs by Sarah McGowan for The WIP.