“I have personal commitment and passion to the cause of women’s rights, women’s empowerment and women’s leadership in all spheres of life. I always remain focused on changing the lives of women. [...] I work up every day with a clear vision of the life changing experiences I can bring to African women through the word we do at the United Nations.“
Letty Chiwara, 50, started her leadership journey at a very early age as Head Prefect in her primary school in Zimbabwe. A strong feminist, she is grateful to her oldest sister Ratidzai for teaching her the value of hard work and generosity, as well as “everything about womanhood”.
After studying in Harare and in London, she worked as a Town Planning Officer, got married “to a wonderful and very supportive husband” and had two children. Her hard work, dedication, passion and commitment led her to become the youngest UNIFEM (the former UN Development Fund for Women) Chief of Africa, at age 37; “It made me grow so fast. Before I knew it, I was travelling the whole of Africa, meeting ministers, heads of state, heads of UN agencies...”
A career made of success and climbing the UNIFEM and then UN Women ladder very fast. During her 12 years in New York City, Letty Chiwara led UN Women staff across the African Continent and managed multi-million programs. She notably managed the first ever partnership between the European Commission and UNIFEM where the issue of gender equality was brought into the implementation of the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness.
At a time when she wanted to move closer to home, the position of UN Women Representative to Ethiopia, the Africa Union Commission and the Economic Commission for Africa was established. This became a critical post for UN Women as it had a dual function, country representation to Ethiopia and political representation at the highest level of decision making in Africa at the Africa Union and indeed substantive leadership of gender equality and women’s empowerment with the Economic Commission for Africa. A position Letty Chiwara became the first to occupy in the new offices of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
A lesson Letty Chiwara has learnt, is that working to change social norms is very difficult. Yet she dedicates her efforts to UN Women mandate to mainstream gender and raise awareness on issues of equality and women’s rights.
“From the local to the global level, women’s leadership and political participation are restricted. Women are underrepresented as voters, as well as in leading positions. This occurs despite their proven abilities as leaders and agents of change, and their right to participate equally in democratic governance.” Letty Chiwara works to bridge the capacity gaps that mean than still today women are less likely than men to have the education, contacts and resources needed to become effective leaders.
Towards these ends, UN Women provides training for women political candidates to help build their capacities, and offer civic education and sensitization campaigns on gender equality.An example to be proud of is the work UN Women led for example in Kenya, by providing training to nearly 900 female candidates in all 47 counties and running a Campaign for Women in Leadership to encourage voters to vote for women. As a result at the 2013 elections, the number of women legislators rose to more than 20 per cent, more than double compared to the previous elections.
Letty Chiwara underlines that “the issue of political empowerment of women in the EU member countries is as much still a challenge as it is also in African countries.” Note that Rwanda has the highest number of women parliamentarians worldwide (63,8%). She hopes though that EU women can play a supportive role to African women, in particular through North-South sharing of experiences, networking, solidarity missions to ensure the sisterly support women candidate need, and increase of capacity building and campaign strategies.
She is confident that the launch of the newly established Africa Women Leaders Network (AWLN http://www.unwomen.org/en/news/stories/2017/6/press-release-new-platform-launched-to-galvanize-and-boost-womens-leadership-of-africa) will bring a new momentum to EU-Africa cooperation and boost women leadership in Africa.
The Global Progressive Forum and PES Women have the great privilege to welcome Letty Chiwara to their Conference on “Political Empowerment of Women in Africa and in Europe”, on 26th September in Brussels, as part of the S&D Group 2017 Africa Week.
Come and meet Letty and other speakers, and register at www.withafrica.eu