U.S. Ambassador to Malawi Virginia Palmer Remarks at Umhlangano, Sept. 2, 2017

  • Your Excellency Professor Arthur Peter Mutharika, President of the Republic of Malawi
  • Right Honorable Saulos Chilima, Vice President of the Republic of Malawi
  • Nkhosi ya Mkhosi Gomani V and other chiefs here present
  • Senior Government Officials
  • Members of the Diplomatic Corps and Heads of International Organizations

I’m so honored to be a guest here today to experience such a respected cultural tradition.  I’m grateful to be able to address a few words to a group so important to the preservation of Malawi’s culture  – and to protecting her future.

I am a big admirer of Nkhosi ya Mkosi Gomani V, who is not only an amazing young Malawian but also an important traditional leader.  I particularly admire his work – and President Mutharika’s! – as He-for-She Champions.  I’ve heard you talk, Your Highness, about the proud traditions of your people, about your Great Aunt who led your people in a great uprising.  I know you and influential members of your hierarchy share my passion for the empowerment of Malawi’s adolescent girls and young women.  And I know you all share my strong belief that Malawi’s future will be more healthy and prosperous if we continue our important work toward gender equality.

The theme of today’s event is “Unity is Power.”  It’s a great theme because it’s true and because it needs to work on many levels.  I think an essential ingredient of unity is mutual respect, which in some ways is the essence of “Umuntu.”  As I work in Malawi, I see many examples of mutual respect, of people from different ethnic groups and regions working together, permitting peaceful political campaigning and elections.  I do wish I saw more respect between men and women, boys and girls.

I really admire the work you are doing to preserve your traditional culture and rituals in ways that avoid injustice and gender inequality, that protect your young people from violence and terrible diseases that could affect their futures or even end their lives.

My staff have heard me talk over and over again about participating in the Reed Dance in kwaZulu Natal and hearing King Goodwill Zwelithini tell the 30,000 maidens assembled there and all his impis that “Zulu men don’t beat our wives.  That’s not who we are.”  It’s a powerful message.  It’s a particularly powerful message coming from a Paramount Chief, so I salute your work Nkosi ya Mkhosi Gomani V and that of your Senior Chiefs and other Traditional Authorites  working hard in your communities to end child marriage and to ensure that Malawian men and boys respect women and girls and prevent violence.  You do this through enforcing by-laws on child marriage and Gender Based Violence, by working with Mothers’ Groups and PTAs to encourage boys and girls to stay in school – or return to school if they’ve dropped out, and by collaborating with community-based organizations to make sure that boys and girls who are victims of violence receive appropriate care.  I hope that you believe, as I do, that if you help Malawi’s women and girls to have an education, everyone, including the men and boys, will have more opportunities and Malawi will prosper.

In Malawi there is much to celebrate:

  • the constitutional amendment that raised the legal age of majority and made ending child marriage easier.
  • Inkhosi Kachindamoto’s Vital Voices Global Leadership Award that she received in Washington, D.C. earlier this year for all the work she’s done to end child marriage, and for showing us that committed individuals can truly make a difference.
  • First Lady Mutharika’s election as Chairperson of the African First Ladies Against HIV/AIDS, and her steadfast commitment to girls education; and
  • President Mutharika’s formation of an Inter-Ministerial Task Force on Adolescent Girls and Young Women which is finalizing Africa’s first Adolescent Girls and Young Women strategy.

There is so much to celebrate, but there is much still to do – in Malawi, in my country, and around the world –to make an impact on the next generation of girls and young women.  The U.S. government is committed to helping as you work to empower girls and young women – and through them, Malawi – by building additional secondary schools and providing youth friendly health services to keep Malawi’s youth healthy and in school.   Zikomo kwambiri.