Letty Chiwara 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.
A career made of success and climbing the UNIFEM and 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. 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.
She is confident that the launch of the newly established Africa Women Leaders Network (AWLN) will bring a new momentum to EU-Africa cooperation and boost women leadership in Africa.