Exclusive Q&A


Though women, world over, have remain vastly underrepresented at every level in key sectors of the economy, facing diverse challenges working in male-dominated industries, this significant gender divide have however not stopped Mrs. Happy Dzitse, Managing Director, McOttley Capital Limited in her determination to succeed in the fast-paced and dynamic male-dominated financial services sector.

Mrs. Dzitse who continues to enjoy a rewarding career in the financial sector, and contribute to the economic development of Africa, in an interview with Amazons Watch Magazine, says confidence and passion have been key to her success in Ghana’s financial services sector. She also discussed financial inclusion for women.  Excerpt:

Thank you for this opportunity to interact with you. How would you describe yourself?

Thank you too for this opportunity. Whenever I am asked this question, my answer is always straightforward. I am a change agent and a game changer. I keep this in mind in all that I do and that is how I always want to be identified. As legendary Michael Jackson’s hit song “Man in the mirror” says, if you want to make the world a better place, then take a look at yourself and make the change. My desire is never to stick to the status quo but bring positive change wherever I find myself. I try to go beyond the borders of race, religion and even gender and change the way things are done when I see the opportunity to make them better. So yes, I do describe myself as a game changer.

You began your journey as a sales representative at Advance West Coast Marketing, but you have over the years risen to corporate leadership. Please tell us about your career journey.

I grew up at a time where the opportunities available to women weren’t as many as they are today. A woman had to work twice as hard as a man did to rise to the top. But my belief and conviction was in taking a day at a time and making the most out of each day. I did indeed begin as a sales representative at Advance West Coast Marketing but I had my eyes at the top. I believed I also had my quota to contribute to the world and if I find myself in the corporate world, then I needed to leave an indelible mark in the corporate world specifically in the world of finance.

From Advance West Coast Marketing, I trained as a professional teacher and taught for some years before joining the Standard Chartered Bank as a Direct Sales Representative. My pursuit to become an investment banker took me to Gold Coast Fund Management Limited, as a Sales Executive and Relationship Management Officer in 2006. I became an Authorized Dealing Officer on the Ghana Stock Exchange having acquired the required license to do so. I rose through the ranks at Gold Coast Fund Management Limited to become the Head of National Customer Service Centre responsible for strategic planning and implementation of customer service policies. I set up customer service procedures, and ensured compliance across all branches and regional offices of the company. I held this position until 2014 when I moved to McOttley Capital as the Chief Operating Officer then eventually became the Managing Director of the company in 2015.

Kindly share with us some of your experiences within male-dominated corporate boardrooms and industries.

The finance industry is indeed dominated by men and sometimes a woman needs to work harder to prove herself as capable. Anecdotal evidence suggests that, in the financial sector in Ghana, women make up less than 20% of corporate boards. This means that, for every 10 member board, less than 2 of them are women. I remember vividly after my appointment as the MD and needed to present my first budget to the board for approval. I knew I had to be smarter, think like the men, and process all the ideas as the men in order to sweep them off their feet. In fact, one had to be extremely cautious, confident and indeed straight to the point. This demanded a lot of hard work to get things done. As you engage with them over the years, your experience and expertise is brought to bear.

What has worked for me in this male-dominated corporate industry is confidence and being passionate about what I think is right. One has to be straight and strict to get the job done, delegate duties but monitor and receive feedback. But I also do all these with humility, open-mind and the fear of God.

Creating a bank account in a formal financial institution is the first and most important step towards achieving financial inclusion. Findings by the World Bank reveal that only 34% of adults in Sub-Saharan Africa hold bank accounts in a formal financial institution, and only 30% of those formal accounts are held by women compared to 39% held by men. Women in developing nations have long been excluded from formal financial processes and have had to turn to the informal sector (savings schemes and cash transfers) to support unmet financial needs. What is your take on gender disparity in terms of financial inclusion?

These statistics by the World Bank for Sub-Saharan Africa are not encouraging and need to be improved. Africa has been the world’s second fastest growing region after Asia, with annual GDP growth rates in excess of 5% over the last decade. Now, despite this growth, good economic growth in the continent has not translated into shared prosperity and better livelihoods for the majority. Growth has to be inclusive to be socially and politically sustainable.

One key component of inclusive development is financial inclusion-an area in which Africa has been lagging behind other continents. Making formal financial services Available, Accessible and Affordable to all segments of the population including women is critical.

According to data from the World Bank, in 2010 a relatively large segment of the Ghanaian population (44.0%) was excluded from the financial services sector altogether. During this period, access to formal banking services hovered around 34.0%, with banks creating innovative channels to penetrate the market further. By 2015 however, the segment of the population excluded from the financial services system had dropped to 25.0%, according to the same report by the World Bank. In all this women are the most affected.

However, recently, the trend is gradually changing with some drastic improvement in women having access to financial services across Africa. The introduction of mobile money platform has created an enabling environment where the rural poor particularly women are having access to basic financial services. In Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda and Ghana the gender disparity in financial services and inequality has improved tremendously, but more needs to be done.

As an investment banker, how do you think Africa can scale up access to affordable finance for female budding entrepreneurs in Ghana?

First of all women entrepreneurs need to be given the required skills, knowledge and training in their respective fields of endeavour. I also think that a lot more women need to be empowered and motivated to be entrepreneurial and to take up the challenge of creating wealth for themselves.

The cost of borrowing across many African countries is very high, with average lending rates in Ghana hovering about 25% to 35% per annum, making it very challenging to have access to affordable financing. This phenomenon has crippled many SME’s in Africa. The solution lies in building resilient economies where credit is made available to the private sector for growth. There has to be a conscious effort by Government in making available credit and affordable funds to potential women entrepreneurs who have set up SMEs and employing the graduate youth. Government must make it a priority to nurture, develop and fund women with the potential to grow their businesses and contribute significantly to economic growth in Africa. 

What are some of your efforts in making inroads for women in Ghana?

Influence usually begins within your own space. As an MD, I have a strict policy against denying women the opportunity to hold certain positions just because they are women. McOttley Capital gives equal opportunities to both women and men. When a woman is qualified to hold a position, there is no way she will be overlooked just because of her gender or because it is a man’s world. Also, my belief is that, women in Ghana and even the world at large cannot penetrate the corporate world or even the entire job market without the requisite education. You cannot get to the top just because you are a woman and the world is advocating for women at the top. You will struggle there if you do not have the skills and knowledge to make a difference. For this reason, through our foundation, McOttley Empowerment Foundation we offer scholarships to many women to pursue higher education. I have a thing against money being a stumbling block to pursuing your dreams so in whatever way I can I help as an individual or my company can, we do so.

How do you balance your career and family obligations?

I won’t deny that combining being a corporate woman and family woman hasn’t been easy. Many at times I have noticed that women in such situations end up giving up one for the other but I believe that with proper planning and strict adherence to the plans, any corporate woman can have the best of both worlds. You do not have to give up one to have the other. My personal secret is not to waste any time, not even a single second. It’s amazing what you can achieve as a corporate and family woman when you make good use of the 24 hours God has given you. I try and do all that I have to do within a stipulated time so that it doesn’t have to eat into my family time. On the rare occasion that it does, I still make proper use of technology to be a part of the lives of my husband and children. I must also state that my husband has been very supportive in my corporate life, he is my super hero when it comes to my corporate journey in my view. I believe Women have great potentials to do a lot but with a good partner by their side, they can do more.

What is the best way for readers of Amazons Watch Magazine to connect with you (Optional)?

Readers of Amazons Watch Magazine can follow me on Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin and Instagram.

Africa’s population was put at 1.2 billion people in 2016, placing the continent of 54 nations as the second most populous in the world. Over the last one year, the continent’s population recorded an increase of 30 million. By the year 2050, annual increases is projected to be more that 42 million people per year, with a total doubled population of 2.4 billion, according to the UN.

In an exclusive interview with Amazons Watch Magazine, Dr Leticia Appiah, a Physician, Senior Public Health Specialist, and Executive Director of Ghana’s National Population Council, said Africa’s greatest problem is the high population growth rate and population momentum, which fuels corruption and frustrates capital deepening. She also opined and discussed a model Ghana and the continent, at large, can adopt to stabilize its growth for accelerated economic development. Excerpt:

Thank you for this opportunity to interact with you. Please tell us about yourself and some of your experiences, growing up as a girl.

I grew up in a polygamous family and as my father had other children, my mum who was a high school teacher, was the sole carer of my two sisters and I.  My mum was my main support and role model and her intervention when I was in primary school prevented a crisis that would have had an adverse impact on my education, probably making me a school drop-out. The challenge I had as a child was that I was born left-handed; a condition that was frowned upon in the early 70s, leading to children such as myself being forced to write with the right hand in order to conform. I found it very hard to write with my right hand and I began to play truant in order to avoid the challenge. I played truant until my teacher met my mum at a meeting and asked about the reason for my long absence from school. My mum asked me what the problem was and I told her about my predicament. The following day, she took me to school and asked my teacher to allow me write with my left hand. At times, I wonder if my teacher would have noticed my absence if it were today considering the huge class sizes today in public schools in Ghana and wonder how many such children are loitering around unnoticed. I credit God and my mum for my success today.

You have had experiences working in various public health institutions, as a physician and public health specialist. Please tell us about your career journey in the medical profession.

I completed medical training in June, 1993 from Donetsk Medical School in Ukraine and came home immediately fired up to make my contributions to the development of my nation, Ghana. During my training in Donetsk, the maternity ward was the happiest of all wards because; there was joy, flowers and smiles when babies were born. This led to my decision to specialise as an obstetrician gynaecologist because; I wanted to be there to always welcome new precious citizens into our world.  However, when I started practising medicine in Ghana, I realised to my dismay and sadness that not all babies in Ghana are received in the world with joy, laughter and smiles. Some parents are ill-prepared to receive them whiles some are just not wanted and end up abandoned, malnourished or simply maltreated. Therefore, I decided to pursue a Master’s in Public Health to enable me get closer to the community since health or diseases are manufactured in homes which are the best places for health interventions for maximum effect.  In 2003 I completed my Master’s in Public Health and will be completing my PhD in public health this year.

You were the Director of Health Services for Ledzokuku-Krowor Municipality (LEKMA) of the Ghana Health Services. During this phase of your life, what were some the health challenges in the district you made remarkable efforts to address? 

I was appointed as the Director of Health Services in 2008 when the Municipality was established. There were many health challenges but key among them were: low TB case detection despite documented high incidence and prevalence rates. I realised that majority of the over 350,000 inhabitants had as their first point of call the numerous chemical shops and few pharmacy shops (seventy-five such shops). I therefore, decided to train all shop attendants in TB case detection using a simple screening tool. This subsequently, increased TB case detection in the municipality and a success story for other districts to emulate; other challenges identified were low immunizations coverages for children under one year and low family planning uptake in the municipality. This was because; public health services were mainly delivered only in public health facilities despite, the fact that private health facilities outnumber public ones. There were three (3) public health facilities and more than 10 private health facilities. I teamed up with the private health providers and extended immunization and family planning services to all our clients accessing services from private facilities by assigning staff to the various facilities. LEKMA became the centre of excellence for private-public partnership in the health care system in Ghana.

One of your campaigns in recent times has been towards reducing the annual growth rate in Ghana, proposing a government policy to limit the number of children of a couple. However, some experts have opined that an increase in education will play a more important role in population control than enforced rules or even contraception. What is your take on this?

I believe that every pregnancy should be wanted and every child cherished and nurtured to be a productive and proud citizen. That is the only way any nation can develop since, the quality of the human resource is key for manufacturing durable assets. Adequate Investment in children from infancy through adolescence till they become productive is expensive and time- consuming. Ghana’s National Population Policy 1994 has a Total Fertility Rate target of 3 by 2020 which I think should inform all population related policies. Contrary to this, deliveries are free irrespective of the number, we therefore have many uneducated women and or those with basic education and no employment having more children than their finances can adequately cater for thereby, driving these children into misery with negative outcomes through no fault of theirs. Apart from that, the higher the birth order the riskier the pregnancy, the higher the maternal mortality, the more children become orphans, less women get into productive employment, the worse-off families, communities and nations become. Investment in contraceptives and acceptance of small family size is a necessary ecological counterbalance in the advances in medicine and hygiene leading to reduced mortality.

Yes, education plays a role in population management and subsequently economic development but the link is very weak and there is little empirical evidence to support the case. For education to have a significant impact on population growth, girls should stay in school up to secondary+ level which in Ghana, takes 12 years. However, it takes only 9 months to conceive and deliver a term baby which makes it extremely difficult to manage population growth through education only. An aggressive family planning program as was implemented in Matlab Bangladesh, Iran, Tunisia, South Korea, Malaysia and recently, in Rwanda and Senegal leads faster to both demographic and economic dividends than investments in education without family planning. For most countries, these dividends start accruing when total fertility rate is between 3 and 2.1. Therefore, delayed fertility decline in any country is delayed economic development. In my opinion, Africa’s greatest problem is high growth rate and population momentum which also fuels corruption and frustrates capital deepening. Africa needs to stabilize its growth for accelerated economic development. After all, even in nature, mango trees and other fruit bearing trees bear fruits only when growth is stabilized.

What are some of your efforts aimed at inspiring, developing and empowering people, which has been your philosophy?

As humans we all depend on each other for support. As John Donne said, “no man is an island”. Human beings do not thrive when isolated from others. Our health professionals take care of our health needs, our seamstresses make our clothes, and engineers manufacture cars, phones, electricity among others for our consumption. To that end, inspiring and encouraging people to excel in their professions invariably improves the quality of life of all including mine.  I also have a duty to those who depend on me as a professional, a mentor, mother, sister, friend and wife to offer my best and with passion. I think the best way to inspire others is through your work; only then will your words mean much to them. The leadership that inspires best is one that is based on example.  

How do you balance your career and family obligation?

Much as I love my job, family is where you retire to at the end of the day and also seek solace when things go bad or finally retire to at retirement age so it is important that the balance is maintained. Daily exercise and spending time with my husband and my daughters are my favourite pastimes. I have three daughters; two are graduates and the youngest one is in her second year in university.

What is the best way for readers of Amazons Watch Magazine to connect with you?

Dr Appiah: Or


The livelihood of women in every society is highly important given the sensitivity of women-related issues. Developing nations of the world, have deemed if fit not only to take these issues seriously but also to scale up the chances of gender equality which has become pivotal in the advocacy for developmental sustainability of world economies.

In this interview, Ethiopia’s Minister of Women & Children Affairs H.E. Demitu Hambissa, speaks on the activities of the ministry and the approaches put in place towards creating an enabling environment for women. Excerpt:

You have dedicated your life to public service, making your country a better place for everyone. Kindly tell us about your career journey and some of your successes and accomplishments.

I have been contributing to the public services of Ethiopia since 1982. I have served from district to the federal level in different positions. Just to mention some, I have served as a teacher at the district level and the head of education office and women and children’s affairs office until 2004. My career journey took me to the regional level in 2005 and I served at the Oromia Region Women and Children’s Affairs Bureau as an expert on women’s economic empowerment, at the Office of the President of the Oromia Regional State as an executive advisor for social and women affairs, and as House Speaker of the Oromia Regional State Council until 2013. In November 2013, I transferred to the federal level and have served as a Minister at the Ministry of Science and Technology, the Ministry of Public Enterprises, and the Ministry of Women and Children’s Affairs of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia.

In these capacities, I have accomplished a lot in improving the social, economic and political life of women and girls and in empowering and protecting women, girls and vulnerable children in Ethiopia. I have been successful in mobilizing the community to be part of the issues and to invest its indigenous knowledge and resources for the solution.  Just to share with you the two recent activities, I was successful in mobilizing the women development groups (WDG), the local women’s structures to save more than 3.4 million USD in one year, and in encourage the group that saved more to be awarded on the International Women’s Day from the hands of His Excellency the Prime Minister. This mobilization was aimed to upgrade the saving culture of women. Currently, we are working on organizing with these women development groups to organize themselves through cooperatives to facilitate their financial access and, in turn, to achieve their economic empowerment.  The other accomplishment was mobilizing the community and its resources to integrate children living and working on streets with their families using the regional structure of the ministry. Through this mobilization, in 2009 Ethiopian calendar, between July 2016 and June 2017 alone, 10,161 children have been reintegrated with their families and 11,856,708.70 USD has also been collected from the community to support the reintegration program. The establishment of district women councils and inter-district council forums for women and the development of district-net information system is among my other accomplishments.

Your ministry partners with the office of the first lady in areas of health and women empowerment. Please tell us about your country’s fight against cancer and your ministry’s role in creating awareness on cancer preventions and screening.


In the areas of fighting against cancer as a partner to Her Excellency the First Lady’s Office of Ethiopia, my ministry has contributed in the mobilization and awareness creation activities within the community through Women Development Groups, Health Extension Workers, and Agriculture Extension workers. In collaboration with Her Excellency the First Lady’s Office, the Ministry of Women and Children Affairs has also organized training and awareness creation programs for religious leaders, community based associations, women’s associations, women development groups and sector bureau heads and staff. This training and awareness creation effort has raised the awareness of the community on cancer and the advantage of pre-screening to fight against cancer.


In addition to that, the ministry uses television, radio and print materials to reach the community to create awareness on cancer and pre-screening services. We also effectively utilize our national and international events to reach the community in general and the women, in particular, to discuss the issue of cancer and on the advantage of pre-screening services. For instance, as a result of these massive mobilization and awareness creation activities which lasted from June 2016 to May 2017, we reached 10,869,763 women and 1,270,493 women attended a pre-screening service in different health centers.


Findings reveal that 80 percent of the Ethiopian people reside in rural areas and women provide the majority of the agriculture labor in these communities. However, women have limited access to resources and their agricultural contributions often go largely unrecognized. What are some of your efforts to address this trend to support women in agriculture?

Ethiopian women constitute 49.8% of the population and contribute their share to over 65% in agricultural production, storage, and processing. Acknowledging the contribution of women in agriculture the government of Ethiopia has given due emphasis for assuring their access to resources and has developed the 1997 Federal Rural Land Administration Law which provides equal rights for women to land. The country’s five years Growth and Transformation Plan (2016-2020) has also considered agriculture as the main driver of the rapid and inclusive economic growth and development as well as the main source of growth for the modern productive sectors. Using these existing legal and policy frameworks as an entry point, my ministry has been working to empower rural women to have access to agricultural and financial resources and since 2010, over 11 million women have received their rural land ownership certificate, 2 million of whom are women household heads. Between July 2016 and June 2017, 878,268 rural women had access to women and environment friendly technologies to save their time and minimise their physical labour.

In addition, the ministry has implemented a joint program of rural women economic empowerment with UNWOMEN to facilitate access to financial and environmentally friendly technologies for women living in the rural areas.


There are lower economic opportunities for women in Ethiopia, such as limited access to credit and a lower demand for their products due to marketing inexperience. Kindly tell us your ministry’s efforts in expanding economic opportunities for women in your country.

To expand economic opportunities for women and to ensure their economic empowerment, my ministry is working on enabling women to get life skill and technical training which will equip them to participate in different income generating activities. In addition, providing market places and facilitating market linkages are the activities we are engaged in to expand women’s economic opportunities. As a country, there is a strategy for a micro and small enterprise which gives priority in providing access to financial resources for women through saving and credit schemes. In this regard, my ministry is working on mobilizing women to raise their awareness on the importance of saving and credit opportunities for women economic empowerment. As a result, between July 2016 and June 2017, the women development groups have saved around 2 Million USD and 1,459,799 women had access to credit were able to expand their economic activities in micro and small-scale business and in urban agriculture. As a result of these awareness creation activities, Ethiopian women’s access to job, credit, life skill and technical training and market linkage opportunities has improved significantly.


At the national level, all sectors are mandated to mainstream women’s issue in their plans and programs to contribute their share to the empowerment of women in the economic, social and political sphere. As a mandated ministry, the Ministry of Women and Children Affairs works closely with all the sectors to ensure the mainstreaming of the issues of women in all the sectors as well as to ensure the overall empowerment of women, including their economic opportunities. In addition, the ministry has implemented joint programs with partners to ensure gender equality and women’s empowerment in Ethiopia. These joint programs have created economic opportunities for women through technical training, materials, and financial resource provision to engage in different income generating activities. These joint programs are implemented with UNFPA, UNICEF, UNWOMEN, UNDP, and ILO.


Some influential reports indicate that primary school enrollment rate of girls in Ethiopia has increased in recent years. But a majority of the girls are unable to transition to secondary and tertiary schools due to distance, personal security, and economic challenges. How are you reacting to this?

Girls’ primary school enrollment in Ethiopia has reached 96.2%. Their enrollment in secondary and tertiary education has reached 23.7% and 34.14%, respectively. As these data indicate, there is still a gap in the secondary and tertiary level enrollment. Distance, socio-cultural barriers for girl’s education like labor and time intensive domestic chores, harmful traditional practices, and trafficking of girls are the major challenges contributing to the low enrollment rate.


To address these challenges, the Ministry of Women and Children Affairs, the Ministry of Education and their regional respective bureaus, and higher educational institutions jointly developed regulation and training modules focusing on anti-sexual harassment in schools and also skill training for girls. Similarly, gender sensitive pedagogy is implemented in teachers training institutions across the country. For distance related challenges, we have developed guidelines on the provision of hostel service for female students. There are also guidelines developed on the provision of tutorial and academic support programs targeted to reduce dropout rates.


In addition, through a UN joint flagship program, the ministry is providing financial assistance to girls from economically challenged families to attend their schools.


To increase female’s enrollment in tertiary level education and to develop their leadership role, the Government of Ethiopia has developed a scholarship scheme for female public servants to pursue their master’s degree at the Ethiopian Civil Service University, a University established to build the capacity of public servants. In addition, currently, we are working jointly with UNFPA and Ethiopian Civil Service University to facilitate a scholarship for female leaders to enable them perusing their master’s education side by side with their family and leadership responsibility in week end basis.


Massive awareness creation activities for changing the attitude of the community towards girls’ education, and developing different affirmative action initiatives are also some of the measures taken to solve the problem in girls’ enrolment rate at all levels of education.


Early marriage, female genital mutilation, and gender-based violence are still prevalent in Ethiopia, as with other developing nations, with adverse effects on young women and girls. What are some of your ministries efforts in recent times to enhance the fight against some of these harmful traditional practices?


To enhance the fight against harmful traditional practices (HTPs) the Government of Ethiopia has given due emphasis and developed a National Strategy and Action Plan on Harmful Traditional Practices against Women and Children. This strategy institutionalizes national, regional and grass roots mechanisms with the objectives of preventing HTPs, protecting women and children, and providing services to victims of HTPs.


The Ministry of Women and Children Affairs also leads a national HTPs platform which is composed of various sector ministries, national women, and community associations, and religious organizations to oversee the implementation of this national strategy and action plan. As an approach to implement the strategy, the ministry utilizes advocacy and monitoring work through grassroots organizations namely: women development groups and HTPs committee. We have also engaged religious leaders to teach about the harmful effects of HTPs thorough acknowledgement and blessing of the teaching of other health workers and the police on the issue related to HTPs.


To combat child marriage (CM) and female genital mutilation or cutting (FGM/C), the Government of Ethiopia entered a commitment to end the practice by 2025 at the London Girl’s Summit in 2015. To implement the activities to materialize the commitment, the Ministry of Women and Children Affairs has established a National Alliance to End Child Marriage and FGM/C consisting of all concerned stakeholders from government, UN, and other non-government organizations.


As a prevention mechanism, the ministry implements different awareness raising activities to disseminate messages regarding HTPs and their adverse consequences through regular programs using electronic and print media, national and international events, and community gatherings. To protect the victims of HTPs, we have established one-stop centers to provide a comprehensive legal, medical, psychological and economic support for survivors of HTPs to rehabilitate and reintegrate them into their community. In this regard, different UN agencies have a joint program with my ministry to work on combating HTPs. Specifically, in the one-stop rehabilitation centers establishment and strengthening the program, UNFPA Ethiopian country office work closely with us. I want to use this opportunity to acknowledge the country offices of UNFPA, UNICEF, UNWOMEN, UNDP, ILO, UNAIDS and other UN agencies and our development partners for their contribution in this and other activities of the ministry.


You were recently nominated by your country’s First Lady Her Excellency, Madam Roman Tesfaye, for CELD’s Enablers of Vision Awards, which will be conferred on you during the International Conference on Gender & Sustainability in New York, in recognition of your support in the fight against cancer in Ethiopia. How do you feel about this?

I am happy to receive this nomination from Her Excellency First Lady Mrs. Roman Tesfye. I feel that my contributions to better the life of Ethiopian Women and Children including their health has brought change. The ministry has put its fingerprints on the achievements made by the First Lady in fighting against cancer. I would like to use this opportunity to thank Her Excellency First Lady’s Office for the nomination and recognition, the CELD for the invitation to attend the conference and all the stakeholders, particularly the Ethiopian Women and their development groups, for contributing to our efforts to improve the life of women and children in general and our fight against cancer in particular.


The Republic of Panama has been all too fortunate to have a uniquely built knack for humanitarian serve. Though with a journalistic background, she has found the perfect mid-point to marry the tenets of her profession with her duties as the first lady of the Republic of Panama by employing unique principles.


In an exclusive interview with the Amazons Watch Magazine’s editorial team, H.E. Lorena Castillo De Varela, the First Lady of the Republic of Panama shares some of the principles she has used in achieving outstanding success in most of her projects. Excerpt:



Before your emergence as First Lady of the Republic of Panama in 2014, it is fascinating that you invariably demonstrated a strong commitment on matters of humanitarian and social support, in the exercise of your profession as a journalist. Kindly tell us about yourself and what awakened your interest in humanitarianism.


Panama has experienced great development and economic growth, but this has not always been so. The country has actually reached the neediest. As a journalist I had a lot of access and contact with people throughout the country, having the opportunity to learn about the problems and needs of the population. This captivated me with my roots and the people and I thought of why in the capital there were services and infrastructures, which were not available in the interior of the country.

Being a journalist and news anchor gave me some extra strength through the fourth power – journalism. Being able to transform lives and use the fourth power in favour of the people. Far beyond the personal ego and fame. It was not about me, but that they were putting me in that place – as I still am today – to serve other people, to serve as a conduit to solve the problems and needs that the population had and that many times the governments did not know about.
That’s what also captivates me as the first lady because I was not interested in politics, but the possibility to transform lives, to help so many people and to be that voice of those who are not heard, is what makes us put life, heart, and soul every day to what we do.



In 2002, you won the National Journalism Award given by the Forum of Journalists, with the report of Disabled Children in Cuba. In 2007. You were the presenter of “Roofs of Hope”, a television program through which decent homes were built for Panamanians without homes. A lot of our readers, particularly women in this line of the profession across developing nations, will be interested in knowing how you were able to help families and changed their quality of life, using the media as a tool. Your Excellency, please tell us how you were able to achieve this feat.


Never in my dreams did I think I was going to win the National Journalism Prize, much less from the National Forum of Journalism. Through that report, I wanted to convey the essence of Cuba. I walked the streets of Cuba, I met spectacular people, who despite their difficulties were so grateful, so happy and good. They welcomed us with great affection and always received us with a big smile. They were always cheerful and I said that I had to transmit that to Panama. I met the school solidarity with Panama and I see how they treat and educate children with disabilities and I made several journalistic deliveries where it reflected the tenacity, happiness, and desire to live from these kids.

On the basis that journalism is the fourth power, you have to know how to use it for the good of humanity. I have always focused my work on presenting the truth, the reality of the facts, without any manipulation whatsoever. It is always important to present the truth of what is happening, its reality, and its history.
The importance of the media and journalists is to present the truth with love, and show that we are beings- multipliers of love.



Over the last 3 years serving as the First Lady of Panama, you have become known, the world over, for your humanitarian efforts and support for projects aimed at alleviating the myriads of challenges in your country and region. In 2015, in recognition of your commitment to reducing the HIV epidemic in the country and in the region, you were named Special Ambassador for UNAIDS to combat AIDS in Latin America. You also received the title of Honorary President of the Panamanian Red Cross and presides the National Council for Comprehensive Care for Early Childhood and the National Commission for the Prevention and Control of Human Immunodeficiency Virus (CONAVIH). Please tell us the scope of your involvement in these humanitarian causes as well as other programmes you have initiated and support to benefit the most vulnerable sectors of the population.


As UNAIDS Special Ambassador for Latin America, I have led globally the zero-discrimination movement that aims to create a climate of respect, solidarity, and inclusiveness, so that all people can live without fear of being attacked, criminalized or stigmatized. I have encouraged individuals, communities and local, national and regional leaders to defend and support zero discrimination throughout Latin America and have also advocated in different high-level spaces for more funding from the HIV response.


I have also advocated that the barriers that prevent people affected by HIV/AIDS from accessing quality health services are eliminated because they are advancing on gender equality and women’s empowerment to reduce the new cases of AIDS.


In addition, from my office, at a national level in Panama, we promote workshops for the prevention of bullying in schools. These workshops foster students, teachers, and parents the importance of encouraging environments of healthy and peaceful school coexistence that contribute to preventing situations of bullying in schools. These workshops are preventive because the purpose is to encourage the establishment of an environment where the family, the pupil and the teachers are involved so that they can act in situations of conflict that are presented in classrooms.


In my role as Honorary President of the Red Cross, I have urged all organized groups and communities to work together to minimize vulnerability in our communities and to promote the creation of the Joint Task Force, which is composed of diverse entities with the purpose of ensuring the safety of people and provide prompt and timely humanitarian assistance when required.

While as President of the National Council for Comprehensive Early Childhood Care (CONAIPI) in conjunction with institutions and civil society organizations, we support and boost the implementation of the public policy of comprehensive attention to the first Childhood whose goal is for all children under the age of five to have access to early stimulation, education, comprehensive health and nutrition. This initiative reaffirms the commitment of the Government of Panama to prioritize comprehensive care for early childhood as a State policy.


As president of the National Commission for the Prevention and Control of Human Immunodeficiency Virus (CONAVIH), we are promoting the gratuitousness of the HIV rapid test. Panama is a pioneer in establishing the free diagnosis of HIV, syphilis and its treatment with the highest risk of HIV infection and adolescents in all state health facilities. This was established in Executive Decree no. 214 of May 17, 2016. It is also indispensable that all public and private sector health personnel are called for to promote the test for the early diagnosis of HIV and syphilis in order to achieve a decrease in the number of people with diagnosed infection and the transmission mother to child. This is added to the establishment since 2015 of the free HIV test for pregnant women. A coverage of 90% was achieved, lowering the prevalence of the mother-to-child transmission of HIV to 3.7%.


In June 2016, representatives of 45 institutions signed the “Act of commitment of the governmental institutions in the prevention of HIV and Zero discrimination”, through which the Regents of the entities undertake to develop activities related to the promotion of STI/HIV and Zero Discrimination, in addition, to actively participate in programs, projects, and actions that develop as an inter-agency network.

The CONAVIH is an instance composed by entities, private companies, and civil society organizations, promoting actions to prevent the advancement of the disease, including purchasing processes that guarantee the supply of medicines to treat people with HIV.


The fight against HIV/AIDS is one area of your passion; In Panama, 14, 568 cases were reported in 2015, of which 9, 611 have died and 13, 847 people are living with this disease. What are some of your efforts and successes as well as that of your country in reversing this worrisome trend?


As part of efforts to eliminate the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the Government of the Republic of Panama led by my husband, President Juan Carlos Varela, has launched a number of initiatives to ensure attention and zero discrimination towards People living with HIV and the population in general.
In this sense, more than $38 million has been invested in care, monitoring and treatment programs targeted at people living with HIV. Through the single-price system, the country has 95% guaranteed the supply of antiretroviral drugs for people with HIV.


In addition, 16 antiretroviral clinics have been installed nationwide for free care of people living with HIV. In these clinics the patients are evaluated free of charge by an interdisciplinary team composed of nurses, laboratory, psychologists, social workers and specialist, who are in charge of making the prognostic tests every 3 or 4 months, to detect the amount of viruses that travel through the bloodstream and how the immune system assimilates treatment. Antiretroviral treatment is delivered completely free of charge.


Also, 6 friendly clinics have been installed aimed at providing counselling and prevention to at-risk groups. Part of the orientation is carried out the free tests of HIV/AIDS and if a new patient is detected, it is referred to an antiretroviral clinic where the treatment will be provided.


To strengthen the attention and empathy to the people who attend these facilities, the human resource of medical centres are trained on how to approach and provide attention according to the specific needs of these groups. We work in evening hours outside the traditional hours of care to facilitate access to users who on daily basis, would not access these centres for fear of discrimination and services are provided free of charge.


Panama launched for the third consecutive year, the nationwide “Life-Saving TEST” campaign, which seeks to improve HIV testing coverage and take steps to achieve the first 90 of accelerated action.



Stigma, discrimination, and violence are barriers to the fight against HIV/AIDs. In Panama, findings reveal that 9% of people living with HIV have been denied health services because of their HIV status, and 27% of people living with HIV did not receive counselling when they were tested for HIV. Recently, on the occasion of the 40th UNAIDS Programme Coordination Board,  you delivered a passionate speech saying it is the right of everybody to have access to essential health and education services without fear of being harassed, mistreated or rejected; as without an end to discrimination, there would be no end to the AIDS epidemic. Kindly tell us about your commitment and the success rate of your zero discrimination agenda in Panama.


Discrimination is a reality and it is shameful that in 2017 when we have all the tools to end the AIDS epidemic, we still have to fight against prejudice, exclusion and criminalization, not only in households but in the streets, hospitals, police stations and courts. For this reason, from different forums at the level of Panama and internationally I have insisted that discrimination is a serious violation of human rights, is illegal, immoral, offensive and inhumane and that it is the responsibility of all to respect, defend and promote the fundamental rights for achieving sustainable development.


Work tirelessly, with the mission of breaking the silence, to reach every corner of Panama, Latin America, and the world, with a message of inclusion, solidarity, peace, and respect, through the movement Zero Discrimination.
Always insist that nobody is better than anyone, we all have the same rights. I do not have to like you, you do not have to be my friend, you do not have to agree with what I think or how I choose to live my life, but you have to respect me.

In the case of Panama, through CONAVIH we have been able to give voice to key groups and as I mentioned earlier, friendly clinics and antiretroviral clinics have been established to provide the population affected by HIV/AIDS and groups at risk attention and guidance they require. In addition, a training process was established for physicians and technical personnel to strengthen care for people living with HIV at the first level of health care.


Love on Wheels is also one of your complementary initiatives in the fight against HIV/AIDS. Can you tell us about this initiative, what inspired it and what are some of the successes that have been recorded so far?


This is an initiative that has been implemented since the year 2006. Through the mobile “Love on Wheels” clinic, various medical services are offered such as mammography tests, electrocardiograms, general medicine. Knowing the needs of the population living in areas of difficult access and in the indigenous regions, a few months since my arrival at the office of the First Lady of Panama we set ourselves as a goal to extend the coverage and medical services offered to the population. This led us to coordinate with the Ministry of Health the free application of rapid HIV/AIDS testing.


This initiative has allowed us to extend this service, to orient the general population on this disease, to capture and to offer to the affected timely and quality attention.

from October 2014 to 18 August 2017, 7000 rapid HIV testing has been done.


You are the Honorary President of the Panamanian Red Cross. And In 2016, you expressed an interest in establishing a Red Cross Humanitarian logistics hub in Panama to boost the support that the Red Cross provides at an international scale. What is the status of this initiative?


The Regional Logistics Centre for Humanitarian Assistance (CLRAH) known as the humanitarian Hub and in its second phase of construction will put the logistics platform of Panama at the service of the region for timely delivery of aid in the event of natural disasters and Disasters.


This second phase comprises the civil works of buildings that will house three important humanitarian assistance actors: the United Nations humanitarian Response Deposit (UNHRD), operated by the World Food Programme (WFP); the Federation International Red Cross and Red Crescent (IFRC); And the Panama National Civil Protection System (SINAPROC); In addition to the buildings of the administrative offices.


It is the first of its kind in the Latin American and Caribbean region, and its launch responds to global efforts to improve the response in emergency operations and humanitarian assistance.


What’s the best way for the readers of Amazons Watch Magazine to connect with you?


In the electronic Portal:  www.despachoprimeradama.gob.payou can find press releases, videos, photos of my activities and those of my team. In addition, on social networks: Twitter: @PrimeraDamaPma, on Facebook: DespachoPrimeraDama, Instagram: @PrimeraDamaPma can access information about my management as First Lady, UNAIDS Special Ambassador for Latin America and Global spokesperson for the Zero discrimination movement and of activities that we carry out.



In line with achieving equal opportunity for women in the world, it is important to note that this may never be possible if women are not well educated. A number of discussions by business experts and top government officials have revealed that in some cases, there are no qualified women to fill vacant positions. This may not only call for a reevaluation of strategies in the advocacy process, but a change of focus channeled towards emphasizing proper education for women across the world.


These were some of the points outlined by Dr. Namane Magau, Chair NTP & Bertha Gxowa Foundation, and Managing Director Business & Development Solutions Limited South Africa in an interview with Amazons Watch Magazine. Excerpt:


You have a profile of excellence, holding a doctorate in Education from Harvard, and being the managing director of a successful consulting firm, with experiences as director in a number of companies, in South Africa. Please share with us your background, growing-up experiences, and journey to entrepreneurship.


I was born and brought up in a family that valued education. My father and mother were educators and encouraged all their children to develop their children to learn and develop talents. I was also privileged to be a part of a family both on my father and mother’s side that was educated and inspired excellence. They were not only wonderful role models, but they were willing to offer education support to any well deserving relative. My vision about my future was therefore shaped by the impact that my family had on me.


You have acquired the best of education, with well-respected tertiary qualifications, both within and outside the shores of your country.  Based on your experiences and exposure to the educational system of your country and that of a developed country, how will you assess Africa’s educational system in terms of equipping the continent’s youths for good leadership?


Studying at Harvard provided one with an intellectually enriching environment where one learns from leading faculty and dynamic students from all over the world. In particular, it enhanced my appreciation of my own thinking and to trust my thinking more. Within that environment you also realize how the unique experiences you bring add to the richness of dialogue, thinking and learning the process. Africa’s education systems are also evolving and being shaped by the social, political, economic and technological developments in the countries. With the dividend of youth and having a large part of the population being young, Africa has a great potential for success. It is therefore important that education is prioritized for African youth to create the human resource power required to support the growth of the economies. The education network within the continent and across the continent is an important platform that has to be nurtured to strengthen development in the region. Science & Technology also need to be promoted to ensure that the youth are enabled to contribute to innovation and new solutions that will enhance industrialization in the continent and eradicate poverty and disease.


You are committed to youth development, engagement, and empowerment. Please tell our readers some of the ways you have demonstrated this passion and the successes recorded so far.


I have been fortunate to have an opportunity to bring to South Africa a young bright student from Liberia and to sponsor her graduate and post graduate studies. Tanneh Tarpeh has completed her BCom, BCom Hon (UNISA) and recently Masters in Commerce at the University of Pretoria with Distinction. She will add to the pool of expertise in Liberia and the continent. As President of International Women’s Forum, we create a platform for Young Women Professionals to enable them to Connect, share ideas and learn from each other. As Chair of Bertha Gxowa Foundation, we are working with Charlotte Maxeke Foundation on the Legacy Scholarship to support young women to get exposure and study in the United States. Charlotte Maxeke is one of our leading icons who was the first African woman to get a Science Degree in the continent. It is in honor of this great legend that the AME Church in partnership with Charlotte Maxeke Center will be joining hands in the establishment of the Legacy Scholarship for young women from the continent in October.


Business and Development Solutions, your company, is one of your efforts towards nation building. Please tell us more about this company and its contributions to your country’s sustainable development.


The Company including my individual work builds on the extensive policy development work that I have done in National Projects like Leading the Human Resource Development Strategy for the Reconstruction and Development Program at the beginning of the new democracy in South Africa. I also Chaired the Future Needs and Priorities Task Team to guide alignment of Higher Education with the needs of Industry. The process promoted partnership between the Science System in the country and industry and led to the establishment of institutions like Innovation Hub.  As part of the Team led by Dr. Phumzile Mlambo Ngcuka, we established the Technology For Women in Business (TWIB) a Program established to facilitate the accessing of appropriate Technologies for Women in Business. This was done to raise awareness about the importance of technology in business and to enable Women owned enterprises to be more efficient with the use of appropriate technologies.

I have done projects in Health to promote human resource management process and partnered with other companies in the implementation of knowledge management and performance management solutions. I also serve in my personal capacity on several Boards and utilize the experience I have had as an Executive Director. I am currently Chair of NTP (Nuclear Technology Program) one of the leading global companies providing diagnosis and treatment of cancers.

I contribute to sustainable development in the country also through my involvement in policy and research like the UN Women project on Affirmative Procurement for Women Owned Enterprises. The study under the leadership of UN Women will contribute significantly to bridging the income gap between women owned enterprises and that of their male counterparts. The study will provide important indicators on how to extend the participation of women in public and private sector procurement, and enhance sharing of good practice in promoting the growth of women owned enterprises.

As President of Business women’s Association in 2004, I introduced the first Census on women Corporate Leaders in south Africa.  The Census provided a report on the levels of participation of women corporate leaders in South Africa and compared it with those of women in countries like United States, Canada, UK, and Australia. The Census which was released annually raised awareness in the country about the representation of women leadership in JSE listed Companies and leading State-owned Enterprises. Over the years we saw levels of representation improve even though the process still requires urgency.


As President of International Women’s Forum, I worked with Hannah Edinger in Frontier Advisory to extend the study of the participation of women in corporate leadership to five African Countries. We partnered with UNDP and had to do a preliminary socioeconomic analysis as advised by UNDP to ensure that the study reflected the dynamic socioeconomic situations in the various countries. The current UN Women study on Affirmative Procurement for Women Owned Enterprises will also shed further light on the work done then.


Findings reveal that South Africa has a very high business failure rate; some reports have attributed this trend to challenges ranging from the business environment, funding, the educational system, to other cultural and social challenges. In the light of your experiences, as a stakeholder in your country’s educator sector, a social entrepreneur and successful businesswoman, what is your take on this and what would you say is the secret to your success?


Continuous learning and quality relationships sustain my success. The business environment changes all the time and presents challenges and opportunities. The experience I gained as an executive in State-owned enterprises equipped me with skills to manage dynamic changes and opportunities in the market environments in which I operate. It has also been important to establish a solid network of business partners and service providers. Without the viable network, the business cannot succeed.


The challenge of access to funding is more critical for women. The Government’s 2015 report on the status of women in South African economy, noted the findings that only 2.9 per cent of women entrepreneurs received assistance from a commercial bank in 2009, which has led a large proportion of adult women in South Africa to rely heavily on savings circles, government grants, and borrowing from money lenders. What are some of the gender-based challenges you have faced in your business life and how did you sidestep them?


With quality partners, one is able to share risks and to ensure that appropriate and affordable funding is secured for business initiatives. When we went into our first major investment venture with a few women, we thoroughly assessed the opportunity and prospect and worked with our partners to develop a mutually beneficial business platform which did not encumber us in debt. It is however important that public and private sector institutions find more meaningful ways of enabling women owned enterprises in extending the participation of women in the economy.


You were involved in the research and publication of the African Union Africa Gender Score Card for 2016. The report says “women are the backbone of Africa’s economy and remain key actors in many of the core economic sectors… but are concentrated in the lower rungs of these sectors, working in difficult environments with minimal pay.” Other findings have estimated the South African gender pay gap to be between 15%-17% on, average. What is your take on this and how do you think this trend can be reversed?


The African Union Africa Gender Score Card for 2016 notes a very critical point which is also indicated by the recent World Economic Forum ‘s Global Gender Gap Report that points out that the global pay gap between men and women is only expected to close in 2186. South Africa is ranked 15 out of 144 countries with women’s earnings averaging about R130,000 annually compared to men earning on average R210,000 annually. The gains made with more women going into Higher Education and in some sectors, even more, women graduating than men, still need to be reflected in the bridging of the pay gap between men and women. Enabling government policies and corporate strategies are making inroads with more women being promoted to leadership positions and salary parity introduced in leading institutions. The challenge is however still huge, and new concerns are emerging relating to absorption of women in corporate leadership as many do not stay in their positions. Dynamic leaders in the public and private sector are looking at ways of enhancing retention of women corporate leaders. There is a need to promote the creation of environments which allow diversity to thrive.


How do you balance your role as a mentor and inspiration to South African young women, with your family and business obligations?


I consider it a special privilege to be a mentor and I am inspired and enriched by those I mentor.  Young people of today face much greater challenges than we did, and I find their tenacity and courage fascinating. As I listen and guide them, I also learn a lot as they extend my thinking. I find the process both humbling and empowering.


My children are adult professionals and that allows me more time to devote to my business and engage in various development initiatives. I am also learning to be a good grandmother and make even the shortest times I spent with my grandkids special. I had a wonderful grandmother who made everyone of her grandchildren feel special, am trying to capture what she shared with us in how I relate to my grandchildren.


I appreciate the impact Tanneh had on my family and that through her presence in our family my children feel more a part of the continent. I would like to promote connections across the continent to strengthen research, innovation and economic empowerment of women and young people in our continent.



Experts have said that mentorship for young girls and the youths as a whole is an important factor in grooming responsible citizens who will in the near future take up leadership positions. This can be done through training, skill acquisition and empowerment programs and tailored mentorship programs.


In an exclusive interview with Amazons Watch Magazine, the First Lady of Guyana H.E. Sandra Granger speaks on some of her activities geared towards curbing teenage pregnancy and creating a better life for the girl-child in her country. Excerpt:


Your Excellency, thank you for this opportunity to discuss some of your efforts to foster sustainable development in your country. Please tell us about your background and some of your experiences, growing up in Guyana.


I was the third child and third girl in a family of eight children. I was given chores to do from a very early age and I had to complete these before I left for school in the mornings and when I got home in the afternoon. As the younger children came along, we helped to look after them.

I was educated by the Sisters of Mercy at the primary and secondary levels and have happy memories of my growing years.

There were many large families in those days and the city was less built up, with fruit trees in practically every yard in our neighbourhood. We kids – boys and girls – played many games and pranks together.

The adults watched out for all the children, so we were pretty safe.


Over the years, you have demonstrated efforts and passion to create a better life for all. Kindly tell us what awakened the spirit of philanthropy in you.


My beliefs and actions today are based on the grounding I received from my parents and teachers. My mother, in particular, taught us to respect every person, regardless of economic and social standing, and to try to understand their behaviour. She also is a great believer in education as a means of empowerment, so she made many sacrifices to ensure that her children got a good primary and secondary education. My childhood experiences have led me to believe that poverty is a crime and that persons can be inspired to achieve their potential through education and empowerment. I think that these guide my actions. I am happy to say that my husband supports my efforts.


Your country has a relatively high rate of adolescent pregnancy in both the Caribbean and South America, with 97 out of every 1,000 girls between the ages of 15 and 19 giving birth, according to the State of the World Population 2013 report. Kindly tell us about some of your programmes as well as the successes recorded in addressing this trend in recent times.


I agree. The rate of adolescent pregnancy is unacceptably high. In my discussions with adolescent mothers, I have discovered that these girls became pregnant not only because they yielded to a boyfriend, but because they were victims of rape, incest, and human trafficking. We are therefore dealing with social, psychological and economic issues when we examine teenage pregnancy.

I work with a non-governmental Organisation, Women Across Differences (WAD), to help these girls complete their secondary education, or to study and learn a trade if they so desire.  WAD was supported by UNFPA and is currently supported by Republic Bank Guyana in the conduct of a year-long comprehensive programme for the empowerment of teen mothers who are counselled, taught parenting and life skills, craft and so on, and encouraged to continue their education.  They are also encouraged to participate in workshops organised by my office and several of them have done so.


The teen mothers have developed self-esteem and self-confidence. Those who have graduated from the programme have formed a group called Young Mothers for Change which works to support each other, and also with their peers advising against repeat pregnancies, on protection from sexually transmitted diseases and so on. Some have participated in conferences locally and overseas and have acquitted themselves well.


Several of the girls, mainly those with training in hair care and cosmetology, have participated in “Glam Days” organised for senior citizens in a collaborative effort of Luminous Women (an informal group of which I am a member) and WAD. Both the seniors and the girls have stated that they enjoy these experiences of inter-generational interaction.


In order to reduce teenage pregnancy, I believe that there should be comprehensive, appropriate public education about sexual and reproductive health, so that our children are aware of, and informed about these issues. Happily, our Ministry of Public Health has introduced Adolescent Clinic Days at our public health centres, where teen mothers and fathers receive information and services.


Teen pregnancy and its attendant issues are a matter which has been discussed among Spouses of CARICOM Leaders. as well as in the context of the Pan-Caribbean Partnership against HIV and AIDS.


HIV/AIDs is the leading cause of death among adults aged 24-44, according to findings, increasingly affecting the youth, especially young girls, with a prevalence rate of 2.5 percent. What is your take on this and your efforts in tackling HIV/AIDs in Guyana?


The perspective with regard to HIV and AIDS has changed much since the discovery of AIDS. A diagnosis of HIV is no longer a death knell. The successes achieved by individual countries in CARICOM are due in large part to the commitment of governments and to the Pan Caribbean Partnership against HIV and AIDS (PANCAP).  Its membership comprises countries as well as governmental and non-governmental institutions and agencies and donors working together to end the AIDS epidemic.  The successes include-

  1. a) PANCAP was designated an international best practice by UNAIDS in 2004.
  2. b) It negotiated a reduction in the cost of anti-retroviral drugs which led to an increase in ARV coverage. AIDS-related deaths have declined by 49 percent.
  3. c) The latest data show that prevalence of HIV in the region is now 1.3 percent.
  4. d) in respect of the 90-90-90 target, 69 percent of the people living with HIV know their status, of whom 84 percent are on treatment and 69 percent are virally suppressed. So while we are moving forward, more still needs to be done.
  5. e) The number of people accessing ARVs doubled between 2000 and 2016. However, only half of those people have access to viral load testing. In this regard, I can report that 75 percent of the people on ARV in Guyana are achieving viral suppression.
  6. f) Four out of five people who know their status are on treatment.
  7. g) While Cuba became the first country in the world to eliminate mother-to-child transmission of HIV in April 2015, ten other countries in the Caribbean achieved this by the end of 2016.


It is a matter of concern that young girls are a large number of the persons newly infected with AIDS. This requires firm and strong action, which would include comprehensive health and family life education in all our schools, a public education campaign, and aggressive prosecution of the perpetrators of rape, incest and human trafficking who have denied the human rights of their victims.


Our efforts to tackle HIV/AIDS in Guyana must include involvement of all stakeholders, including health professionals, faith-based organisations, labour, public and private sector organisations and international partners, to address this issue and deal with it in a manner which removes the taint of stigma and discrimination against people infected and living with HIV and AIDS.  Stigma and discrimination cause some people not to seek treatment when they discover their status.  We must accept and promote their access to health care as a right.



Kindly share in details some of the successes of your projects, such as Self-Reliance and Success in Business for Women, Child Care, Caring for the Elderly and ICT workshops and programmes for women, teenage mothers, adolescents and out of school youth.


Thank you for asking about my projects. In respect of the Self-Reliance and Success in Business Workshops for Women, which are conducted through collaboration with the Guyana Ministry of Social Protection and Interweave Solutions, we have trained over 600 persons, including some men who asked to participate in the training, for all ten administrative regions in the country. The workshop teaches participants how to successfully run a business and to recognise and balance the link between their professional and private life and their communities.


The certificate awarded at the end of the workshop is recognised by the Small Business Unit and microenterprise organisations so that these participants can access loans and grants. We follow up with them and they call on the facilitators for advice. One of our participants won the third prize for her business plan in a national business expo. Others have come together to work as groups. We have had women who are very proud that they have completed the workshop and now have another “piece of paper” with their name.  Some have spoken about leaving an abusive relationship as soon as their business is up and running. Some of our teen mothers who participated have spoken about plans to improve their businesses.

We plan to conduct two training of trainers workshops before the end of this year so that there will be persons qualified to train and monitor other women in all parts of the country.

Consideration is also being given to conducting other workshops in some vast areas where we were unable to reach all sectors.

As regards the Caring for the Elderly and Child Care Workshops, these include a component in First Aid, so we work with the Guyana Red Cross Society which conducts an intensive first aid and CPR programme to accompany the training the women and girls receive in caring for our seniors and in childcare. As I mentioned earlier, our teenage mothers and some girls who have been rescued from trafficking have benefitted from these programmes.

The certificate awarded at the end of the workshops are also recognised by the National Board of Industrial Training. So far, we have conducted four Caring for the Elderly and one Child Care workshop, with a second, planned later this year.

Three ICT Workshops have been conducted for adolescents and out-of-school youth, in which they have not only been exposed to ICT, but also modules on life skills and preparing for the world of work, sexual and reproductive health, micro-enterprise and, most recently, robotics. These were conducted on the East Coast Demerara for young people mainly from Buxton, Friendship, and Victoria villages. I am happy that some of our graduates have been employed as data entry clerks at our National Data Management Authority. Some have gained employment elsewhere and some are still in school.

My office was happy to be asked by our Board of Industrial Training to coordinate an ICT Workshop based on our project for young people on the East Bank Demerara and that workshop commenced on 11 September.

My Buxton Youth Development Initiative was a pilot remedial education project begun two years ago with children from three primary schools in the Buxton/Friendship area. It was developed in collaboration with leaders and teachers in the community, and targeted mainly children who were struggling in school; we also included children who were doing well but might be experiencing other challenges.  The parents were asked whether they would agree to their children participating in the Initiative.

Based on advice from the teachers, we provide the children with a nutritious snack prepared by a member of the community before the classes, which are held thrice weekly during the school term and which follow the national curriculum. Over 180 children benefit from the programme and their performance has improved.  My belief in the benefits of these classes was vindicated when the headmistress of one of the participating schools reported this year that the literacy rate in that school had risen from 57 percent to 83 percent in the period since the programme began.


A similar programme – the Lusignan Youth Development Initiative – was launched in another village with one primary school at the start of the 2016/2017 school year. We have over 80 children participating in that project.

We provide three of the best performing children from each class with vouchers for one of our leading bookstores.

I regret that my budget does not allow me to embark on more of these Initiatives.  Children just need the opportunity and encouragement to succeed in school.

I am also involved in the Kind Soles Project in collaboration with REThink Organisation of Trinidad and Tobago through which we provide “shoes that grow” to children in our vast hinterland, some of whom go to school barefoot and are therefore prone to infections. These shoes are donated by Guyanese and Caribbean individuals and organisations at home and abroad. Caribbean Airlines generously ships these shoes to Guyana free of cost.

Recently the Central Islamic Organisation of Guyana donated some shoes and supplies which came in very handy when villages of our Potaro-Siparuni region were flooded.

I have also been working with the STEM Guyana project spearheaded by a Guyanese “techie,” Karen Abrams, which began in August 2016, introducing our children to Robotics. She also trained interested persons, young and not so young, as trainers and to coordinate clubs which were set up after the initial workshops. I am very proud of the achievement of our young people, who were invited to the First Global Robotics Olympics in Washington, DC, in July of this year and placed tenth out of 165 countries at the end of that competition.

We are now expanding to include scratch programming and mathematics and hoping to establish clubs throughout the country.

I must thank all the individuals and institutions, public and private, at home and in the diaspora, who have generously supported and continue to support my efforts, not least among whom are my staff. I could not accomplish all these things without them.


What’s the best way for the readers of Amazons Watch Magazine to connect with you?


I can be contacted via my Facebook page, HE Sandra Granger or my website,  You can also email receive information on my activities through the Website of the Ministry of the Presidency of Guyana.


Rising figures of people living with HIV/AIDS has for some time been a huge source of concern for governments of developing nations, health workers and well-meaning individuals. As part of efforts towards fighting this disease which has become a menace to society, the Organization of African First Ladies against HIV/AIDS (OAFLA) was formed. OALFA has let no stone unturned in seeking new methods through which HIV/AIDS and other related diseases can be reduced to the barest minimum.


In an exclusive interview with Amazons Watch Magazine, the First Lady of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, and President Elect of the Organization of African First Ladies against HIV/AIDS Her Excellency, Roman Tesfaye, speaks on some of the achievements of the OALFA and the Ethiopian government in the fight against deadly diseases, and the creation of a better healthy life for all. Excerpt:


Your Excellency, please tell us some of the progress your country has made in the fight against cancer.


My country has made significant strides in the fight against communicable diseases, which has laid the foundation for the aspiration to end AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria by 2030. However, non-communicable diseases including cancer are rising rapidly in our country causing immense sufferings and deaths. In response to these, measures are being taken at different levels. The first progress made was consensus created at the policy level to give due attention to fighting cancer and other NCDs as we are bearing double burden of diseases. Following this, we have established the national cancer control steering committee comprising of key stakeholders and co-chaired by the Minister of Health and myself to coordinate and lead the response. Then, our country’s first national cancer control plan was developed for a 5-year period from 2016-2020 under the leadership and close follow up of the committee. The plan calls for cancer control in a continuum of care model- primary prevention, early detection, treatment and palliative care using existing health system.


With only one cancer center at Black Lion hospital in Addis Ababa for a country with a population of over 100 million, we have been exerting concerted efforts to create access to services.  Currently, five new comprehensive cancer centers are being established within University Hospitals in the five corners of the country while upgrading the existing center at Black Lion hospital by replacing cobalt-60 with LINAC radiotherapy machine. Constructions of sites for radiotherapy machines are completed in the first three university hospitals- Black Lion, Jimma, and Haromaya.  LINAC radiotherapy machines are getting shipped and installed at these hospitals. Site constructions in the remaining three university hospitals- Hawassa, Gondar, and Mekelle are 70-75% complete and their LINAC radiotherapy machines to be shipped as the sites get ready.  To avail the required human resources for the new centers, we are planning to import expatriates in short-terms while building in-country human resources capacity as long term solution. Meanwhile, a health center in Addis Ababa was equipped with 50 beds capacity to provide inpatient and outpatient services as an extension of Black Lion Cancer Center.


As breast cancer is the most prevalent cancer in the country, a guideline was developed by Ministry of Health to decentralize breast cancer diagnosis and treatment with chemotherapy by task shifting to non-oncologist medical doctors in referral hospitals with mentorship and referral links with the existing center. In addition, a demonstrative project is to commence in collaboration with Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon at Hawassa University referral hospital to establish a center of excellence for breast cancer diagnosis and management in a health network with catchment health facilities. The lessons to be used for scaling up breast cancer services across the nation. To combat cervical cancer, a national guideline was developed and over 195 health facilities across the country are providing screening for pre-cancerous lesions using visual inspection with acetic acid (VIA) and treatment with Cryotheraphy machines. About 76,000 women screened for cervical pre-cancer lesions. To enhance utilization of services, we will have a sub-national campaign in the areas with Cryotheraphy machines. Additional Cryotheraphy machines are under procurement to avail at least one Cryotheraphy machine at every woreda (district) throughout the country. Once, the Cryotheraphy machines are availed and personnel trained in their operation, we will launch a national campaign for population based screening for cervical pre-cancer lesions and treatment with Cryotheraphy. For cervical pre-cancer lesions requiring operations, 16 Loop Electrosurgical Excision Procedure (LEEP) providing sites are equipped and staffed with trained professionals to provide services at referral hospitals.  Moreover, a demonstration project of vaccination against HPV for young school girls aged 9-13 years was undertaken in two woredas in Tigray and Oromiya regions of our country. Now it is decided to have a nationwide scale up of vaccination against HPV.  To enhance the affordability of oncology drugs, a policy of 50% subsidy was put in place with no mark up at all levels of supply chain system. As 40% of cancer can be prevented by modifying risk factors, we are to ignite a public movement to avoid smoking, harmful use of alcohol, unhealthy diet, and physical inactivity.


It has been nearly two (2) years since the National Cancer Control Plan was launched in Ethiopia. How will you rate the accomplishments of the plan?


We have now clear national cancer control program and it is integrated into health sector transformation strategic plan and operational plans at national and regional levels. This is a great achievement at policy and program planning levels. We are also undertaking major expansions of cancer centers through joint efforts of government and development partners, which will result in dramatic improvements in access to comprehensive cancer control services. Breast cancer and cervical cancer services are getting expanded though not at anticipated pace. Overall, we are at an encouraging start of implementation with achievements instilling hope to fight cancer in resource constrained settings like ours to avoid preventable sufferings and deaths.


Your Excellency; last month, you were elected President of the Organization of African First Ladies against HIV/AIDS (OAFLA). Under your leadership, what impact or difference would you like OAFLA to make in Africa in terms of tackling some of the region’s peculiar challenges?


Together with my fellow first ladies, I will advocate for bringing socioeconomic transformation across the continent as envisioned in Africa’s development agenda of 2063. We will document and share best lessons in the fight against HIV/AIDS and other major communicable diseases, combating cervical, breast and prostate cancers, ending child marriage, improving maternal and child health, promoting girls education, better nutrition, and women economic empowerment through strong country leadership and ownership, active community engagement, accelerated services expansion and utilization, and enhanced mobilization of local and global resources in shared sense of responsibility.


Ethiopia has made some progress in terms of increasing access to HIV prevention and treatment services, among pregnant women living with HIV and children. Your efforts in achieving this feat have been quite tremendous. Please, tell us about your recent involvement in the fight against HIV/AIDS in Ethiopia.


Ethiopia has achieved encouraging results in the fight against HIV/AIDS with 90% decline in new HIV infection as compared to the 2001 baseline. However, the epidemic remained heterogeneous among geographic areas and population groups. My recent efforts in the fight against HIV/AIDS focused on Gambella, Benshangul Gumuz, and Ethiopian Somali regional states. Gambella region has the highest HIV prevalence (6.5%) in our country as compared with national HIV prevalence of 1.5%. Young girls aged 15-24 in Gambella regional state have HIV prevalence of 9% which is much higher than the national HIV prevalence of 0.5% among girls in the same age group. Young boys in the region have much lower HIV prevalence (0.2%) indicating sexual mixing of young girls with older men having higher risks. We have conducted series of advocacy conferences in the region including the national celebration of WAD 2014 in Gambella town.  In the event, over 3800 people were tested for HIV in a single day at one site and we got registered in the Guinness Books of Records for the achievement. Currently, Gambella HIV/AIDS program has become a flagship initiative at the national level. But, we have observed that the momentum is not sustained after mobilization events.


By drawing in-country lessons from other regional states, we are advocating to systematize the response in the region by strengthening leadership and ownership at all levels, creating shared vision to halt and reverse the epidemic, having clear activity plans and targets to be achieved at every level to be entered into performance agreements with shared sense of responsibility and accountability. Public movement in the communities to be ignited using health extension workers as facilitators of community conversation in which community members dialogue and create consensus not only on the severity of the problems but also on fueling factors of the epidemic in their set ups and ways of preventing and controlling them. At the end of the conversation sessions, the community members are to come up with concrete action plans to be implemented and monitored including issuing community bylaws to end widow inheritance, avoid child marriage, stop stigma and discrimination, adopt pre-marital HIV testing, promote utilization of HIV services and enhance provision of care & support to the needy PLHIVs, orphans and vulnerable children. Likewise, the response will be intensified in Benshangul Gumuz and Ethiopian Somali regional states.


My efforts also focus on pocket areas in other regions of the country where a significant number of most at risk and highly vulnerable population groups live which includes large scale development schemes- mechanized farms, road constructions sites, houses, and power generation dams, and transport corridors as our country aspires to end AIDS by 2030.


Your school feeding programme initiated in 2015 as a strategy to encouraging children to school, has gained acceptance, at the government level, and received support both at local and international levels. Please tell us about the successes and accomplishments of the national school feeding programme.


A study conducted in our capital Addis Ababa at public primary schools has indicated that academic performance of primary school children from poor families is highly affected due to malnutrition. Starved children showed high absenteeism, poor attendance, high dropouts, and low academic performance including repetitions. Some of them carried empty lunch boxes to pretend as if they have something to eat and get away from their fellow classmates not to be seen during lunch times. This is hindering their ability to develop to their full potential and get out of poverty.  When I recognized this reality, I was in deep sorrow, my heartbroken as a mother and citizen. I began thinking what can be done to help these destitute children today to secure their bright future through education. Then, we established a local NGO named ‘Ye Enat Weg’ literally meant motherly custom, to manage the school feeding program. The charity organization is working with city education bureau, school feeding committee in each public primary school and bureau of women and child affairs. We mobilized funds from local and international sources. The school feeding program which started in 98 public primary schools and fed 5,010 needy school children in 2015 is now benefiting over 20,000 school children in 208 public primary schools in all sub-cities of our capital. The beneficiary students’ academic performance has improved markedly. About a third of them ranked 1 to 3 in their classes. Encouraged by the achievements, we are planning to expand ‘Ye Enat Weg’ project to two regions of the country. The lessons from school feeding program to be used for nationwide scale up in the future. Currently, the Ministry of education is drafting a national school feeding strategy.


Early marriage and pregnancy are challenges faced by many teenage girls across developing nations. The Demographic and Health Survey data from 2011 put the median age at which Ethiopian women marry at 16.5 years, revealing that 40% of all women in their early 20’s were married before the age of 18.  What are some of your efforts and that of your country to address this trend in Ethiopia?


Median age at first marriage among women aged 25-49 years in Ethiopia has increased from 16 years in 2000 to 17.1 years in 2016. On the other hand, the proportion of women aged 15-19 years old married has declined from 14.4% in 2000 to 5.7% in 2016. This is encouraging progress but we need to intensify our efforts to stop child marriage and pregnancy by addressing the underlying causes besides providing youth friendly services. These include promoting women’s economic empowerment, girls’ education and avoiding harmful traditional practices including child marriage.


Empowering women economically builds their self-esteem, enhances their values within their families and communities. It not only improves women’s income but also the livelihood of households as women often spend money on the things that improve the wellbeing of their families with positive social outcomes. I have launched an initiative to link 1500 women led entrepreneurs to the export market with value chain links to women at the grassroots. Their export products include precious stones, handcrafts, leather goods, fashion products, value added coffee, and coffee-honey. At a broader scale, the government has developed and issued women’s development package which includes awareness creation, building women’s capacity for leadership and business skills, linking with small and micro-enterprises development institutions, seed money, and markets.


As education is an instrument to speed up socio-economic development and break the vicious cycle of poverty, we have been making unwavering efforts to ensure access to primary education to all.  As result, Ethiopia has attained almost universal enrollment to primary education for girls and boys. Women’s education has an impact on reducing child marriage and early motherhood. The final report of demographic and health survey conducted in 2016 indicted that proportion of women aged 15-19 who begun childbearing varied with educational status from 28% among women with no education to 12% with primary and 4% with secondary education. Also, the median age at first marriage among women aged 25-49 years increased with education level from 16.3 years with no education to 17.8 years with primary, 22.4 years with secondary and 24 years with more than secondary education. We will consolidate on achievements, by promoting education to every child, particularly girls’ education up to the tertiary level to unleash their full potential for our socioeconomic transformation. To avoid harmful traditional practices including child marriage, the public movement will be ignited to create consensus in the community at large to attain the required social change.


Maternal, infant and child mortality has also been a dangerous trend in developing nations. In Ethiopia, findings reveal that women have a one-in-52 chance of dying from childbirth-related causes each year. Records, have more than 257,000 children under the age of five dying with 120,000 cases in the neonatal period. There have been some national and international efforts to address the problem. Please tell us about the fight against maternal and child mortality in Ethiopia.


In Ethiopia, maternal mortality has declined from 1400 per 100,000 live births in 1990 to 412 per 100,000 live births in 2016, which is 71% reduction as compared to the 1990 level. Likewise, under 5 years old child mortality has declined from 216 per 1000 live births to 67 per 1000 live births and infant mortality from 123 per 1000 live births to 48 per 1000 live births over the same period.  Life expectancy increased from 45 years in 1990 to 64 years in 2016. This is promising progress as compared to where we were. We have to redouble our efforts to further reduce maternal, infant and child mortality. During the 2nd national growth and transformation plan period, GTP II 2015/16-2019/2020, we have set stretched goals to further reduce maternal mortality from 420 to 199 per 100,000 live births, child mortality from 67 to 30 per 1000 live births, and infant mortality from 48 to 20 per 1000 live births. In the past two years, we have been undertaking a nationwide campaign to increase coverage of pregnant women delivered at health facilities. Strengthening of antenatal care follow up to ANC4, availing ambulance services at every district to avoid delays in transporting pregnant women to health facilities, building human resources capacity at health facilities through training and deployment of midwives, emergency surgeons, and gynaecologists, enhancing supply for MCH, instituting policy to provide MCH services including  delivery free of charge to the clients, enhanced community mobilization to have home delivery free (HDF) and open defecation free (ODF) kevels, undertaking maternal death audits, universal immunization, strengthening IMNCI services, instituting emergency response health system including screening and treatment of severe acute malnutrition, and using MCH scorecards as key indicators of performance are some of the strategic interventions being implemented. Intensifying the fight against major communicable diseases as well as NCDs including cancer will contribute towards reduced mortality.


Besides these, as nutrition is crucial for health, physical and mental development, the government of Ethiopia has expressed its commitment by issuing Seqota Declaration in 2015 to end stunting in under 2 years old children by 2030. Towards this end, an initiative on improving nutrition in the first 1000 days of life was launched and the 2nd national nutrition programme, NNP II, 2016-2020 is getting implemented to address the direct causes of undernutrition through nutrition specific interventions and the underlying causes of undernutrition through nutrition sensitive interventions across multiple sectors. Improvements in education, agriculture, water supply, hygiene and sanitation, housing, transportations, communications infrastructure, healthcare delivery, electrifications, manufacturing, financing of MCH services from local and global sources will have positive effects on bringing transformation.