Yesterday, the Leadership for Health: African First Ladies Health Summit kicked off to an amazing start. Maria Shriver gave a welcome speech to the participants of the meeting (over 300 people!) that was absolutely fantastic. She talked about the challenge of being a First Lady – they have no real mandate, no budget, and no staff. BUT, Maria said that First Ladies also have the passion for the work, the will to put in long hours, and the know all and do all to make things happen. She also talked about having disagreements with her husband, Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, especially during the recent US presidential election. For many of the women in the room, this disagreement between her and her husband was eye opening. Maria closed her speech by urging all the First Ladies of Africa to ask for help in making real progress and change in their countries.
I can’t begin to tell you how amazing these African First Ladies are. They are all so knowledgeable and able, and extremely eloquent about the situation in their home countries. (Plus, their outfits are nothing less than spectacular.) They all agree that it is a serious job to be a First Lady, and agreed with Maria’s statement that it is a gift and an opportunity to create great change. At lunch, I sat with the wife of the Prime Minister of Kenya, Ida Odinga, who is a midwife, and she’s delivered all four of her children in Nairobi (thanks to Dr. Ginzel for the idea to ask!).
As one of the First Ladies told the group in quoting Nelson Mandela: “The time is always ripe to do right.” Stay tuned for more updates!
Jill Sheffield is the founder and Executive Coordinator of Women Deliver.