Following a visit to the UK earlier this summer, First Secretary (Press) at the Zambia High Commission, Abigail Chaponda, discusses her First Lady’s passions, duties and responsibilities
Being First Lady of a country may be a desirable position for many observers, however it comes with its own challenges and responsibilities says Zambia’s First Lady Esther Lungu. Mrs Lungu describes the role of being First Lady as “challenging.” After all, as well as overseeing the affairs of the nation, she and President Lungu must also manage being parents and grandparents.
To Mrs Lungu, her role as First Lady is to primarily support her husband in the work that he does. “I’m there to serve my husband so that he can serve the people of Zambiabetter,” she says. “In order for him to have a clear mind and ability to go out there and serve the people and be seen to be a responsible President, it starts from our house, and therefore starts with me.”
However, as a stand-alone figure, she too has enormous responsibilities and influence, backing various causes and campaigns of her own. A strong advocate for women’s empowerment, since assuming her tenure in 2015, Mrs Lungu has utilised her distinguished position to reinforce her passion for uplifting the wellbeing of humanity, as part of the work she has been doing for over 23 years. Her passion lies in supporting women and girls in rural and hard to reach areas, along with maternal and child health, and people with disabilities.
As Founder of the Esther Lungu Foundation Trust, Mrs Lungu raises funds to co-finance food processing equipment for women in agriculture; for low cost boarding houses for girls’ education; for drilling boreholes for clean drinking water and for assistive devices for children with disabilities.
The First Lady has joined global leaders to press for the elimination of gender-based violence, child marriages and discrimination against persons with disabilities.
Mrs Lungu is a member of the Organisation of African First Ladies against HIV and AIDS, a member of the Stop Cervical and Breast Cancer First Ladies Forum, a patron of the Lafarge Foundation in Zambia and also patron for SOS Children Villages in Zambia.
During the Starkey Hearing Foundation’s 17th annual awards gala in July 2017 in Minneapolis, the First Lady was awarded the position of the 2017 Humanitarian Honoree alongside actor, director, writer and founder of the Eastern Congo initiative Ben Affleck, among others. With this award, the First Lady joins other notable individuals like former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, former US Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Sir Richard Branson among many others, to receive this award since its introduction in 2000.
The Medical Association of Zambia have also awarded the First Lady for her advocacy work on health in rural communities, and she has been recognised by the World Federation of Hemophilia for supporting persons with hemophilia in Zambia.
In June 2018, the International Trade Centre, a joint agency of the World Trade Organisation and the UN hosted its flagship event SheTrades Global in Liverpool, where the First Lady delivered a keynote speech in her capacity as African Woman Entrepreneurs Programme (AWEP) Chairperson. The speech highlighted her commitment to strong advocacy for women empowerment.
Over 500 women business owners and policymakers from across the world participated in SheTrades Global. The event discussed issues around women’s economic empowerment and explored trade and investment opportunities, and featured facilitated business to business meetings, keynote speeches from thought leaders, high-level panels, an investment challenge aimed at promoting innovation and workshops led by industry specialists. The First Lady shared her wealth of experience and AWEP’s work in advocating for women’s economic interest.
The First Lady also had various meetings with women world leaders such as the Minister of Trade, Industry, Regional Integration and Employment of the Gambia Dr Isatou Touray, in which the duo discussed trade collaboration between Zambian and Gambian women. During the bilateral meeting, Dr Touray highlighted the benefits of African women working together to identify opportunities to strengthen competitiveness on the African continent and create quality global trade.
She said African women were enterprising and needed to come together to build regional trade blocks that will help bring about development in Africa. “There is need to mobilise and come together as African women and build regional blocks. We are now talking of African Continental Free Trade, and African countries must sign up to this,” she said. “The best practice is for all African countries to come together, use our numbers and have a common goal. I don’t think everyone being fragmented will give us the opportunity to grow.” Dr Touray also said removing all the trade barriers in Africa can create an opportunity for Africa to effectively trade and penetrate the international market.
The First Lady welcomed the prospects of trade collaboration between the two countries saying that empowering women through trade ventures can bring development to Zambia and the Gambia and Africa as a whole. She added that it was important for Zambia to partner with other African nations to spread trade across the continent.
Mrs Lungu also had a meeting with Islamic Republic of AfghanistanFirst Lady Rula Ghani who said sustainable development cannot be achieved without the partnership of women. “We feel women’s work is not recognised globally. It is about time that women came together and transformed the economic situation of their economies through trade and entrepreneurship. Women should not be left behind in the development of our economies.”
The First Lady agreed with Mrs Ghani saying empowering women and investing in their potential can help drive growth in the global economy and ensure sustainable development for the future generation. She said women in decision-making positions should embrace grassroots development headed by women because this is what is going to bring about development in different sectors of the economy.
Mrs Lungu also had a meeting with Executive Director, International Trade Centre Arancha Gonzalez who called on all women entrepreneurs, governments, private sector companies, trade and investment institutions, researchers, and other civil society groups to allow trade to be a uniting force.
After her term of office, Mrs Lungu intends to continue her passion for making her own “humble contribution” to her country and further afield. The First Lady is active, relentless and passionately devoted to uplifting the lives of vulnerable people in Zambia and Africa. The First Lady is an icon worth emulating for the positive example she sets to women.