Social Work Practice Prepared Her for Politics, Says Zambia’s First Woman Vice President

March 16, 2015 @ 10:34 pm

Her Honor Inonge Wina, the first female Vice President of Zambia, spoke at Columbia University’s Casa Italiana on Wednesday March 11 at a special event organized by our School and co-sponsored by the Subayo Foundation, which seeks to empower women in African through economic development, education and training,

The event was well attended by Columbia students, faculty, and alumni, as well as special guests from New York-based international foundations, ranging from Cynthia Stuen, one of the UN Representatives for the International Federation on Ageing (she earned her doctorate in social work at the Columbia School of Social Work) to Ethan Zohn, a winner of Survivor Africa and co-founder of the international charity Grassroot Soccer, an organization that aims to “mobilize the global soccer community to combat the AIDS epidemic in Africa.”

Also present were high-level Zambian officials including the Ambassadors to the UN and the U.S., Mwaba Kasese-Bota and Palan Mulonda respectively; the Vice-President’s Senior Private Secretary, Ambassador Sheila Siwel; and Mbumwae Suba-Smith, who heads the Zubayo Foundation and is a resident of New York City.

The Social Intervention Group of the Columbia School of Social Work, which works with vulnerable populations in Central Asia and other parts of the world, was also a co-sponsor.

Hailing Her Honor Inonge Wina “a vocal champion for gender equality in the political sphere,” Dean Jeanette Takamura said she was thrilled to have her address a Columbia audience during International Women’s Week, when the UN was holding its 59th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women.

Vice President Wina delivered remarks about the significance of her background in social work and how it had supported and shaped her career in politics. She went on to list the range of challenging social issues her country faces, including underage marriage, gender-based violence in the home and in public, the HIV/AIDS pandemic, alcoholism and substance abuse, orphaned children and child- or grandmother-headed households (due to HIV/AIDS), and street children. “Our focus in Zambia is to create wealth and fight unemployment, especially among young people,” she said, “as well as empowering indigenous Zambians, women, and youth.”

A lively question-and-answer session ensued, moderated by CSSW assistant professor Lynn Michalopoulos, who is working on a research project called “Trauma and HIV risk behavior among female fish traders in Zambia.”

Dean Takamura closed the event by calling Vice President Wina a “role model for women” across the globe.

You can watch the entire event here:

You can also read an article about the event that appeared in the Lusaka Times on March 14, 2015.

Finally, we invite you to peruse this compilation of quotes excerpted from the Vice President’s remarks and answers to questions:

On the value of having a social work background

“The field of social work is one of the most noble and valuable but totally underrated professions in the world.”

“Social work principles provide a foundation upon which social values are inculcated in an individual.”

“As a social worker I was exposed to values that made me fit in and interact freely at any level of society.”

“A social worker is a person who lives for others, who does not condemn but encourages individuals to acquire their self-worth; works very hard and is adaptable and patient.”

“I would not be where I am today without the values I learnt and practiced as a social worker by interacting with people in all situations.”

“My social work background has helped me to understand people, to appreciate people, to realize that as human beings we are one.”

“It’s important for governments to engage people with social work backgrounds because they understand problem solving much better.”

On the challenge of becoming an agent for social change

“First of all, very few people in the world want to change. So you should realize that change agents are revolutionaries.”

“Change sometimes even challenges the whole existence of a society. You will meet a lot resistance. So you have to equip yourself with very convincing ideas on why you want that change to happen, especially if that change is for the good of society. But don’t be discouraged.”

On Zambia’s aging society

“In Zambia we have realized that aging at this time is different from aging in our village some years ago. Things have changed. The nuclear family has caught up with us…but to us that is very un-Zambian.”

“[Old people] still have knowledge that needs to be imparted the young ones. If we take care of them well, it helps to bridge the gap among generations.”

“Old people should be part of the development of our countries.”

“In the Post-2015 Development Agenda [that is replacing the Millennium Development Goals], I hope…old people will not be left behind.”

On Zambia and soccer

“We have a formidable soccer team, which won the Africa Cup in 2012, and you could see the unity in the country when that cup was lifted.”

“At a community level we find that engaging the young people in sports…is a useful strategy to keep [them] out of trouble.”

“We have 72 ethnic groupings, and each one speaks their own language, a situation that can create tension. But through sports, we all speak the same language.”

On the need for engaging Zambian men and boys in promoting women’s empowerment

“We have an organization in Zambia called We Care for Her, for men who are addressing the issue of violence against women, and we hope that this movement will spread throughout the country.”

“We are encouraging communities to realize that our country cannot develop if we continue to discriminate against women, to marginalize women in all stages of development.”

On the challenge of serving as a woman leader

“The biggest challenge I face as a woman is time. I wish I had more time on my hands than I do now.”

“One of the biggest challenges I face is that of expectations from my fellow women in Zambia because they say, ‘now we have a woman Vice President, let’s see what she can do for women.’ I keep telling my country men and women that this appointment, of course, is in recognition of the contribution that women are making to the development of Zambia, but at the same time I am a vice president for all Zambians.”

“It is gratifying to be in a position such as this because you can look at possibilities of how you can help the most marginalized people.”

On the question of how the outside world can help her country

“We are establishing a number of colleges and universities. We need to establish research units in the universities. We need more experienced teachers. It’s through this avenue where the academic world could help.”

“We have the informal private sector, which is dominated by women: marketeers, women selling small items on the street or in front of their house. The scope is wide and we welcome any support or help that can come from this university.”

“We have households in Zambia headed by grandmothers who are struggling with her grandchildren to help them go to school. There’s need for educational materials, books…”

“We have more than one million orphans that need support. The government is trying its best, but other helping hands are welcomed.”

On efforts to collaborate with other African countries on women’s empowerment

“Most African leaders realize the importance of empowering women.”

“We are working hard to ensure that we have more women in politics…so that decisions can be influenced from the perspective of a woman’s understanding of the world.”

“The African Union has set some targets that will look at empowering African women. We have put some laws in place…to ensure that women’s human rights are protected. We have reached a common ground where we have realized that the empowerment of women and youth is cardinal to the continent’s development, a view shared by both men and women. And now it’s for us as governments to accelerate the pace.”


“Vice-President Wina addresses UN Commission on Status of Women,” Lusaka Times (11 March 2015).