African diplomat visits Penn

February 26, 2008 3:59:56 PM PST
An African diplomat and a former congresswoman from our area has an inspirational message for women worldwide and college students. Last week, Marjorie Ngunge, a Member of Parliament from Malawi, told a class of Penn students how malaria kills one in five people in her country.

"It's a lot more concrete, it's like a real life class versus a theory course," Penn student Keely Bis said.

Ngunge is also concrete proof of the success of Women's Campaign International, a non-profit started ten years ago by Marjorie Margolies. Margolies was inspired by her election to Congress in 1992, when the number of women on Capitol Hill doubled.

"It became very apparent that our conversation wasn't better or worse, it was different; we just brought something that was different to the table and it meant something," Margolies said.

Margolies decided it could also mean something worldwide. Through WCI she's taught women from Uruguay to Bosnia to Tanzania political skills like public speaking, polling, and campaign strategy.

In Malawai in 2004, Women's Campaign International helped 28 women win seats in Parliament, that included Marjorie Ngunge, a widow who faced down death threats to challenge the secretary of her party, a man backed by the president himself.

Ngunge's first act was getting the women's caucus to publicly get AIDS tests, despite the disease's stigma. The move shocked, and inspired her nation.

"The first year quite a number of people came to test, the next year, it was 180,000 people that tested," Ngunge said.

The Penn students will now study malaria, maybe even go to Malawi to help in the fight.

WCI will keep working across the globe to get women like Ngunge to the table.