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‘I receive DUSUSU Award on behalf of mothers working to change stereotypes against women’

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The Dream Up, Speak Up, Stand Up (DUSUSU) programme was first launched in March 2013, in Lagos, at the Pan-Atlantic University, and in other schools in partnership with the US Consulate in Lagos. The team has since expanded the initiative to other 13 countries including Malawi, Mexico, Ethiopia, the United Kingdom, Ghana, South Africa, Namibia, Kenya, Rwanda, Mozambique and Tanzania. The aim is to use the platform to encourage girls to stay in school and get the best education they can, show parents what girls can achieve if given the opportunity, show other adults why it is important to focus on girls’ education and encourage leaders to help fight for the girl child development.

After receiving the 6th edition of the DUSUSU Award, Mrs Ligia Fonseca, First Lady of Cape Verde, shared her experiences with the founder of DUSUSU Award, ZURIEL ODUWOLE.

Thank you Madam First Lady for allowing me some time to speak with you. How do you feel?
AH, Zuriel, you are very, very, welcome. Let me tell you this, I first heard about you from my husband; I think it was in 2013, when he went to the African Union in Ethiopia for the AU’s 50th Anniversary. He met you and there was an interview that was arranged with him by our Embassy. When he came back, he said he met this 10-year old girl, who was just so confident and had some questions to ask, and had some issues to discuss. I thought of all the leaders and important people he met, he came back to tell me about you. Can you believe that? That’s when I thought, ‘oh this girl must be special.’

And then, I researched a little and saw the great things you were doing, and look at now, six years later, here we are, and I actually am holding your DUSUSU Award, so, I think that is just so special. I wasn’t even aware I was being considered because our country is small, but I see that it is not the size of the country that matters, but what we are doing in the country. So that makes me very proud to receive the Award, because I know First Ladies of bigger countries like Kenya, Namibia, Mozambique and Tanzania have received this Award already before.

Do you know that sometimes when the African First Ladies meet at the African Union or sometimes on the sidelines of the UN, I hear them talk about DUSUSU Awards jokingly? You are laughing? I’m serious Zuriel, that’s the first time I heard about it. So, it’s like a fraternity now, for those of us who have received it; we feel special.

What does it mean for you to receive this year’s DUSUSU First Lady Award?
Let me say that as you may know, Presidents, or First Ladies, receive awards always and all the time, from many places and from many people. But the value of the Awards is depending on the people giving the Awards. But what makes the DUSUSU Award very valuable is because it is being given by a girl; not a company, not a Multinational organization, not a group of people, but a girl, who has seen what’s going on and wants to recognise those doing something about girls’ education. That is very rare you know. That is what makes the DUSUSU Award very special, and I like that very much. I also receive it as I told you in my speech, on behalf of all the mothers and women in Cape Verde, and the young women, who are working very hard to change the stereotype that women can’t do certain things or can’t be successful in certain jobs-I receive the Award on their behalf. That is what it means to me. I hope I answered well, because you know, I speak Portuguese better.

You know also, I can’t believe you are just 16 years old. I know what I was doing when I was 16, and it wasn’t anything like you are doing today. I still can’t believe the things you are doing. You know, I am a First Lady, and I can’t even say for sure that I have met 25 world leaders by myself, and you already have met 30. That is very incredible, so please keep it up.

Thank you Madam First Lady. You are a lawyer and your husband the President was a lecturer. How do these experiences impact your role as President and First Lady?
I think we were both very passionate about what we were doing and we are still passionate.

My husband, the President of Cape Verde, was a lecturer for a long time because he believed in education, and wanted to invest in the future generation of Cape Verde. I as a lawyer wanted to fight for the future generation of Cape Verde.

Somehow, what we both are passionate about has now collided as President for him and First Lady for me. We now have an even stronger platform to fight for the future of Cape Verde from. It is a lot of responsibility, you know, but we both do it passionately everyday.

What are some of the challenges unique to Cape Verde in the areas of Gender Development?
As you know, Cape Verde is still in Africa, and for many, many years now and I would say from colonial days, women were always not given the same opportunities as men.

So, when many African countries got independence, they still did not give women as much opportunities as men, because now, the cultural reasons have come in, because they believed women should say at home and raise the kids and cook, while the men go to work. But today, things are changing all over Africa.

Like a year and half ago in Liberia, the President was a woman- Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, and also in Malawi a few years ago, the President was a woman-Madam Joyce Banda. That would have been impossible just 50 years ago, which is still very recent.

You are not just a beautiful woman but you are very smart as well. Do men feel intimidated by your status as First Lady?
That is a very interesting question, and thank you for your compliments. I believe all women are beautiful, but I appreciate that. I don’t know if men are intimidated by me, because I don’t really look at that. I have many men in our government that I have to meet or work with, and in my office too, so its okay.

Actually, let me start with my husband the President. I don’t think he is intimidated by me being a lawyer, instead, I think he believes I complement him and complete him. But I like that question a lot.

Tell the world something they perhaps did not know about Cape Verde?
Where do I start? First, I love my country, and so there is much to say about us in Cape Verde. It is a beautiful country, with very nice beaches, and a lot of greenery everywhere. We are very kind, we are friendly, we are also resourceful, and we have a deep and colourful culture; that music is a strong part of us.

For those of you in America, who are old enough or who were around in the 70s – maybe your parent’s Zuriel might have heard of the soul music group The Tavres. They were a Cape Verde family that emigrated to America about the 50’s and had many hits like Heaven Must Be Missing An Angel.

They made us so very proud, indeed, because I remember their songs when I was much younger, and still remember it today. I think it was used in the first Charlies Angels film a few years ago, so that’s how much influence our small country and Island has on the world, using music and culture.


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