Prisca Chipao from Traditional Authority (T/A) Chikowi in Zomba wears different hats.
She is not just a lawyer, but an entrepreneur, a law lecturer and a women and youth economic empowerment advocate.
A law school graduate from Africa Nazarene University (ANU) in Kenya, Prisca is the first born of two children in her family.
She is managing partner of a legal consultancy firm— Chipao and Associates, managing director of Freeway Car Hire, owner of Sass and Pazazz Fashion Store and also the founder of Empower Initiative.
Prisca notes that issues of gender-based-violence (GBV) are still very high in society, cannot be mentioned in depth without talking about economic empowerment of women.
Lack of economic empowerment, in her view, contributes largely to women being considered subjects of abuse and citizens of lesser value.
“The value of women is reduced to child-bearing and taking care of domestic chores. Women are worth more and can achieve far more if given the opportunity. Studies show that women score higher compared to men in leadership skills. So, every time we fail to empower a woman, we lose out on a great leader,” she observes.
Empower Initiative seeks to financially empower young women under the age of 35, by creating support groups across the nation for them.
Among other things, the support groups offer vocational skills; leadership and entrepreneurship trainings, access to loans and a countrywide business network.
It also runs a joint business to build practical experience as well as realise profits for the women participants.
Being someone who started her first business at the age of 15 out of need to support herself financially, Prisca acknowledges how much women economic empowerment is central to realising their rights and gender equality.
“Being a woman is demanding and there are many basic things we need to be comfortable with. I have seen the lack of these basic needs pushing young girls to men for handouts with strings attached.
“A financially starved woman is likely to have low self-confidence. Financial independence comes with self-worth for most women and self-worth is very important,” she adds.
To her, an ideal world is one where both women and men enjoy equal economic, social, cultural, civil and political rights; and are empowered to secure better lives for themselves, their families and communities.
For the youthful lawyer, passion for women and girls’ empowerment comes from the belief that giving women a voice in society contributes towards upholding several human rights they are often unable to enjoy.
“If we must end extreme poverty and promote resilient, democratic communities in Malawi, women and girls must be economically empowered,” she notes.
As such, Empower, with the goal of qualitatively impacting every woman that is part of the initiative, has reached over 200 women.
The founder believes that the impacted women will then help them reach out to more women until they have a nationwide network of women that can adequately support each other, provide for themselves, their families and communities.
Several groups of women are currently raising funds among themselves to start joint businesses while others are already generating income from their businesses.
At the moment, Empower is majorly in Lilongwe urban and rural areas, but they also have support groups in Blantyre, Zomba, Mangochi, Mchinji and Kasungu.
The businesses that some of the support groups engage in include kabaza transport, maize farming, mushroom farming, Irish Potato marketing, large-scale chicken and egg trade.
“I always wanted to be a lawyer. Throughout high school, I could not picture myself doing anything else. I always pictured myself wearing the court regalia and walking into a court room. This made me love subjects such as History and Social Studies as I believed they were key into law school. I later discovered that may not have been the whole truth,” she explains.
However, not every dream is realised easily. The first time she sat the Malawi School Certificate of Education (MSCE) examinations in 2009, she did not get the best grades to warrant her entry into Chancellor College.
As such, in 2010, she re-sat MSCE and got better grades. However, the quota system of education had just been re-introduced at the time and she knew that getting enrolled into the University of Malawi (Unima) was not certain.
“At this point my parents and friends began telling me to drop my law dream and go for other courses. I stubbornly refused and enrolled into a coaching course and applied into Unima while also looking at other options. I also began looking at other colleges outside of Malawi that offered law,” explains Prisca.
In the end, she received an acceptance letter into ANU and was enrolled into law school, attaining her degree in 2015.
Now, she is on a mission to pursue other dreams and be a role model to girls and young women.
“Making even one girl believe in herself and her dreams; and seeing her living her full potential is my greatest satisfaction. I have failed, have doubted myself, have achieved and I would want girls to know that failing once does not make one a failure.
“Failing only proves that we are human. The attitude that one carries through life is key and a determined, winning attitude opens doors that may not have otherwise opened for us,” she advises.
However, she outlines that among her major setbacks is the pressure to live out other people’s expectations.
But she says she has learnt that loving herself means doing things at her own pace and time.
“People will always have expectations and these days, almost everyone feels entitled to have and give an opinion about other people’s lives and that is okay. But I chose to make decisions based on what I believe to be best for me first and foremost.
“I have to take good care of myself physically as well as emotionally if I must reach out to other young women. I am an introvert that loves to mind my business and my dreams,” she says.