African First Ladies Summit Empowering Women through Health

By Chelsea Bailey | July 10, 2013

Former First Lady Laura Bush and First Lady Michelle Obama at the African First Ladies Summit in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania last week.

White House

Last week’s historic African First Ladies Summit came to a successful close on July 3, marking the end of a two-day conference focused on economic development through empowering women.

The summit, hosted by the George W. Bush Institute with the support of ExxonMobil, brought together various heads of state, current and former First Ladies, and global leaders of non-government organizations (NGOs) to discuss how to expand the role of women throughout Africa by improving education, health, and economic opportunities. 

HIV/AIDS and maternal health were prominent topics throughout the conference. During the opening ceremony, President George W. Bush touted the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR)’s role in combating the spread of the disease throughout the continent, but stressed that victories would not have been possible without the support of African leadership.
President Bush thanked African leaders  for prioritizing the fight against HIV/AIDS, but was particularly grateful to Tanzania’s President and First Lady Kikwete for the efforts they’ve made to combat stigma surrounding HIV.

“It’s important to set priorities and to fund programs which are successful, and there’s no greater priority than saving human life,” President Bush said.

“Experts say were at a tipping point on the continent of Africa in the battle against AIDS… tipping point means it could go one way or the other… Tipping point says to me that there’s more work to be done.”

Former First Lady Laura Bush hosted a panel discussion with First Lady Michelle Obama about the responsibility and pressure that comes with being a First Lady.

When asked what she values the most about her job, First Lady Michelle Obama said she cherishes the chance to shine light on issues that matter.

“We get to work on what we're passionate about.  And I think that that’s something that I would encourage all first ladies to never lose sight of,” Mrs. Obama explained.   “Being able to pursue our passions and do things that not only help our country and connect us with the rest of the world – it’s a great privilege.”

Former First Lady Laura Bush echoed Mrs. Obama’s sentiments, and spoke at length about her work in HIV/AIDS clinics in Africa. She recalled that during a particular visit to open a maternal health clinic in Kabwe, Zambia, she and President Bush met newborn babies named Laura and George in their honor.

“I’m not going to try to predict the future for this Laura and George except to say, thanks to the dedication of everyone in this room, I truly believe that all new babies on this continent can look forward to lives full of good health, hope and opportunity.”

At EGPAF, we’re committed to helping women and mothers around the world have happy, healthy, HIV-free babies and stay healthy themselves. Congratulations to everyone who contributed to the First Ladies Summit!

To learn more about our work in Tanzania, click here.

Chelsea Bailey is Communications Assistant for the Foundation, based in Washington D.C.