The Life of Jean Rose Mbilizi
She was born Jean Rose Mita on 10 June, 1929 at Nkwita Village, Traditional Authority Mpama at the foot of the Chiradzulu Mountain in rural Malawi. Jean Rose Mbilizi came from the Yao tribe, the original settlers of Chiradzulu District during the great migration in Africa. Jean Rose Mbilizi was a dynamic and phenomenal woman. A mother to 7 children, she made ongoing efforts to advance herself academically even as an adult. She completed primary education and trained as a primary school teacher before she got married to Jarneck Joseph Mbilizi in the 1950s. The marriage did not stop her from striving for educational advancement. In the mid 1960s, she attended Stella Maris Domestic Science College run by Catholic nuns in Blantyre City. The program she attended was aimed at preparing her to be a better wife to her husband who was a civil servant in the newly independent nation. But for Jean Rose Mbilizi, the certificate did not domesticate her. Instead she used it to get a job as a social worker in government. She became one of the first Malawian women to work in government- traveling to Israel, Denmark, Canada, England, and many countries in Africa.
Jean Rose Mbilizi subsequently enrolled in a distance education program and obtained the Cambridge O level certificate. Later, she studied through City and Guilds of London for a Diploma in Management which allowed her to enter a non-traditional occupation. She became one of the first Malawian women to be a senior manager at a major departmental store owned by McConnell & Company of the United Kingdom known as “Kandodo”. She was a public figure, appointed to various leadership roles and involved in charity, church activities, and women’s organizations. Jean Rose Mbilizi was the first woman to become chairperson of the Malawi Beauty Contest which, during her time, was a tremendous recognition of her leadership capabilities. She was a member of the national committee that organized independence celebrations during the Kamuz era. She trained ushers during the celebrations, which allowed her to bond with and mentor a lot of young women in Malawi. She served on the boards of the Red Cross and Save the Children Fund of Malawi. Jean Rose Mbilizi attended the first women’s international conference in Nairobi in 1985
Jean Rose Mbilizi demonstrated to other Malawian women that education is key to social and economic progress in a patriarchal society. She was a role model to her children and many young Malawian women. Jean Rose Mbilizi died at 56 in a tragic car accident on Sunday, 10 November 1985, on her way back from St Michaels and All Angels Church in Blantyre, heading towards her home in Michiru, Blantyre.
Jean Rose Mbilizi was a successful woman because she had a loving and supportive husband. The Mbilizi's made a lot of sacrifices to put all their children through school, most of whom have attained college education and advanced degrees. In addition the Mbilizi’s raised and paid school fees for under pivileged children from their home villages in Chiradzulu. It is in the spirit of educating children, held by Jean Rose Mbilizi that the JRMF was established to recognize the accomplishments and honor the life of this outstanding woman who lived ahead of her time.
Jean Rose Mbilizi transcended gender roles and worked in male dominated occupations. She not only became a corporate leader, but a community leader and good mother. She organized “kitchen parties” for young brides and taught them how to balance the role of a wife, mother, and career woman. It is because of Jean-Rose Mbilizi's conviction to education and the empowerment of women that the JRF will focus on girls’ education as a strategy for increasing the number of women attaining post-secondary education and leadership positions. In poor societies, education of women results in greater returns than those of boys because they are the primary care providers in many rural settings. This intimate connection with the continuation of the human race, coupled by their reproductive role and the caring of children, has separated women from activities in the public sphere. Therefore, promoting the leadership of women is not a marginal issue. Every country needs women leaders in high levels of government, politics, academic institutions, civil society, and the corporate world, who will be responsible for influencing a more balanced and equitable national policy agenda.
Lesson Learned from Jean Rose Mbilizi
Taking a page from the life of Jean Rose Mbilizi, education for girls should be designed to produce strong leaders in the home, community, and country. Leadership development must be an integral part of the school curriculum. Girls should participate in community and national service activities through volunteer programs. It is important to push for a shift from a hierarchical privilege of a few, mostly men, in leadership positions, to an inclusive empowerment of all. Educational processes must recognize that men and women are gifted in a variety of ways and that we need both perspectives to be represented in balanced and complementary ways for any society to thrive. The ultimate goal of education should be to develop a love for learning and service, leadership potential, and high academic and occupational aspirations and expectations. Every girl must count and be given the opportunity to develop to her full potential. The education process should strengthen every girl's talents and help each one of them realize the joys of learning and a sense of self and belonging.