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Opening of the CEMAC Youth Leadership Summit organized by African Women in Leadership Youth Council
February 8, 2020

Woman giving a speech

Remarks by Leanne Cannon, Public Affairs Officer
Djeuga Palace Hotel, Yaounde
February 8, 2020

Representative of the Minister of Youth Affairs and Civic Education
Representatives of Administrative Services
Representative of United Nations Development Program in Cameroon
Senior international and local leaders of African Women in Leadership Organization
Ladies and gentlemen

I am very pleased to be here this morning for the official opening of the Youth Leadership Summit organized by African Women in Leadership Youth Council.  Thank you for inviting the U.S. Embassy to join this discussion on the role of young women leaders in promoting sustainable development goals in Cameroon and for the whole continent.  The United States is a committed partner of Cameroon, the sub-region, and all Africa.  We want to support the efforts of all those working for a peaceful, prosperous, and democratic future.

It has been demonstrated that societies that allows women to participate fully in civic and economic life are more prosperous and peaceful.  If women represent at least 50% of the population in most countries, it is clear that much remains to be done for a more equal society where women contribute and have their say.

I started my career as a diplomat in 2008, and after that, I learned that until 1972 there was a rule that if a female diplomat married, she should quit her job. I was really shocked by this fact.  Now in the U.S. Embassy, I am the Public Affairs Officer and the Embassy Spokesperson, along with a large team that I oversee.  What is even more remarkable is that the attaché in charge of military cooperation, the attaché for political and economic affairs, and the attaché for health matters and the heads of several other sections are women – including the Deputy Chief of Mission of the Embassy – are all women.  Between 1972 and now, I know that many women had to overcome many obstacles and prejudices to make this progress a reality.  This progress can spread if more people work hard to make their contribution count.

It is obvious that women are natural entrepreneurs, peacemakers and technological innovators. I hope that today’s discussions will focus on the ideas you have to move Cameroon and the other countries of Central Africa towards peace, prosperity and pluralism.  Africa needs its entire young people, whatever their shape, size and gender, to use their new ideas and creative energy to meet the challenges facing the continent.  Africa’s population is expected to double in the next 30 years, adding one billion people to the continent. This development will put enormous pressure on the environment, infrastructure, food and natural resources, including water, and governance in general.

Africa needs you to shape the future according to the concept that will allow everyone to flourish. I have been in Cameroon for about six months, and have met many impressive women and girls who are helping to shape this future. Last fall, I met a group of successful businesswomen who mentor women in rural communities to develop successful business strategies for their farming activities. In December, the U.S. Embassy hosted an event with Djaili Amadou Amal, a Cameroonian author and a girl’s advocate, who uses her pen to give a voice to women in her community about their experiences of forced marriage and child marriage.  Two weeks ago, I met a young woman engaged in sustainable income projects including alternatives to poaching for disadvantaged communities living near wildlife reserves. I am sure each of you have some impressive stories, which is a good, because the challenge is not just one person.

The Embassy of the United States wishes to accompany you in this effort. As part of that, we have many programs and activities to promote the rights and empowerment of women and girls, and many other programs and activities that could benefit women and girls who seek to make a positive contribution to their communities and country. I would mention only two today:  the Young African Leadership Initiative, or YALI, and TechWomen.

YALI has three aspects: The YALI Network, the Regional Leadership Centers and the Mandela Washington Fellowship.  The Network offers online activities and trainings about personal development, entrepreneurship, civic engagement and more.  Anyone can join any time and I invite you to do so.  The Fellowship brings the best candidates to the United States for academic coursework, leadership training, and networking.

The TechWomen program is designed to empower the next generation of women leaders in the technology field by bringing women from all over the world together in Northern California for a professional mentorship program at leading technology companies.

You can learn more about these programs and more by visiting our website or visiting us on Facebook. Those of you from other countries can find similar opportunities through the U.S. Embassy in your home country.  I hope to see many of you take advantage of these programs to make the U.S. partnership with your future even stronger.

I want to thank AWLO Cameroon Youth Council for the invitation to this forum and I wish you all a very productive session.