PIONEER AFRICAN WOMEN IN LAW
Ligia Dias Fonseca
First President of the Cabo Verdean Bar Association
By Donovan Carter
On Aug 24, 1963, in Beira, Mozambique, the First Lady of Cape Verde, Her Excellency Ligia Fonseca was born. Fonseca is a woman with great knowledge, great passion, and even greater influence. Much more than a First Lady, Mrs. Fonseca has served in various roles as an attorney, activist, and advocate for women and girls across the globe.
Studying at the University of Lisbon Law School, Ligia would come to find something much more life-changing than just a law degree. Before her graduation in 1987, Ligia would meet a man named Jorge Carlos Fonseca, the future president of Cape Verde. After completing their studies and marrying in 1989, the couple moved to Macau, where Mrs. Fonseca would work in the public sector. The new couple would return to Cabo Verde in 1991, where Mrs. Fonseca practiced law in the capital city of Praia, on Santiago Island.
During her time in Cabo Verde, Mrs. Fonseca would be very successful as a legal practitioner. In 2001, Mrs. Fonseca became the first elected President of the Cabo Verdean Bar Association, where she served until 2004. While in this role, Fonseca would be instrumental in drafting legal documents and policies for the government of Cabo Verde, like the Code of Business (1999), the Code for Real Estate Marketing (2012), the Penal Code (2003), and Law of the Ports (2009). The First Lady is also a distinguished legal scholar, co-authoring “The Guide to Women’s Rights”, published by the Institute for the Condition of Women in 1997. Since then, the First Lady has remained an active writer, publishing several articles in Cabo Verde.
As the work of the First Lady focuses primarily on citizenship education, human rights advocacy, and promoting gender equality, she has used her political role for very noble causes. First Lady Fonseca is very active in bettering the lives of children and girls. The First Lady serves as honorary godmother of the Aldeias Infantis SOS child care centers, as well as the COLMEIA Association, which is a non-profit organization supporting children with special needs. As a leader who is no stranger to spreading cheer to others, the First Lady also leads the Natal Solidaria Project, which organizes Christmas parties for needy children of Cabo Verde.
The First Lady has taken up many causes benefitting children and those in need, regardless of where they are. Such causes are not limited to Cabo Verde, as the First Lady has been an active voice for causes from her birth country Mozambique and for causes and people in the United States. The First Lady has continued to amplify the voices of not only her fellow citizens but African women as a whole, like the 14-year-old Cameroonian-American philanthropist Mongai Fankam. In 2017, First Lady Fonseca visited the American South for the first time at Johnson C. Smith University in North Carolina, to help Mongai highlight the global issues and challenges surrounding access to education, something that affects millions of African girls.
In 2019, the First Lady would return to the U.S in response to Cyclone Idai, which disastrously swept through Mozambique in March of 2019. Months later, First Lady Fonseca would continue to seek aid from citizens of Cabo Verde from all over the world, including the United States. When asked about her outreach in a November 2019 fundraiser, First Lady Fonseca stated that “We are not doing this for our country, but for our brothers and sisters in other countries.” Her passion for service combined with legal expertise has put First Lady Fonseca in a great position to do incredible good.
First Lady Fonseca’s good work does not go unnoticed, as she has received several honors and awards. In 2014, Fonseca received the Global Inspirational Leadership Award from the Center for Economic Development and Leadership, an NGO under the UN’s Economic and Social Council. The following year in 2015, Fonseca received the Outstanding Leadership Award from the African Horizons Forum and was even the Keynote Speaker for the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization. It is truly inspiring to see such an influential leader be involved with and active in advocating for global causes. First Lady of Cabo Verde, Ligia Fonseca, is a woman who possesses a strong mind, storing and producing great legal knowledge, and an even stronger heart that possesses compassion and a drive to make a change.