Though Graça Maria Sanches has been pushing for gender equality in Cape Verde for years, her background began in education. Studying overseas from her native Cape Verde, Sanches earned a degree in History and a Master’s in Education from Portugal’s University of Porto and University of Minho, respectively. She began her teaching career in Portugal, but would soon make her way back to Cape Verde. While teaching in her homeland, she assumed various school leadership positions like President of the Culture, Information and Sports Committee and Deputy Director for Social and Community Affairs. It became clear that she had a knack for governing, and she took on leadership positions elsewhere, like Director of the Pre-School and Basic Education and Coordinator of the “Mundu Novu” for Education program with the Ministry of Education. "I'm a teacher by profession, but politics is becoming one of my passions,” she says in an interview with Sapo Estudante. “I saw in politics an opportunity to influence measures related to education and gender equality.”
She quickly moved up in government, and within five years held the positions of Deputy to the National Assembly, President of the Cape Verdean Parliamentary Women Network and Secretary of the Specialized Committee for Education, Youth, Culture and Sports under the Cape Verdean Parliament. Sanches enrolled in leadership training at the Center for Creative Leadership in 2013 and just two years later was selected for a Mandela Washington Fellowship, the flagship program of the Young African Leaders Initiative. “In parliament I fight for gender equality in Cape Verde...This is an opportunity to improve my leadership as a young person.” Through her leadership she strives to get women and young people involved at a faster rate. According to Sanches, "The progress in this area is very slow. We started (in Parliament) with three, we were five, seven, then 10 and now 14. If we continue at this pace, it is only in 2044 that we would have a joint parliament," she said in 2015. She’s still got a ways to go. Today, there are 15 women in Cape Verdean Parliament, at almost 21 percent. We honor her presence and constant push for parity.