Structures fail women, says Graça Machel

2012-08-07 18:35
Graca Machel (AFP)

Graca Machel (AFP)

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Johannesburg - International bodies in place to protect women and children during times of conflict fail in their task, humanitarian Graça Machel said on Tuesday.

"The institutions that have to protect women and children in conflict, they are obsolete," said Machel, who is president of the Foundation for Community Development of SA.

They did not care about people. "And I am angry," she said.

Machel was recalling how, during her work for the United Nations, she visited countries in conflict, where the women and children were the worst affected.

She, former president of Ireland Mary Robinson, and former Independent Electoral Commission chairperson Brigalia Bam, were speaking at a Women's Month lunch in Johannesburg.

In Sierra Leone, her eyes met those of a mother whose child was dying in a feeding camp, said Machel.

"The child would die. She knew it. I knew it. It was one of the most powerless moments of my life."

She said the international bodies were making decisions to increase their strategic positions.

"And they use us. The smaller ones [countries]."

She said smaller countries aligned themselves with larger ones in case they needed their help later.

"[These bodies] are there to prevent conflict. How many times have they prevented conflict?"

Asked how she felt always being described as someone's wife and not a person in her own right, Machel replied: "Girls and women are seen and treated as objects or sometimes as a currency."

She jokingly said a man was never referred to as the husband of someone, unless he died.

"We, as women, have to affirm and assert our own identity... be a full human being."

Unpopular decisions

Bam was asked about the country's readiness for a female president.

"We have been ready even before Madiba took over," she answered.

She said women in positions of power had to be willing to make unpopular decisions.

"You will not always say popular things and that is a price you must be willing to pay."

Robinson recalled how growing up with four brothers sparked her early interest in human rights.

She explained that when she was fresh out of Harvard University she tried to pass a bill on family planning in Dublin, and how she was criticised, but that it had taught her a life's lesson.

"Be prepared. Pay the price."

She said she had played to her strengths as a woman when she was president.

"Being a woman was an advantage, not a handicap."

Machel and Robinson congratulated Home Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma on her election as African Union Commission chairperson.

Machel said Dlamini-Zuma was the right person for the job.

"She is a very principled woman. She is a very courageous woman."

Robinson said it was great to be in South Africa during Women's Month and to share it with such extraordinary women.

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