"We have a solid and stable family life in Africa. We owe it to our women. ... We manage poverty with dignity and shared values. We owe it to our women. ... We bring together communities. We manage diversity in our communities. We end up building harmony. We owe it to our women. ... We are caring people. We care for the young; we care for the elderly; we care for the sick. And who instills those values, this chain of solidarity across generations? The women of our continent!"
Thus did Graҫa Simbine Machel, an international activist as well as the former first lady of both Mozambique and South Africa, give voice to the often-voiceless women of Africa at the Africare Bishop Walker Dinner in 1999. Consider the following:
- Women produce roughly 80 percent of Africa's agricultural output.
- African women have less access than men to education, business credit and other routes to advancement.
- African women have distinctly lower literacy rates than African men.
- Family health depends on the health of the mother. Women are the most frequent users of health services in Africa. When those services are inadequate, women suffer disproportionately ― if they are mothers, their families suffer as well.
- Today, the face of AIDS in Africa is that of a woman. Women of child-bearing age are the demographic group hardest-hit by Africa's HIV/AIDS crisis.
Women's development is considered key to development in Africa overall. "The next century," Machel concluded, "has to be women's century. We no longer want to walk behind a man. We want to walk side by side."
(Updated, Dec. 19, 2007)