African Woman, Woman!

Monday, April 12, 2010

In an unforgettable late afternoon interview in Pretoria with the much admired President Mandela, he told me that there will never be a culture of peace until women have greater influence in decision-making.

A study conducted in that regard by UNESCO showed that in 1996 the influence of women was hardly 5%, which meant that 95% of all decisions were at that time made by men. Thus, it is no surprise that throughout the centuries a culture of force and imposition has prevailed over a culture of dialogue, an inherent respect for life, and a constant desire to refrain from the use of violence.

Now, with the favorable evolution we have seen, especially in the last few years, the percentage of women in decision-making positions is nearly 9%. And soon, with 18-20%, there will be a substantial change in the “culture” of society, and a transition from force to the word, to conversation and conciliation will finally begin to be possible.

Yes, at the dawn of this century and millennium, an event so vitally important as the appearance of women in positions of power can finally transpire, when previously throughout history their presence was normally fleeting purely and anecdotic.

For the last few days a great meeting in support of the participation of women has been held in Valencia. I believe it is one of the now irreversible phenomena that should fill us all with hope. I would like to underscore again that it is precisely in Africa where I have found people with so much wisdom, generosity and selflessness, and especially women, who at dawn each day must “invent” a way to survive with dignity until sundown, defenseless and without the aid that has been promised so many times.

If Europe would only exchange know-how for wisdom!, with the African people to whom we owe so much, and who bear us so little resentment despite the shady relations we have had with them, despite slavery, despite how even today we continue to exploit their fantastic natural resources while looking the other way.

"All human beings, equal in dignity", is the essential basic principle that must now be urgently applied for the good of all, for all women and for African women in particular.

In 1995, at a great meeting held in Beijing to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the United Nations, which was devoted precisely to the fundamental role of women in development and in the transition from a culture of dominance and violence to a culture of conciliation and peace, instead of giving a speech as Director General of UNESCO, I read the following poem:


you brought a new


on your lips.

But we wouldn’t

let you sing

although you are

the voice

of half

the world.


your eyes

viewed the world

from another perspective.

But we refused

to see the depth

and the warmth

of your glance.


you carried in your skin

of all colors

the seeds

of tomorrow,

the light

capable of illuminating

unknown paths,


but peaceful roads,



woman-root and fruit

of love

and tenderness.


your outstretched hands

and your laps

are immense places

of refuge

and comfort.

But we have never understood

the strength of your embrace

nor the cry

of your silence,

and we wander

without compass

or relief.


having no one

who owns you

but yourself,

you will rise,

from this day forward

equal and free,


in the same dream

to be henceforth