L.H. Ratsifandrihamanana: One Village, One Family
Written by H.E. Mrs. Lila Hanitra Ratsifandrihamanana, Ambassador, Office of the Permanent Observer of the African Union
Monday, May 18, 2009
United Nations, New York, May 18, 2009
Published in Dialogue & Alliance, Spring/Summer 2010 issue
We are almost two thirds of the way toward the deadline for the accomplishment of the UN Millennium Development Goals, many of which are directly connected to the health, well-being, and education of women and children. However, the Secretary-General's reports admit that the world is very far from reaching these important goals.
The responsibility of reaching these goals is a task that will take more than the combined efforts of the United Nations, its member states, religious communities, and NGOs. In fact, the goals cannot be reached by bureaucratic programs or institutions but require a far-reaching commitment to strengthen each and every family.
Throughout the developing world, and particularly in Africa, women and children continue to bear the brunt of the impact of poverty, hunger, conflict, and disease. The United Nations estimates that women and girls account for 60 percent of the world's nearly 1 billion undernourished people. In hard times, women tend to put themselves last. This puts their families at risk, experts say, because malnourished mothers become malfunctioning mothers.
Women also carry many other burdens. In many nations, they are often left an their own for months or even years when their husbands travel to foreign nations to seek employment when jobs are scarce at home. In more extreme cases, whenever a husband or father is wounded in conflict or comes home with AIDS or another sexually-communicated disease, it is the women who are left to care for them as well as for their own children.
Even though Africa has more than its fair share of these problems, I believe that Africa also carries the seeds for a solution within its rich family traditions. Our model of the extended family of relatives helping and supporting each other is among the strongest in the world. The US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, herself a wife and mother, was often moved when she was First Lady to quote the African proverb “It takes a village to raise a child.”
I would like to conclude by reminding us all that, beyond race, religion, nationality, and all the other labels that sometimes divide us, we are one village and one human family. The meeting chambers at the United Nations are a far cry from the daily reality faced by almost half of the world’s mothers and children. We had better use our time here to consider what can be done to bring permanent change.