UN International Day of Families 2009

L.H. Ratsifandrihamanana: Statement by the African Union on the International Day of Families

Statement given at the International Day of Families Symposium on May 18, 2009, held at the United Nations Headquarters in New York, organized by UPF

As you know, 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 most recent report by the Secretary-General once more contained an admission that the world is still 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.

However, an Associated Press report of April 26 confirmed that throughout the developing world, and particularly in Africa, women and children continue to bear the brunt of the impact of poverty and 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 think of 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 alone 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 killed or 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 relations 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 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. Today we are celebrating the United Nations Day of Families, and it is appropriate that we do so right here in the United Nations.

However, I would like to remind my respected colleagues, and our guests from the NGO community, that this beautiful meeting chamber is a far cry from the daily reality faced by almost a half of the world’s mothers and children. If this day is to be a real celebration, we had better use our time here to consider what can be done to bring permanent change.

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