“It is the meaning of what my life has been since a youth — to try to fight for the dignity and the freedom of my own people.” Graça Machel
Graca Machel was born on the 17th of October 1945. She is a politician and humanitarian in Mozambique. Her most popular identity is being the first lady of two different countries, of which she is the first to bear such accolade. From 1975 to 1986 she was married to Samora Machel, the former President of Mozambique, and from 1998 to 2013 she was married to Nelson Mandela, the former South African President. Ms Graca mostly fights for the rights of women and children and she has been recognized over time for her contributions as she was made an honourary British Dame by Queen Elizabeth II in 1997.
She has occupied the position of membership at the Africa Progress Panel (APP) to advocate for sustainable development in Africa and has previously served as Chancellor of the University of Cape Town.
Graca Machel is the youngest of six children. She did her secondary education at the Methodist mission schools, then gained a scholarship to study at the University of Lisbon, Portugal. She speaks 4 international languages, including English and her Native language.
In 1973, she started working as a schoolteacher while being a member of the Mozambican Liberation Front (FRELIMO) and receiving military training. In 1975, she became the first minister of Education and culture in Mozambique and it was reported that her tenure saw an increase in students enrolled into primary and secondary school where 90 percent of the students were male and 75 percent were female.
Ms Graca has won several awards for her humanitarian services. She received awards such as the Nansen Medal from the UN, the 1992 Africa Prize, the Global Citizen Award, North-South Prize by the North-South Centre of the Council of Europe. Other positions she occupies and has occupied include appointment to the Commonwealth of Nations’ Eminent Persons Group, President of the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London, Chancellor of the African Leadership University, Honourary Fellow of the British Academy (HonFBA), appointment as Expert in charge of producing the groundbreaking UN report on the impact of armed conflict on children, member of the High-Level Taskforce on Innovative International Financing for Health Systems, Chair of the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health (PMNCH) and appointment to the High-Level Advisory Group for Every Woman Every Child. She became an advocate for Sustainable Development Goals together with 16 others, appointed by the Secretary-General of the UN in 2016. In 2007, Graca Machel, Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu formed the group “The Elders” which is concerned with issues such as the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Korean Peninsula, Sudan and South Sudan, Sustainable Development and Equality for girls and women. Graça Machel is also a member of many other Corporate Boards.
The Advocate in Graca Machel
Graca Machel is notable for her long-term advocacy for freedom in Mozambique and the rights of women and children. Her continuous advocacy led to her joining the FRELIMO Movement. When she was in government, her influence led to a change in the way the United Nations and other member states react to conflict zones. She invests most of her time in supporting global health, child welfare, women’s empowerment and women’s rights. Her humanitarian work is a regional and global one. To achieve her aim, she created three Non-governmental organizations and founded the Graca Machel Trust in 2010. Her work has earned her a place among the top 100 women activists and campaigners and the top 100 most influential people.
Graca Machel is also a co-founder of “Girls Not Brides: The Global Partnership to End Child Marriage”. She stops at nothing to make sure that education is inculcated by children and she even led by example by becoming a teacher herself and invested her time in making sure that Orphans get comfortable homes. At some point, she was involved in travelling to various war-torn countries to investigate the effect of the war on children to provide solutions.
Whenever there is war, women and children are the ones who bear the brunt of it the most. This is what Graca Machel aims to fight and she never stops. Humanity needs us all, humanity needs you.
Written By: Joyce C. Nwezeh Obi-Akejelu (Writer, Social media manager and graphic designer with Africa4AfricaWomen/Assert/PAWES).