Cherie Blair has raised some culturally sensitive hackles in Britain by making that claim.
The barrister and women’s rights campaigner made the remark during a talk about women and leadership to pupils at the Cardinal Vaughan Memorial School in London.
. . .
However the 64-year-old wife of the former Prime Minister, Tony Blair, has since been criticised for “usurping” the voice of African women.
One audience member at the event, Caitlin, who did not wish to give her surname, told The Guardian that she was surprised by Mrs Blair’s comment.
“No one seemed to react and I was shocked because I felt like she was in a position of authority and should take responsibility for saying things like that without any evidence to support it,” she said.
It is reported that when contacted the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women, said Mrs Blair’s comment referred “to the women she had met and heard directly from in the initial years of the Foundation’s work rather than a specific research piece”.
Chi Onwurah, the Labour MP for Newcastle upon Tyne Central and chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Africa [said] ... “Violence against women is a huge problem in many African countries - as it is here - but to characterise African women's sexual experience as rooted in rape undermines the hard work of many to tackle this issue whilst playing to and indeed stoking stereotypes of sexually aggressive African men and passive women.”
Statistics released by Equality Now, which aims to advance the rights of women and girls across the world, show that in Africa, between the ages of 15 and 49, 43 per cent of women have reported having experienced gender-based violence, including sexual violence or abuse.
There's more at the link.
The outcry from the politically correct brigade can't hide the very real tragedy of what it means to be a woman in traditional African society. To a greater or lesser extent, depending on tribe, nation and culture, African women are:
- Trapped in a largely patriarchal society - the possession, first of their fathers, then of their husbands;
- Sold for a "bride price" paid by their would-be husbands (which means that a wealthy, but otherwise undesirable man, can literally buy the wife or wives he wants by paying money, whether the woman welcomes his advances or not - she has little or no say in the matter);
- Are blamed for any and all problems such as infertility, venereal diseases, etc.
- Can be sent back to their families in disgrace (and the families can be forced to repay their "bride price") if they fail to adhere to their husband's wishes in every way.
It's a lousy situation, and the advent of Christianity hasn't necessarily overridden those "cultural" traditions.
The stories of sexual exploitation and oppression in Africa are legion. I've encountered far too many of them myself. Here are a few news reports you can read for yourself, if you wish:
- Rape as a "weapon of war" in the Congo;
- "The epidemic of sexual violence against women in Lesotho, a nation of 2.2 million people, is arguably the worst in the world. But it is rarely reported."
- South African men rape babies as 'cure' for Aids
- Nigerians return from slavery in Libya to thriving sex-trafficking industry back home
- Kidnapping, Rape of Egyptian Coptic Christian Girls at Record High
I could provide many more such links, but those are enough to show the extent of the problem. I think Ms. Blair is right. I won't be surprised if the first encounter with sex of at least a third of African girls and women is violent, involving rape. It may be as high as fifty percent or more. That was my assessment when I was working in much of sub-saharan Africa in the late 20th century, and I see no reason to believe that things have gotten any better since then. Politically correct posturing will do nothing to change that reality.
Instead of complaining about Ms. Blair's temerity in speaking the truth (because she's not herself an African woman), perhaps those who don't like it should ask themselves what they can do to change the reality for African women in general. That way, they might actually do some good, instead of making themselves look like politically correct fools.