Dr. Margaret Ogola is a pediatrician and the director of a hospice for HIV and
AIDS orphans. She is also Vice-President of Family Life Counselling (Kenya). Her book, The River And The Source, recently won the Africa region Commonwealth Award for Literature. It deals with the story of four generations of African women. This was her address to the delegates at the UN Conference on Women in Beijing.
The woman is the heart of the family, and the family is the corner stone of society, therefore it is very fitting that we should be here in Beijing for the Fourth World Women’s Conference seeking new ways to enhance her wellbeing, natural talents and gifts.
The woman is a powerhouse of creativity, development and peace. Conflict between men and women is therefore unnecessary because a woman brings an equal and powerful complementarity to the common human condition. Women have been entrusted with the capacity to transmit life which is the most precious gift that anybody can give or receive. Without life no other good is possible.
Let us realize that men and women share one world. Equality must not be seen to deny anyone `of their rightful due. Indeed equality would be self defeating if it were based on injustice. Injustice cannot be corrected by another injustice I personally would lay down my life for each and every one of my children: three sons and two daughters.
We must not allow women’s health needs to be torpedoed by other people’s agendas. All our African delegates here and our people know that our health systems have deteriorated alarmingly under the weight of Structural Adjustment Programmes, and the eternal burden of foreign debt. The priorities for the African woman and her family are therefore:
– The strengthening of health care systems by making them
effective, affordable, and accessible to all women and the African population as a whole.
– The training of traditional midwives should be re-introduced and strengthened as they deliver 80 percent of the women in Africa.
– Investment in the training of middle level health-care providers who can reach more
women at the grassroots level.
– Ensure the availability of cheap and safe methods of child spacing such as Natural Family Planning which has been recognized and recommended by the World Health Organization, and reputable medical journals such as the British Medical Journal and Lancet. As having 98 percent effectiveness and being totally safe.
– I am distressed that there seems to be a conspiracy to keep women in the dark, especially the African woman, regarding the many dangerous side-effects of contraceptive, some of which are irreversible and life threatening. I especially abhor the experimentation and dumping of untested and harmful drugs in Africa and other developing countries.
– Recognize fully the irreplaceable role of parents and the family in educating and informing children in matters of sexuality with recognition of and with full respect for African culture and religious beliefs. While recognizing that there are some undesirable aspects of our indigenous cultures, we must not abandon it wholesale in preference for imported Western values which are unclear about important issues like family and gender. Family is the corner stone of our societies and culture, and source of our strength.
Ensure the urgent provision and strengthening of quality basic and secondary education, middle level professional and vocational facilities to make education accessible and affordable to all, as education is a basic human right. Unless we recognize that each individual is irrepeatable and valuable by virtue of simply being conceived human, we cannot begin to talk about human rights. This includes the right to be born, as all of us have enjoyed. True justice should be for each human being, visible and invisible, young and old, disabled and able, to enjoy fully their right to life The accidental attributes that we acquire such as colour, sex, intelligence, economic circumstance, physical or mental disability should not be used as an excuse to deprive a person of life. In ending I would like to give my accolade to the undefeatable spirit of African women which I have dealt with extensively in my book. The inspiration for this book came from my mother who handed down to me the wisdom and lives of her own mother and grandmother. This strength and support that is found in the African family is the most important part of our culture and should be preserved and nurtured at all cost.
Mother Teresa: Message to Beijing
I am praying for God’s blessing on all who are taking part in the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing. I hope that this conference will help everyone to know, love and respect the special place of women in God’s plan so that they may fulfil this plan in their lives.
I do not understand why some people are saying that women and men are exactly the same, and are denying the beautiful differences between men and women. All God’s gifts are good, but they are not all the same. As I often say to people who tell me they would like to serve the poor as I do, “What I can do, you cannot. What you can do, I cannot. But together we can do something beautiful for God.” It is just this way with the differences between women and men. God has created each one of us, every human being for greater things—-to love and to be loved. But why did God make some men and others women? Because a woman’s love is one image of the love of God, and a man’s love is another image of God’s love. Both are created to love, but each in a different way. Woman and men complete each other, and together show forth God’s love more fully than either can do alone.
That special power of loving that belongs to a woman is seen most clearly when she becomes a mother. Motherhood is the gift of God to women. How grateful we must be to God for this wonderful gift that brings such joy to the whole world, woman and men alike! Yet we can destroy this gift of motherhood, especially by the evil of abortion, but also by thinking that other things like jobs or positions are more important than loving, than giving oneself to others. No job, no plans, no possessions, no idea of “freedom” can take the place of love. So, first I am to love myself rightly and then to love my neighbour like that. But how can I love myself unless I accept myself as God has made me? Those who deny the beautiful differences between men and women are not accepting themselves as God has made them and so cannot love their neighbour. They will only bring division, unhappiness and destruction of peace to the world. For example, as I have often said, abortion is greatest destroyer of peace in the world today, and those who want to make women and men the same are all in favour of abortion
Instead of death and sorrow, let us bring peace and joy to the world. To do this we must beg God for His gift of peace and learn to love and accept each other as brothers and sisters, children of God. We know that the best place for children to learn how to love and to pray is in the family, by seeing the love and prayer of their mother and father. When families are broken or disunited, many children grow up not knowing how to love and pray. A country where many families have been destroyed like this will have many problems. I have often seen, especially in the rich countries, how children turn to drugs or other things to escape feeling unloved and rejected.
But when families are strong and united, children can see God’s special love in the love of their father and mother and can grow to make their country a loving and prayerful place. The child is God’s best gift to the family and needs both mother and father because each one shows God’s love in a special way. The family that prays together stays together, and if they stay together they will love one another as God has loved each one of them. And works of love are always works of peace.
So let us keep the joy of loving in our hearts and share this joy with all we meet. My prayer for all of the delegates and for every woman whom the Beijing conference is trying to help, is that each one may be humble and pure like Mary so as to live in love and peace with one another and make our families and our world something beautiful for God.
Let us pray.
All for the glory of God and Good of souls. God bless you.