Women Leaders and Transformation in Developing Countries
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Graca Machel (1946-)

Chairperson of the First U.N. Report on the Impact of Armed Conflict on Children
Former First Lady of South Africa
Former First Lady of Mozambique

Mozambique Flag of Mozambique

The status of women in Mozambique has improved with the arrival of independence and the FRELIMO government, but women's advancement is hindered by the sexual division of domestic labor that persists. The central failure of the FRELIMO government has been its inadequate involvement of women in planning for rural development. Mozambique is located in southeastern Africa and gained independence on June 25, 1975 after being under Portuguese colonial rule since the 16th century. Mozambique then became a Socialist one-party state ruled by the FRELIMO party, Front for Liberation of Mozambique. In 1975 Graca Machel became Minister of Education and Culture and a member of FRELIMO's Central Committee, and her now-deceased first husband, Samora Machel, became President. Joaquim Chissano, Machel's Minister for Foreign Affairs, succeeded him as President. The 1990 constitution converted Mozambique to a multi-party, democratic state, and in the first multi-party general elections, held in December 1994, Joaquim Chissano, President of FRELIMO was elected President.

The primary challenge to the FRELIMO government has been the increasingly violent war with the Mozambican National Resistance (RENAMO). RENAMO was created in 1976 by the government of Rhodesia to destabilize Mozambique and thus prevent Mozambican support of liberation struggles in neighboring countries. Supported for many years by the government of South Africa, RENAMO continues to wage war in Mozambique through the present day. RENAMO targets civilians and economic infrastructure especially.

In the face of vast destruction caused by RENAMO Graca Machel has worked to better conditions within her country and has been enormously effective. As President of the Foundation of Community Development, Graca has increased community access to information and technology necessary for development, and as Chairperson of the National Organization of Children of Mozambique, she has worked to place orphans in comfortable homes, empower Mozambican women, and teach reconciliation.

"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."

- Graca Machel (BBC)

Graca Machel was born in 1946 in rural Mozambique. She was sent to a Methodist mission school at age 6 and later went to university in Portugal on a mission scholarship. There she mingled with students from other Portuguese colonies and developed her liberation politics. Upon returning to Mozambique in 1973, Graca joined FRELIMO. Though she received military training, she worked with women and children and taught school. In 1974, she was appointed Deputy Director of the FRELIMO Secondary School at Bagamoyo. Following independence in 1975, Graca became Minister of Education and Culture and a member of FRELIMO's Central Committee. During her tenure (she resigned in 1989), the percentage of children enrolled in primary and secondary schools doubled. She married Samora Machel, the first President of Mozambique, in 1975, and they had three children. President Machel was killed in a plane crash in 1986; the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa is now inquiring into the plane crash, in which many believe the South African apartheid government to have been involved. Recently, Graca has entered the global spotlight as a result of her July 1998 marriage to South African President Nelson Mandela. The couple commute between South Africa and Mozambique, and Graca continues her work with multiple organizations in Mozambique and at the U.N.

Graca Machel has been very active internationally and is world-renowned for her commitment to children's and women's rights, education, and development. She served as President of the National Commission of UNESCO in Mozambique, as a delegate to the 1988 UNICEF Conference, and on the steering committee of the 1990 World Conference on Education for All. In 1994 UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali appointed Graca the independent expert in charge of producing the U.N. Report on the Impact of Armed Conflict on Children, and Graca spent 1994-96 traveling to investigate the plight of children in countries beset by war. The subject had never before been studied in depth and Graca's report was ground-breaking. As a result of her report, the General Assembly authorized the Secretary-General to appoint a Special Representative on the impact of armed conflict on children.

For her myriad achievements, Graca Machel has received many awards. She received the 1992 Africa Prize, awarded annually to an individual who has contributed to the goal of eliminating hunger in Africa by the year 2000. In recognition of her outstanding contributions on behalf of refugee children, Graca received the 1995 Nansen Medal from the United Nations and the 1997 Global Citizen Award of the New England Circle.

Graca is much loved in her home country and increasingly gaining world recognition. She has focused on the issues most critical to her home country, issues of development and particularly women's and children's rights, and she has widened her scope to effect change worldwide. Graca has already created a substantial legacy and her work continues.


  • BBC Online Network. "BBC News | Africa | Graca Machel - profile" 7/18/99 <http://news2.thls.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/world/africa/newsid_135000/135280.stm> 7/13/99)
  • Duke, Lynne. "An African Icon, Mandela's Other is Significant in Her Own Right" The Washington Post 1 March 1997. A16.
  • Quinn, Sally. "By Mandela's Side." The Washington Post 3 March 1998. B1.
  • Ridder, Rucksworth M. "Preaching Reconciliation in a Bitter War" The Christian Science Monitor. 3 May 1998. 13.
  • Urdang Stephanie. And Still They Dance: Women, War, and the Struggle for Change in Mozambique. New York: Monthly Review Press. 1989.

Map of Mozambique
Click on map to see full size version.
Click on inset for clickable world map.

Statistical Highlights
Total Population (thousands) - 1997 15,740
Crude Birth Rate (per 1000 pop) - 1996 46.1
Crude Death Rate (per 1000 pop) - 1996 18.0
Official Language Portuguese
Number of Other "Main national languages" 13
Exchange Rate (Metical per $US) - Jan. 1999 12,383
G.D.P. Growth Rate - 1997 8%
GDP per capita ($US) - 1997 $128

Gender Equity Information
Women per 100 Men 102
Full Suffrage for All Adult Women Obtained in (year) 1975
Percentage of legislature consisting of women 25%
Percentage of cabinet consisting of women 5%
Literacy Rate (F/M) 20% / 54%
Life Expectancy at Birth (F/M, in years) 48.1 / 44.9

Development Information Score
(of 1.000)
(HDI of 174)
(GDI of 163)
HDI 0.281 166
GDI 0.264 156

Hear the Mozambican National Anthem, from National Anthems of the World
Flag graphic byAntonio Martins, courtesy of FOTW: Flags Of The World website <http://fotw.digibel.be/flags/> 7/13/99
   (Click on flag for full size version)
Map courtesy of theUniversity of Texas' Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection <http://www.lib.utexas.edu/Libs/PCL/Map_collection/Map_collection.html> 7/13/99
Statistical Information provided by the Official Mozambique web site "Basic Facts" page <http://www.mozambique.mz/dadosbas/eindex.htm> 7/13/99 and the Mozambique National Institute of Statistics page <http://www.ine.gov.mz/esp/espelho.htm>
Gender Equity Information provided by Neft, Naomi and Levine, Ann D. Where Women Stand: An International Report on the Status of Women in 140 Countries 1997-1998. NewYork: Random House, 1997.
Development infromation provided by the United Nations Human Development Report 1998 <http://www.undp.org/hdro/98.htm> 7/13/99
   HDI = Human Development Index; GDI = Gender-related Development Index; Click on an index name in the table to view the full chart for that index

Biographical profile ©1999 Tova Neugut '01. Compilation of country information by Michael Cohen '01. Site as a whole is ©1999 Dessima Williams and CIMTech at Brandeis University. All rights reserved. Further copywright and contact information available at the site index.