Here are five images of Graça Machel, a lifelong advocate of women’s and children’s rights and the former first lady of both Mozambique and South Africa. Her presence is powerful, her conviction and commitment infectious.
Pictured here, in Geneva at a World Health Organization event I was covering last week, she was representing The Elders, a group of eminent global figures –elder statesmen, peace activists, and human rights advocates– who were brought together by her second husband, the late Nelson Mandela, in 2007.
Trained as a solder and freedom fighter in FRELIMO, the Mozambican liberation movement led by her first husband Samora Machel, she became the country’s education minister upon independence from Portugal in 1975. Her commitment to improving education and health care in Africa hasn’t wavered since. Today, at a spritely 72, she’s one of the planet’s most vocal champions for universal health coverage.
Addressing a meeting of British Commonwealth health ministers on the sidelines of the 71st World Health Assembly that day, Machel said, “Universal health coverage means that everybody receives the health services they need without suffering financial hardship. So, in shielding people from prohibitive health costs that can plunge them into poverty, achieving UHC is vital for achieving other sustainable development goals, such as increasing economic growth and reducing poverty and inequality – including gender inequality. Access to healthcare is a human right we as a global family need to ensure is protected and enjoyed by all.” Read her address in full here.
Mandela said of Machel, who was 27 years his junior, that she made him “bloom like a flower”. They were married on his 80th birthday.