“Barack Obama wrapped up his visit to Kenya on Sunday with a strong condemnation of female genital mutilation and other “bad traditions” that treat women as second-class citizens, in a speech that also a offered a poignant glimpse into his African heritage.
Obama earned vociferous applause from 4,500 Kenyans at a sports arena in the capital, Nairobi, by throwing down the gauntlet over the rights of women and girls. He gave short shrift to those in Africa who hide behind arguments defending tradition and culture against values they say are imposed by the west. Considering his heritage, it was a case he could make better than any previous US president.
“Every country and every culture has traditions that are unique and help make that country what it is, but just because something is part of your past doesn’t make it right; it doesn’t mean it defines your future,” Obama said, citing the recent debate in America over the Confederate flag.
“Around the world there is a tradition of oppressing women and treating them differently and not giving them the same opportunities, and husbands beating their wives, and children not being sent to school. Those are traditions. Treating women and girls as second-class citizens. Those are bad traditions. They need to change.”
An estimated 31 million girls of primary school age and 32 million girls of lower secondary school age were out of school in 2013, according to the United Nations. In sub-Saharan Africa, only two of 35 countries measured have gender parity, the lowest ratio in the world. More than one in four girls in Kenya is subjected to genital mutilation, which carries a risk of severe bleeding, problems urinating, infections, infertility and complications in childbirth.
Treating women and girls as second-class citizens. Those are bad traditions: they need to change
Obama said: “Treating women as second-class citizens is a bad tradition: it holds you back. There’s no excuse for sexual assault or domestic violence, there’s no reason that young girls should suffer genital mutilation, there’s no place in a civilised society for the early or forced marriage of children. These traditions may go back centuries; they have no place in the 21st century.”
The comment appeared to strike a nerve, triggering enthusiastic clapping and approving whistles.
Obama continued: “They are issues of right or wrong in any culture. But they are also issues of success and failure. Any nation that fails to educate its girls or employ its women and allow them to maximise their potential is doomed to fall behind the global economy. We’re in a sports centre: imagine if you have a team and don’t let half of the team play. That’s stupid. That makes no sense.”
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GO PRESIDENT OBAMA!
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