Scholars at the Oxford India Centre for Sustainable Development (OICSD) at Somerville College, Oxford University, had the rare privilege of an interaction with Graca Machel, distinguished politician from Mozambique and wife of the late South African President Nelson Mandela on the evening of 24th November, 2015.
Ms. Machel, known for her long standing humanitarian work among women, delivered the Devaki Jain Inaugural Lecture at St. Anne’s College. Somerville Principal, Dr. Alice Prochaska; feminist economist Prof. Devaki Jain; and Research Director of the Centre, Dr. Alfred Gathorne-Hardy also attended the informal meeting.
Following brief introductions by everyone around the table, Ms. Machel spoke with remarkable passion about her work with women and the importance of bringing them into the centre of the mainstream economic fold, flattening out gender differences along with differences along the lines of caste, class and religion. Ms. Machel emphasised that it is not culture but tradition that has kept women at the periphery of development. She discussed the issue of oppression of women across the globe and the ways in which her organizations, spread across several African countries, have reached out to the economically weaker sections of the society.
Machel with President Obama
Prof. Jain spoke about the importance of taking forward the work of academics and research into the active task of organising women’s forces. She said that Ms. Machel’s work with organising women at the grassroots level was commendable. In a free-wheeling chat with scholars, where she fielded questions ranging from the dynamics of gender oppression to the role of indentities, Ms. Machel said that she believed that while academic analysis is important, real change comes through organising mass movements, getting people to work together and building linkages to facilitate this. Scholars enthusiastically pitched in with their own research experiences in the field of gender studies. The interactive session, which lasted an hour, inspired the young students who were able to draw parallels between their scholarly pursuits and the on-ground experiences that Ms. Machel discussed.
Dr. Prochaska briefed Ms. Machel on the historical legacy of Somerville College and spoke at length about the objectives and multi-disciplinary vision of the Centre. In the past, the OICSD has hosted many distinguished scholars, politicians and business leaders.
By OIC Scholar, Shahana Munazir (2013, Social Anthropology).