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Last Updated: Thursday, 24 March 2005, 19:01 GMT
Africa's women speak out
The BBC News website asked some of the continent's influential female personalities for their views on the role of women in contemporary Africa.

Angelique Kidjo (Benin)

African vocalist and songwriter Angelique Kidjo mixes the West African traditions of her childhood in Benin with elements of American R&B, funk and jazz as well as European and Latin American influences.

Through her music, Angelique exalts individual cultures while underlining their universal similarities showing that the world is far more culturally connected than it may appear.

She explores the musical links between Africa and the Caribbean diaspora in her latest album Oyaya! which means "joy" in her native language Yoruba.

What is the role of women in Africa today?

The role that we have always played - the cement of family and society.

Very often, you find that the woman takes care of the household as well as working to make money too.

We usually wake up very early and go to bed late!

What challenges do they face?

We are not acknowledged for the work we do and have difficulties being recognised as equals of men.

More importantly in some countries, women lack the very basic human rights in their daily life.

Do you think the role of women has changed?

Not really, but with all the recent health and poverty issues, life is even more challenging.

Are enough women in positions of power throughout Africa?

The situation is similar but worse than the other continents. But here and there you see a strong personality who becomes a role model.

In what way do you think women can bring about change most successfully?

Education for girls is the key for me. Lack of education is at the root of many health or even political issues.

It leads to superstition and submission.

As girls begin helping in the household from an early age, they are not able to attend school.

I think that schools could help this by having nurseries to take care of the little brothers and sisters.

Are women's voices being heard?

We are trying through the arts to give a positive image of African women. The Nobel peace prize being awarded to an African woman was a big symbol!

What stigmas or taboos prevent women having a stronger voice and if so, what could change this?

The stigmas and taboos are the same everywhere. It's just made worse in Africa because of the political situation and lack of education.

CD cover for Mama Africa - The Very Best Of Miriam Makeba (Label: Manteca)

Who is your role model?

Miriam Makeba.

She successfully raised awareness about Africa and its struggles all over the world at a time when most people did not know.

What would your message be?

I want to tell men not to be afraid of empowering us.

You will not lose your pride and dignity if you do so. You will just live in a more balanced world.

Your comments:

I respect African ladies who believe in the emancipation of the woman in today's Africa.
Michael, Roeselare, Belgium

African women occupied a mighty special place in African society, and will need to occupy that place, if Africa is to achieve its true potential.
Dawi Dibal, Saint Charles, United States

It is so refreshing to see a story focusing on the variety of perspectives held by some upstanding African female role-models. Angelique Kidjo, I look forward to hearing more of your great music and inspiring words!
Kerrie Thornhill Hop Wo, Vancouver, Canada

They are right in empowering themselves but they should try explain their actions to the indigenous African man. The way they take up petty issues puts the fear in men. Especially court action which could have been settled easily at homeż just between the two of them.
Eagle Billy, Accra, Ghana

At times all it takes are individual steps into the unknown to inspire a collective movement.
Shan D, Atlanta

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