A few days ago Cherie Blair was slammed for telling a London secondary school audience that most African women’s first sexual experience is rape. An audience member criticised her for “sweeping unsubstantiated statements.”

This induced a Labour female MP, Chi Dnwurah, (English born of Nigerian ancestry) who chairs the all-party group for Africa, to condemn Cherie for first, “reinforcing harmful stereotypes” then contradictorily, for “undermining the hard work of many to tackle this issue”. Make up your mind Chi, the claim’s either true or it’s not and God know how raising it undermines tackling the issue.

That said Cherie’s claim was ridiculous. As so often when people talk of Africans they’re referring to black Africans, forgetting that nearly a third of the continent’s 1.2 billion population are Arabs, mostly Muslims. Make no mistake, there’s no more protected women in the world than Arabic Muslims often to a degree that can only be described as oppressive.

So too in many non-Arabic Muslim countries such as Malaysia, but not all. Chatting to a girl in Azerbaijan a few months ago, I remarked on the total absence of headscarves. She laughed. “We’re the same as the English”, she said. “They call themselves Christians but only use churches for weddings and funerals, so too us with mosques.”

That said it’s no secret that to varying degrees in different black African countries, Cherie Blair’s claim is valid.

A few years ago in Malawi I turned on the television 6pm news. The lead story showed the highly indignant President of the Malawian Women’s Institute protesting about primary school teachers having it off with their young virginal girl pupils. She was followed by the school teachers union boss in a memorably explosive rant.

“Do you realise how pathetic teachers salaries are?” he shouted at the Women’s Institute President. “Do you not realise the high incident of Aids in this country? This is the only perk poor teachers have in their lives.”

By the time he was through the Women’s Institute President was almost apologetic.

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