Everything seemed to stop last Thursday, when the news hit that Nelson Mandela had died. Known in South Africa by his Xhosa clan name, Madiba, his achievements in the name of basic human rights will forever be known as some of the most self-sacrificing and inspiring in the history books.

We know this post is a drop in the ocean of kind words that has been growing so fast that it could soon wash over us all in a watery gesture of goodwill. But if there’s anything Mandela taught us (and there’s a lot), it’s that every person counts. So here’s our two cents.

There are bags and stacks and libraries full of all the amazing things he did, so we’re going to concentrate on just a tiny snippet of the change he made for the good of humanity: his moves to help women.

In his autobiography, Mandela paid tribute to South Africa’s women for their role in ending apartheid. Ever a man of his words, he also declared August 9 National Women’s Day. On that day in 1996 he said:

‘As long as outmoded ways of thinking prevent women from making a meaningful contribution to society, progress will be slow. As long as the nation refuses to acknowledge the equal role of more than half of itself, it is doomed to failure.’

Also in that year, he signed South Africa’s constitution, thereby awarding a winning set of rights to the country’s women – race, gender, sex and even pregnancy became inadmissible grounds for discrimination. It even included a call for the creation of the Commission for Gender Equality, whose aim was ‘a society free from gender oppression and all forms of inequality’.

The Choice on Termination of Pregnancy Act, also signed in 1996, replaced one of the most repressive systems with what the Guttmacher Institute describes as ‘one of the most liberal’. In the first trimester, women can decide on an abortion, and may even receive financial aid. That’s one hefty win in the name of reproductive rights, and a very brave move from Madiba.

Today, 44% of South Africa’s politicians are female. That’s not half bad, especially compared to the UK’s measley 22.5%, putting it joint 58th with Israel in the world ranks. There’s still a long way to go – but Mandela’s characteristically ground breaking steps towards gender equality have led the way.

For more information, check out our sources: here, here and here. Oh, and here too.

Image source – South Africa The Good News