The Elders


"If we hold back women, we hold back society"

To mark International Women’s Day, Elders Desmond Tutu and Graça Machel took to Twitter for a live Q&A. This is a summary of how the event unfolded.

Graça Machel and Desmond Tutu answered questions on how to catalyse women's rights from a range of civil society, including entrepreneurs, activists, NGOs and youth groups.

Many of the questions focussed on society's relationship with and treatment of women, from institutions like the media to boys and men.

Graça Machel lamented the media's portrayal of women as "simply victims," emphasising their roles as thinkers, entrepreneurs and leaders.

"We need to educate not only women to protect themselves but also how men regard women," she urged.

Another key theme discussed in the Q&A was the responsibility of leaders to support gender equality and women's rights.

Graça Machel urged religious leaders to accept that "sexuality is part of human life," while Desmond Tutu replied that they have an opportunity to make their communities more open.

 Answering a question on changing the gender narrative, Desmond Tutu highlighted the influence of leaders on the rest of society:

 Graça Machel emphasised that leaders can play a role in support of equality by speaking out against injustice towards women and girls, adding:

A key piece of information many of the Q&A participants were looking for was what civil society and individuals can do to empower women.

Graça Machel stressed how civil society can "change mindsets" and bring attention to norms that are harmful to individuals and communities.

She and Desmond Tutu highlighted the importance of several factors for empowering girls in particular: giving girls access to information and knowledge through technology; ensuring girls are able to stay in school; mentoring and establishing support networks.

Desmond Tutu delivered the overarching message of the Q&A:

Read the full transcript of the Twitter Q&A.

On the Web
I will support #women's rights by using my right to vote for #equality legislation #MarRef #22May #askElders #IWD2015 @marriagequality
I support #women's rights by never shutting up abt their leadership in nonviolence & having them at the peacetable.#askElders #IWD #CGIU2015
Did you know that in 27 countries, the law prevents mothers from passing their nationality to children on an equal basis as fathers?

Join our Twitter Q&A with Graça Machel and Desmond Tutu tomorrow at 1400 GMT to ask your question, using #askElders.

#InternationalWomensDay #iwd2015  
I will support #womensrights by speaking up and not just letting it go when someone makes sexist remarks or jokes. #askElders #IWD2015
We will support #women's rights by working toward a convention on older people's #HumanRights. #OlderWomenCount #askElders #IWD @TheElders
I will support #women's rights by demanding that data on violence against women is collected over the age of 49. #askElders #IWD
I will support #women's rights by raising my daughter without gender roles #askElders #IWD
I will support #women's rights with real feminist principles-closing the pay gap, freedom from poverty-at all ages #askElders #IWD @helpage
@tobyhporter IFA supports #women's rights by exploring role of women in disaster situations at IFA 13th Global Conference #askElders #IWD
I will support #women's rights by ensuring the world's older women are not left behind in fight for gender equality #askElders #IWD @helpage
Reading #askelders chat & wondering what can we do for girls stolen by Boko Haram or threatened for going to school? @TheElders #learnmore
@TheElders I will support #women's rights by teaching my son that #equality is only beginning & he can be part of the fix! #askElders #IWD
.@RichardBranson Enlightened companies are realising the power of #diversity, changing policy to promote women to leadership -GM #askElders
.@richardbranson Many of our own in sport resent being considered as quota players. I think women would feel this way too - DT #askElders
Will you show your support for #equality? Complete the tweet: I will support #women's rights by... #askElders #IWD…
The fashion industry has a major role in forming our views on women, how can we leverage its power for empowering women? #askElders #IWD2015
@TheElders it seems misogny and misogynoir is not given the attention it should be. What is being done to address this? #askElders
.@gycaswell We have a global movement and we won’t be free until #women are truly free - Desmond Tutu #askElders #IWD2015 @TutuLegacy
Ensuring #girls & women can access sexual & reproductive rights crucial to aiding their growth. How can we secure this? #askElders #IWD2015
.@gycaswell You cannot sit back. People out there in much worse situations than ours are keeping their fires burning -GM #AskElders #IWD2015
.@gycaswell When you work with young girls you find extraordinary examples of courage & leadership. That makes you humble - GM #AskElders
.@girlsnotbrides Change mindsets. Explain why some norms are harmful to individuals, families, communities, nations - GM #askElders #IWD2015
.@girlsnotbrides To identify the neglected issues, bring them to the top & mobilise the international & national communities- GM #askElders
Women are 25% less likely to be online than men should the right to internet be part of empowering women? @TheElders #IWD2015 #askElders
.@dsw_worldwide Those of us who have worked with women leaders like Graça, know how impoverished society wld be without them -DT #askElders
.@dsw_worldwide If we hold back women, we hold back societies. Allow women to use gift God has given them, communities thrive -DT #askElders
.@ColetteNkunda "We need to educate not only women to protect themselves but also how men regard women."- Graça Machel #AskElders #IWD2015
.@ColetteNkunda Women are productive thinkers, leaders, entrepreneurs. Not only victims. Women are much more than that - GM #AskElders 1/2
What advice do you have for youth who are passionate about fighting for #genderequality & working in international development? #askElders
"Listen to what women want and to be their allies. Help provide them with the wherewithal to achieve their goals." DT #askElders @TutuLegacy
Question from Saikou Camara (Facebook): How can one help women in one’s own community fight for their rights? #askElders #IWD2015
.@itspetergabriel "Women will be part of the society where their aspirations and dreams are taken into account" Graça Machel #askElders #IWD
.@itspetergabriel Phones can make communication quicker & make voices matter where it is most needed, at all levels -GM #AskElders #IWD2015
.@itspetergabriel When women can access information and knowledge, it's is a very crucial part of the empowering process - DT #askElders
.@genderhealth "Provide them with wherewithal to succeed. Almost always adequate funding 'cos nothing succeeds like success" DT #askElders
"If you are equal it’s almost which came first, egg or chicken? In a just society wome wi'll be equal in a truly just society" DT #askElders
Education alone is not sufficient if girls are not engaged with programmes that connect them - Graça Machel #AskElders #IWD2015 @TheElders
Q, Dan Baldwin FB: Which is better, justice or equality? Is a 50/50 split in the boardroom better than fair application system? #askElders
.@gycaswell With the known scourge of #HIV, it's absolutely crucial that religious leaders speak about sex & contraception - DT #askElders
@TheElders what do you think of the idea of quotas to improve gender diversity in boardrooms? #askElders
.@gycaswell “It’s time religious leaders accept that sexuality is part of human life" -Graca Machel #AskElders #IWD2015
We will support #women's rights by funding projects that empower women with skills to find their own routes out of poverty #askElders #IWD


Please read our moderation policy before commenting

  • All comments posted on will be moderated before publication.
  • In making comments, please be constructive and treat others with respect.
  • Comments containing hate speech, obscenity, inflammatory statements or accusations, personal attacks, discriminatory or abusive language will not be posted.
  • Links: Please do link to other relevant sites and articles to enrich the debate. Please do not link to inappropriate or offensive websites or use signature links in your post.
The Elders are independent global leaders, brought together by Nelson Mandela, who offer their collective influence and experience to support peace building, help address major causes of human suffering and promote the shared interests of humanity.

Sign up to receive monthly newsletters from The Elders.

We will occasionally send you other special updates and news, but we'll never share your email address with third parties.

Visit the archive to see our past newsletters.

The Elders website uses cookies. Click here to accept the Terms & Conditions and Privacy Policy when visiting this site.