7 Ways Nelson Mandela's Legacy Still Resonates Today

"Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world."

PHOTO-African National Congress President Nelson Mandela addresses the Committee Against Apartheid in the United Nations General Assembly Hall, Sept. 24, 1993.

Marty Lederhandler/AP

2018 is the Year of Mandela — the year the independence leader of South Africa would have turned 100 years old. But although Nelson Mandela died in 2013 at the age of 95, his entire life still stands as a testament to the power of the human spirit. 

Confronted by the challenges of apartheid, physical imprisonment, and doubt, Mandela nonetheless wielded his inimitable spirit to improve the lives of millions of his fellow countrymen and women, as an activist, scholar, leader, and, ultimately, one of the world’s greatest-ever humanitarians. 

This year, Global Citizen is joining other organizations, leaders, and citizens of the world to honor Mandela’s legacy. We're going to South Africa for Global Citizen Festival Mandela 100, in proud partnership with the Motsepe Foundation, to call on world leaders to commit to ending the various causes and consequences of extreme poverty.

Not only did Mandela liberate an entire country from the grips of the racist apartheid system, but he also continued the fight for the world’s most vulnerable people until the very end of his life.

Here are seven ways Nelson Mandela fought for the same values that Global Citizens hold dearly, including women’s empowerment, access to quality education, and the fight against HIV/AIDS.

1. He ushered hundreds of women into the political sphere

Though South Africa has work to do to eliminate violence against womenand to ensure that women earn the same amount of money as men, Mandela helped set the country on a path toward equality from the very beginning of his career as president. 

During his first State of the Nation Address in 1994, Mandela expressed his commitment to the "emancipation” of women and called for equality across systems in South Africa.

“It is vitally important that all structures of government, including the President himself, should understand this fully: that freedom cannot be achieved unless women have been emancipated from all forms of oppression,” Mandela said

“The objectives of the Reconstruction and Development Program will not have been realized unless we see in visible and practical terms that the condition of the women of our country has radically changed for the better,” he continued. “And that they have been empowered to intervene in all aspects of life as equals with any other member of society.”

The growing number of women serving in South Africa’s parliament continues to demonstrate the progress toward Mandela’s mission of gender equality.

When Mandela was elected president, women held just 2.7% of seats in South Africa’s parliament. But by 2013, less than two decades later, women made up 44% of the legislature.

2. He joined the fight against HIV/AIDS

Mandela’s record in the fight to end HIV/AIDS was not perfect, as many experts have pointed out, but in the years after his presidency Mandela became an ardent campaigner for HIV/AIDS awareness. 

As president, Mandela and certain members of his administration were reticent to acknowledge the scope of the AIDS crisis, which came to affect nearly one in four 15- to 49-year-olds by 2000 — and Mandela’s hand-picked successor, Thabo Mbeki, was known to be an AIDS denialist

But in 2000, as the scope of the crisis became overwhelmingly evident, Mandela added his voice to the chorus of activists calling for recognition of the disease and action to prevent it. 

“Our country is facing a disaster of immeasurable proportions from HIV/AIDS,” Mandela said on World AIDS Day that year. "We are facing a silent and invisible enemy that is threatening the very fabric of our society.” 

In 2003, Mandela’s foundation launched the 46664 initiative — a concert series that brought AIDS to the forefront of the global conversation that was broadcast to 2 million viewers. The concert raised money for AIDS research and advocacy. Two years later, Mandela announced that his son had died of AIDS, which was said to have normalized the illness in the eyes of many. 

According to Michel Sidibe, head of the UN's Aids agency UNAIDS, Mandela’s campaigning “[laid] the foundations of the modern AIDS response and his influence helped save millions of lives and transformed health in Africa.” 

3. He brought education to rural students