Cherie Blair has been accused of reinforcing stereotypes by telling school children that “most African ladies’ first sexual experience is rape”.
The barrister and women’s rights campaigner made the remark during a talk about women and leadership to pupils at the Cardinal Vaughan Memorial School in London.
The event, entitled ‘the leadership lecture’ was attended by around 100 people, took place on March 20 and was hailed as “very popular” by the school.
However the 64-year-old wife of the former Prime Minister, Tony Blair, has since been criticised for “usurping” the voice of African women.
One audience member at the event, Caitlin, who did not wish to give her surname, told The Guardian that she was surprised by Mrs Blair’s comment.
“No one seemed to react and I was shocked because I felt like she was in a position of authority and should take responsibility for saying things like that without any evidence to support it,” she said.
It is reported that when contacted the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women, said Mrs Blair’s comment referred “to the women she had met and heard directly from in the initial years of the Foundation’s work rather than a specific research piece”.
Chi Onwurah, the Labour MP for Newcastle upon Tyne Central and chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Africa suggested that she pay for the fares and visas for African women to come to the UK and speak for themselves and “undo the insult and injury” of her comments.
“Ms Blair should enable African women to speak for themselves instead of usurping their voice and their experience,” she added.
“Violence against women is a huge problem in many African countries - as it is here - but to characterise African women's sexual experience as rooted in rape undermines the hard work of many to tackle this issue whilst playing to and indeed stoking stereotypes of sexually aggressive African men and passive women.”
Statistics released by Equality Now, which aims to advance the rights of women and girls across the world, show that in Africa, between the ages of 15 and 49, 43 per cent of women have reported having experienced gender-based violence, including sexual violence or abuse.
The Telegraph has requested a comment from Mrs Blair.
The Guardian reported that she said in a statement that her comments “were in answer to a question about adolescent African girls – not African women – missing out on their education for a variety of reasons including early pregnancy”.
She added that it was not her “intent to offend or undermine anyone” with her comments.