Ten Women Breaking Barriers And Challenging Stereotypes in Africa Who You Ought To Know

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Who run the world? Girls!

Women’s history month is upon us again and as a woman I take pride in femininity and the strides being taken by women all over the world today more so, those of African descent. Patriarchy has made it such that to advance in the world is especially difficult for a woman and racism has made it even harder for African women. Ergo, it strikes much joy to celebrate African women shaking all sectors of life and living in the world, as we know it.

From business women, activists, artists, writers, world leaders and even presidents, African women have proven that we can make it just as our male counterparts, and even better. Here, are ten African women shaking things in and out of Africa, who you ought to know. Tell us about our list, if you agree, and if there is someone who you feel we should have included.

Currently serving as the first female president of Ethiopia and the former director general United Nations office at Nairobi, H.E. Sahle-Work Zewde is a champion of the international Gender Champions whose aim is to demolish gender-based barriers to career advancement. She is at the front line of gender revolution having proven that a woman can lead in a “man’s” world.

In 2019, Avance media named her among the Inaugural list of 100 most influential women in Africa having traced her career in the most powerful organization in the world, the United Nations.

Patriarchy accounts for the appointment of men in most positions of power especially in financial sectors. Florence Iweala, an economist and international development expert managed to not only bring shame to the stereotype that women cannot handle power but also broke down the barriers that stood in her way.

Having recently been appointed director-General of World Trade Organization makes her the first woman and the first African to hold the office. Ngozi Iweala was the first woman to be appointed Nigeria’s finance minister (2003–2006, 2011–2015) who served under two presidents, which also made her the first woman to hold the office twice.

She sits on the board of Standard Chartered, Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization, The African Risk Capacity and Twitter.

Of her many achievements, she was also named the global finance minister of the year by euromoney in 2005. Such a great source of pride for African women today and a role model for young African girls.

She is a political blogger, Pan-African activist, Tunisian diplomat and a feminist who strives to promote intergenerational leadership in her country and beyond. Aya gained popularity in 2010 during her protest for political change in the Tunisian government. She later became the first appointed African Union Envoy on youth in November 2018 in addition to being the youngest diplomat at the African Union Commission Chairperson’s Cabinet.

Women do not thrive much or at all in politics especially in African countries hence, it is celebration-worthy to find a woman championing for change with regard to politics and leadership and leading a mini revolution for the same stand. Not only did her achievements in peacebuilding win her the 2019 Gates Foundation Campaign Award, but she was also named in Forbes’ Africa’s 50 Most Powerful Women and New African Magazine List of 100 most influential Africans.

Making it in the field of film is challenging and more so as a female producer. Ms. Pala thrived against all odds and took a position in her area of passion. She is a producer and co-founder of the Nairobi based Spielworks media and Keja-TV. In 2019 she was appointed the manager of African originals at Netflix. The same year, she was appointed chairperson of Kenya Film Commission.

Ms. Pala has won many accolades for her 18 television shows, 20 web shows and over 40 movies. The film mogul dedicated herself to developing quality and creative talent. She aspire to have her company become an African version of the US motion picture, Universal Pictures. Women all over the continent with a passion in film could find a role model in Ms. Pala.

She a Kenyan film director and producer who won the Africa Movie Academy Award for best director. She has received several awards nominations for her films including best director, best screenplay and best picture for her dramatic picture, From A Whisper. Pumzi, another one of her films, won best short film after having premiered at SUNDANCE film festival and later won the Cannes Independent Film Festival, the silver at Carthage Film Festival and the ‘Citta di Venezia 2010’ award in Venice, Italy.

Rafiki, a lesbian love story put her name on the lips of many Africans because it touched on a topic that Africans would rather not address. The bold move to direct and release the film was received with much resistance by the Kenyan government and was even banned but it set the ball rolling on a conversation that has been long overdue.

As a member of the Afrobubblegum (which is a collective of African artists whose ambition is to create fun, frivolous and fierce work), Wanuri is doing a great job at using film to tell the African story and attempt to curate change with controversial subjects. 

Bonang Matheba is a multi award winning radio host, TV presenter, speaker, entrepreneur and philanthropist.

She was listed in Forbes’ 50 Most Powerful Women in Africa and is on the cover of the Forbes Women Africa March issue. Matheba recently launched her beverage brand, House of BNG, which is further giving her a fast rising trajectory.

She is an ambassador for Global citizen and through the Bonang Matheba Bursary, aims to make tertiary education accessible and available to 300 ladies by 2025. Her drive is to show women that they can create their own narrative and give them an opportunity to do so. She partnered with the One Campaign to fight against poverty and successfully leads the #GirlsCount Campaign.

Matheba has taken a seat at the top as a successful African woman and the best part about it is that she is pulling 300 young women up the ladder with her.

A world renown novelist and feminist whose works have won several awards including the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award, the Orange Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award among othercelebrated victories. She is the proud author of Half A Yellow Sun, Purple Hibiscus, Americanah, The Thing Around Your Neck, We Should All Be Feminists and Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions as her most recent publication.

Chimamanda’s work has been translated into over 30 languages and has appeared in several publications including but not limited to The New Yorker. Most of her books are used as literary study material which put her in the ear of millions of students every year.

One of her major achievements is her 2012 talk, We Should All Be Feminists, which pioneered a worldwide conversation on feminism. The content of the talk was later published as a book in 2014.  

Great women are recognized by the capacity of their heart. Aisha Yusuf is one such woman having co-founded the Bring Back Our Girls Movement after the Chibok Kidnapping in Nigeria by the infamous Boko Haram militants. She played a vital role in the historic anti-Sars protests.

She is also on a campaign protest against police Brutality and she does not shy from voicing her opinion, which makes her a fearless and charismatic activist. The Nigerian people who cannot speak for themselves should count themselves lucky to have someone bravely stand up for them.

She is a founder and executive director, philanthropist, development practitioner, entrepreneur and a social change activist as per her profile on the WHO and UN profiles.

The 25-year-old member of AU’s advisory group of humanitarian effectiveness in Africa who sits on the Botswana Presidential Task Team and serves as a UNICEF Botswana ambassador is also a member of the WHO advisory group for adolescent health. She calls herself the ‘indomitable Gogontlejang’ and deservingly so.

At the age of five, she launched the Gogontlejang Pillar of Hope Project to support children orphaned by HIV and AIDS. She is passionate about transforming the world and believes that young people shape the future. Undoubtedly, she is doing a magnificent job of the same.

Identity is a concept that is socially constructed which requires astounding brevity to fight for. Audry Mbugua is well known for her fight to be recognized and to have trans rights respected. She fiercely pioneered a continental conversation that Africans especially shy away from. It being women’s history month, we cannot fail to celebrate the developments and milestones that women have made throughout history.

As such, Audrey Marked her rightful place in history because of her court victory which led to inclusion as evidenced by the 2019 census which included transpeople in the country. She gave courage to other minorities to fight for their rights when she won against Knec to have her academic papers changed from Andrew to Audry.

Samia Haruna Sanusi, Nigeria.

She is a writer and Sickle Cell awareness advocate. Having experienced Sickle Cell anemia herself, she wrote a memoir of her experience called “S is for Survivor” and “I Wrote This for You” which is yet to be published, is a collection of prose poetry and philosophical quotes.

After six years on a wheelchair, 28 surgeries, chemotherapy and bone marrow transplant, Samira’s story of survival and her work with others who may be affected as she was is a motivation and a ground breaking achievement.   

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  1. Pingback: How We Celebrated Women’s Day in Nairobi Hosted by Women in Social Justice Centers – Gemini Spice Magazine

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