Every year, in the month of March, we celebrate Women’s History Month in the United States and celebrate Women’s Day Internationally. Many women have broken the mold and made history by standing up for their rights, and the rights of others. In honor of this celebration, here are 5 African women who have and are changing our world for the better.
Funmilayo Ransome Kuti
Born in Abeokuta, Funmi Kuti was known for helping to start the Nigerian Women’s Union and the Federation of Nigerian Women Societies. Her organization campaigned for fair treatment of market women in Abeokuta, and protested a special tax that was imposed on women. She expanded her visions from Abeokuta to all of Nigeria and fought for greater education opportunities, sanitary regulations, health care and social services for women. Aside from her advocacy for Nigerian women she was the first woman to drive a car in Nigeria and one of the delegates who helped to negotiate the independence of Nigeria from the British government. Despite being overshadowed by her son Fela Kuti, she was a great woman in her own right
Despite being born into a Harem system that kept women secluded and veiled, Huda Shaarwi influenced men and women in Egypt and the Arab world. Born in 1879 in Egypt, Huda was very educated. Despite being married at the age of 13, she made sure to pursue her education and involved herself in her husband’s political meetings. She created the first philanthropic society run by Egyptian women, because she believed it would change the view that women were created for the pleasure of men. She also opened a school that focused on teaching girls academics instead of things like midwifery. She founded the Egyptian Feminist Union, organized the largest anti-British demonstration, and helped to turn the wearing of veils into a choice. She left a legacy that is still felt today.
Born in the Polokwane District of South Africa in 1874, Charlotte Maxeke was an activist, singer and teacher. After being stranded in the US during a concert tour, she was offered a scholarship to attend Wilberforce University in Ohio and excelled there. She became the first black south African woman to receive a university degree. After returning to South Africa, she helped to organize the anti-pass movement in 1913 and started the Bantu Women’s league in 1918. Along with fighting against passes, she protested for increased wages, and helped to create a union for industrial and commercial workers. She was involved in the multiracial movement and after attending a conference in the USA set up an employment agency for Africans in Johannesburg
CEO of the African Women’s Development Fund, Theo Sowa has worked as an independent adviser to advocate for social development for children’s rights not only in Africa but around the world. Born in Cape Coast, Ghana she has been outspoken about the treatment of women and children and working to make sure that they are protected, including calling out the government of Nigeria for their lack of response concerning the missing Chibok girls. Through her involvement in organizations like UNICEF, the African Union and UNDP she has made a name for herself as one of Africa’s great feminists.
In some of the most tumultuous times for immigrants in the US, people like Illhan are working to make a difference. Born in Somali, she and her family fled their civil war torn country to eventually immigrate to the United States. After years of working on campaigns in her state of Minnesota, she became the director of policy and initiative for the Women Organizing Women Network. She has broken barriers by being the first Somali-American lawmaker in the US. Despite the tension surrounding Muslims in America, she’s giving hope to not only her community but the millions of refugees and Muslims around the world.
There are countless women making changes and improvements, and these 5 are just a sample of the greatness in African Women. Happy Women’s History Month!