These women are African, and whether they live on the continent or in the Diaspora, their work, activism, and inspiration are dedicated towards creating more equitable communities, social justice, and a better world for African women and men.
I could list a 100 of these women, but for the purposes of this feature will highlight 5 (younger) African change makers from the continent and Diaspora.
I first met Amina Doherty at the 2011 Women’s Funding Network conference held in Brooklyn, New York. She had recently read about me in an ARISE magazine feature, and through an email exchange from a mutual friend we realized that right at that point in time we were attending the same conference, and arranged to meet up. In the years since, I have been inspired by Amina’s passion, hard work, and multi-faceted creativity. In the time I have known her, Amina has moved from London to Jamaica, served as the founding coordinator of FRIDA | The Young Feminist Fund; volunteered with the Lil Raggamuffin summer camp which works with children aged between 5 – 16 to develop their artistic creativity, serves on the boards of the Global Fund for Women and Just Associates (JASS), is an advisor to Mama Cash and the Match International Women’s Fund and provides communications support to the African Women’s Development Fund. She currently works with the Association for Women’s Rights in Development mapping trends around the role and influence of the private sector in development. Amina describes herself as an Artivist (an Activist and Artist); her mediums are varied and include photography, painting and writing. She documents African women’s stories through her writing, and memorably delivered a powerful speech to the United Nations General Assembly on the ‘…Contributions of Women, the Young, and Civil Society to the Post-2015 Development Agenda’ where she stated:
“… we recognise the critical importance of women’s participation in this process. Hundreds of women-led solutions from women’s movements have already led to some of the most fundamental shifts in knowledge and thinking around social, environmental and economic justice, human rights and sustainable development. From co-operatives and social solidarity economy initiatives, to women advocates participating in expert meetings and multilateral meetings in fora such as this, to ICT’s, crowdsourcing platforms and women’s funds, it is crucial to recognise this leadership, knowledge and expertise. Women’s and civil society’s right to participate in local, national, regional and international decision-making processes must be fully supported and fulfilled.”
Amina Doherty is of Nigerian ancestry, describes herself as a transnational (African) feminist whose homes include Jamaica, Antigua, the U.K. and Nigeria. Her personal Tumblr pages ‘SheRoxLox’ and ‘Following Her Footsteps’ are a personal source of inspiration to me.
“What inspires me to work with young people at Dandelion Kenya are my own personal experience, I had no immediate role models to look up to, neither did I have information I needed to succeed having grown up in one of Nairobi’s biggest slums, Mukuru. I was also a witness and a victim of how SRHR issues were neglected. In a slum, health issues such as hygiene, sanitation and communicable diseases are given more attention. For example I did not have access to sanitary towels during my growing up until when I was 16 years, despite this, there were no interventions like those being set up now.”
I met Catherine whilst participating in the ‘Gender, Media and Film Advocacy Workshop’ organized by Ssonke Gender Justice, STEPS and WITNESS in March 2014, at the University of Cape Town, South Africa. Catherine has an undeniable passion for the personal development of young people in Kenya. She is the Deputy Director for Dandelion Kenya, which works with young people, marginalized women’s groups and schools. Catherine is particularly passionate about the development programme she runs in schools teaching children about reproductive health, gender equality and life skills. She uses films, poetry, drama, debates and panel discussions to address subjects around sexuality, HIV/AIDS, teen pregnancy, which can be extremely difficult to talk about in conservative patriarchal societies, yet are absolutely essential to helping young people grow up to become confident, well rounded adults. Catherine has engaged with various global policy processes including: ICPD Beyond 2014 review, Beijing +20 Review and the Post 2015 development agenda as part of the African Youth Task Force on Post 2015. She was part of the Kenyan government delegation to the 48th session of the United Nations Commission on Population and Development where young people’s issues were at the heart of the commission’s agenda, and has been selected to participate in the Women Deliver Young Leaders Program, a 3 year fellowship for 200 young leaders working to advance women and girls health, with a focus on sexual and reproductive health and rights.
When I asked Catherine what inspired her to continue to do the work that she does she said,
“What has touched me when working with young adolescents is the willingness with which they embrace opportunities to express their ideas on development, articulate complex issues in simple language and open their world to new possibilities. One of our projects under the youth program is called HAVE YOUR SAY. One of the girls first wrote a poem that we read in one of our forums and she was then inspired to write poems about drug and substance abuse, FGM [female genital mutilation], and Gender equality amongst others. The girls are also very willing to share information and inspire social change and we now have 2 girls with their own community projects, one has a community project educating young girls against FGM and the other has a project mentoring young kids in church”.
2010, Dakar, Senegal was when and where I met Fatma Emam. Through her I have learnt of the Nubian community in Egypt, and the marginalization the community faces in wider Egyptian society. I have been inspired by Fatma’s activism across various spaces – challenging elders within the Nubian community who like many African elders across the continent sometimes prefer for younger people to be of service, yet not heard; her involvement in the Egyptian revolution alongside countless other Egyptian women, and her decision to stop wearing the hijab after being veiled for 14 years. Fatma is clear that this decision is a political one, and one she made after reading widely and being particularly influenced by the likes of Gamal el Banna and Prof Amina Wadud. On her blog ‘Brownie’, she posted on the 19th of June 2011 that her turning point in deciding to unveil was the revolution. In her words,
“…I felt that if we can fight for a country, and cannot fight for ourselves, then we are not free. I came to a point where I hated my hypocrisy. I knew that this decision will open the doors of hell, but I was not wise enough and I unveiled myself.
I want to say that what struck me the polarization of the Egyptian society, that on a side the conservative powers, which includes my family, my extended family, neighbors, and many others categories of the Egyptian society , and on the other hand the progressive powers which includes the Human rights defenders , academics and journalists who constitute my social cycle . I hated unstopping nagging and the covered threats of my family and I hated the extra warm congratulations of my progressive friends. My feeling now that I am shaping my new way , I do not feel liberated or gained a right , rather I feel that I reconciled with my belief.”
It is clear that being politically active is important to Fatma. In her article on ‘Being Nubian in Egypt, and in the constitution’ she stated:
“When I participated in drafting our demands in the [Egypt’s] constitution, I never thought that some of our demands would go through. But whether we would eventually win or lose, we still demanded our full rights. We demanded recognition that Egypt belongs to the motherland, Africa, recognition of Nubian as a local language, and recognition of Nubian culture as part of Egyptian heritage and the need to preserve it. We demanded the right to return to the land of Nubia (around the lake), and we demanded that the population be consulted in the decision-making process for development of their land. Finally, we demanded that Nubian history be part of the school curricula and recognition of Egypt’s multiculturalism.”
#TechNeedsGirls is the hashtag that initially drew my attention to Regina Agyare, founder of the software company Soronko Solutions. A coder, and social entrepreneur, Regina has demonstrated commitment to developing more girls and young women with the skills needed to work in the technological sector. Regina was inspired to start this initiative because:
“When I was younger I wanted to build a rocket and even draw a prototype for it. I took it to my physics teacher for help and he said that it was impossible, girls don’t build rockets and my place would eventually be in the kitchen. When I wanted to study computer science I was told technology is for boys. I was even denied a management position because as a technology department it would not look right for a young female to head it. Through out my life I have had to fight for a place in technology which is a male dominated field. Because of this I learnt never to let anyone stand in the way of your dream, to lead and that I am needed and have a place in technology. Tech needs girls is my attempt to ensure that the next generation of African women find their place in technology as creators of technology”
Most recently I have been impressed with Regina’s commitment to teaching young women in Nima (one of Accra’ least privileged areas) to code through a mentorship programme. Her hard work has deservedly received global recognition including a video feature on CNN, and a visit from the Crown Princess of Sweden.
In my previous life as a Communications Specialist for the African Women’s Development Fund (AWDF), I travelled across the continent meeting many of AWDF’s grantee partners, and some of the beneficiaries of the work they do. In June 2013, I took part in a monitoring visit to Women in Successful Careers (WISCAR) in Nigeria where I first met Maureen Iyasele. At the time, Maureen was a participant in a WISCAR mentorship programme which supports professional women in entry and mid level positions. Maureen is a trained engineer, and after a number of years of working in the Oil and Gas industry decided that she wanted to work more directly with young people, and help to address the huge levels of unemployment that her country Nigeria has. That desire led her to found Job Mag, a walk in centre where job seekers can walk in and at little or no cost receive support to secure employment.
Maureen shares that:
“My initial idea was to start a ‘job centre’ but after a few months, we quickly realized that the young individuals who walked through our doors lacked capacity and therefore weren’t getting good jobs. As a result we began to change our model into a ‘capacity building’ centre instead. We have since helped over a thousand young individuals through our employability, career coaching and job placement programs directly and several more indirectly. Now we get lots of random thank you text messages and emails, when we started we thought we were just doing our jobs.”
Her organization has to date supported over 1,000 Nigerians to access the job market. In 2011, she was recognized as a ‘Naija Diamond’, as part of an inspirational documentary series that celebrates young Nigerians making a difference in their communities. She is a Vital Voices Fellow and a member of Women in Business and Management.