African advocates of equality A list of powerful women
(Hilda Berg | Febuary 28th, 2023)
(Hilda Berg | Febuary 28th, 2023)
Meaza Ashenafi: A lawyer, legal activist, and civil rights advocate. The first female chief justice of the Ethiopian Supreme Court and the founder of the Ethiopian Women’s Lawyer Association addressed severe violations plaguing women and girls. She helped draft the current Ethiopian constitution, which for the first time, ensured women were represented in the national constitution.
Glanis Changachirere: a Zimbabwean women’s rights activist and the founding director of the Institute for Young Women Development, an organization promoting the political participation of young women in Zimbabwe’s marginalized communities. She became an activist after growing up in a deeply patriarchal and rural province and observing the severe barriers facing women who attempt to pursue an education.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: a Nigerian feminist writer who is globally recognized for her inspiring words. Adapted from a TEDx talk she gave that has been viewed 7.9 million times to date, her New York Times best-selling book ‘We Should All Be Feminists’ embodied the idea of bringing new perspectives into the conversation.
Sahle-Work Zewde: the first woman to ever hold presidential office in Ethiopia and a constant advocate for more female representation in government. Following her appointment, Ethiopia historically established a cabinet of ministers equally divided by gender, allowing for high-ranking positions to be occupied by a woman.
Undeniably, a list of strong, selfless and inspiring women. Thankfully, there are many of those around the world, continuously working tirelessly to improve the reality of being a woman, so why are the names mentioned above singled out? Well, they all are African. They all come from the same continent which is constantly stigmatized by numerous cultures, resulting in long-lasting internal conflicts and extreme consequences to arise. Sadly, like with many other instances, these consequences often end up targeting women the most. Take climate change as an example. Although being an existential issue facing all life on earth, it will be women of color that fare the worst from the effects of it. Due to the deeply rooted, global patriarchal system (that has its claws so deep in the status quo, one must arguably reconstruct the entire foundation to get rid of it), women will always (more or less) be those who bear the heaviest burden on their backs. In addition to this, the historical colonization and constant exploitation of Africa as a whole does nothing to lighten this load on women. If anything, the process of dehumanization exercised on women of color, specifically African women, adds to the already existing weight of being a woman. That, in addition to their general, feminist awesomeness, is why the women mentioned above are so important to recognize as people who change the world. As advocates who are not only changing the status quo but actually tearing down the entire thing and building an improved version in its place, they deserve the world. Actually, they deserve more than the world, because it is glaringly obvious that the world has no intention of giving these women the respect they rightfully deserve.
Although it brings me no pride to admit so, I can honestly say that I had never heard of any of these women, with the exception of Chimamanda, before starting my research as a blog writer for WIP. Sadly, yet not surprisingly, I don’t believe to be alone in that regard. Despite their enormous contribution to the future of women and girls across the globe, the world seems content to keep them hidden, in the shadows of other, more established figures. They are the embodiment of the infinite list of the powerful, forgotten women who have changed the foundation of an entire content. They are the African advocates of equality who, despite facing the misogyny and hate from so many, continue to wake up each morning and believe in the possibilities of a world where no girl has to worry about being married off to a man three times her age. A world where a woman can pursue her dreams and not be scared that it will ‘ruin’ her family’s reputation. A world where a woman doesn’t have to fear the very man that is supposed to love her the most, wondering if she has seen the sun rise for the last time. This is the world which these strong African women dream about, and for that, they are some of the world’s greatest heroes.
I feel like it is a very loaded act for me, as a white, privileged European girl, to take on the great responsibility of writing about Africa’s fight for gender equality and communicating this to a wide range of an audience. My country has, throughout history, been a very active participant in the exploitation and degradation of the different ethnicities of Africa, contributing to the deep systematic oppression of women all across the continent, and somehow I still feel entitled enough to be the one talking about it. Yet, there is a reason that Africa is not the only continent experiencing deeply patriarchal and misogynistic societies. It is a global issue, affecting women of all nationalities, socio-economic statuses and cultures. No woman is immune to the effects, so could this oppressive unification also be the solution to the problem? If all women and girls feel the same oppression, just through different effects and in different severities, then isn’t the answer to fighting back unifying a solid power? I understand the moral complexities of someone of my background writing about issues that I have never had to face, but if we can share these linked experiences of misogyny globally, won’t that make us just that more powerful? As I mentioned earlier, I feel no pride in admitting my lack of knowledge of different African ethnicities, cultures, and the issues they face, but a start is always a start, and by acknowledging some truly amazing voices, we are already taking the first leap in extending our understanding of a patriarchal world. A world that, no matter where you are, doesn’t want women to speak up, because when they do, just like Meaza, Chimamanda, Glanis and Sahle-Work have done, change happens. Girls grow up seeing people just like themselves raising their voice, standing up against injustice, making a difference, and that inspiration is dangerous to the patriarchal beast. The beast that exists in all aspects of society: political, social, economic, you name it. By highlighting these women and their incredible work, I am starving that beast of its livelihood just a bit more, and perhaps that is the reason for my self-declared right to speak on the gender inequality facing Africa. It is certainly a large continent, and I doubt I can cover the complete abuse of women across the entire continent, but sometimes, four inspiring stories of four inspiring women is all you need to start beating into the belly of the beast.
“From Women’s Rights Activist to Supreme Court Chief: Meet Meaza Ashenafi.” The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor, 20 May 2019, https://www.csmonitor.com/World/Africa/2019/0520/From-women-s-rights-activist-to-Supreme-Court-chief-meet-Meaza-Ashenafi.
“Glanis Changachirere (Zimbabwe).” World Movement for Democracy, 21 Mar. 2019, https://www.movedemocracy.org/person/glanis-changachirere-zimbabwe.
Glanis Changachirere – National Endowment for Democracy. https://www.ned.org/fellows/ms-glanis-changachirere/.
“Meaza Ashenafi.” Equality Now, 28 Sept. 2022, https://www.equalitynow.org/30-for-30/meaza-ashenafi/.
“Ten African Women Leaders We Admire.” Africa, https://africa.unwomen.org/en/news-and-events/stories/2021/03/ten-african-women-leaders-we-admire.
Tithila, Kohinur Khyum. “Sahle-Work Zewde Just Became Ethiopia’s First Female President.” Ms. Magazine, 2 Mar. 2019, https://msmagazine.com/2018/10/31/sahle-work-zewde-just-became-ethiopias-first-female-president/.