Today we will be shading light on the top African women leaders who have broken the bias and lent their voice to gender equality. These women will inspire you to be the best you can be. But, before we start, I’m going to tell you a story.
In 2009, I once asked a young lady in her third year at a Nigerian University what she’d like to do when she was through with her degree. She shrugged and told me that she wanted to get married and have children. When I asked if there was anything else, she just looked at me blandly.
That was over a decade ago. Even then, we had powerful women breaking the cycle of mediocrity among women. We had women fight for their spot among men and not only got it but stood out.
Why Are We Talking About African Women Leaders?
It always feels like women are left behind, or their work is not recognized as it should. Therefore, to celebrate International Women’s Day, we will talk about top African women leaders and what we can learn from them. It will help young women like the University lady I mentioned earlier, believe in a vision, and run with it.
Does this mean that dreaming of caring for the husband and kids isn’t a big deal? Of course not. But why eat half when you can have the whole banana? Spread the message that without the inclusion of half of the globe’s population, no vision can ever be fulfilled.
It will drive home the theme for this year; gender equality today for a sustainable tomorrow. So, if you are an aspiring woman with a knack to #breakthebias and foster a world that’s diverse, equitable, and inclusive, then take a look at these top African women leaders and what you can learn from them.
Top African Women Leaders You Should Know
1. Lelemba Phiri (Zambia)
Lelemba Phiri(Ph.D.) is a gender-lens investor and award-winning educator, author, and keynote speaker. She is a Principal at Africa Trust Group, which manages the ZAR100m Enygma Ventures gender lens fund focused on women entrepreneurs in SADC and the ZAR20m Shift fund focused on post-pandemic solutions.
Lelemba is a director and shareholder in Zoona, an African mobile payments company that helps community entrepreneurs provide much-needed financial services in their communities. And also, Startup Circles is an online accelerator platform that helps entrepreneurs launch their businesses and connect with investors.
In 2012, she attained Shoprite Woman of the Year Nominee. She also received the Rising Star Award for 2010 at the Mwape Peer Awards in Washington DC in recognition of her contribution to financial education in the community, amongst many others.
Lelemba is passionate about Africa and the advancement of women’s leadership. Her mission is to educate and empower women to make positive changes in their lives. She is a firm believer in the power of women to build stronger, more sustainable communities.
Lelema once said, “As women, there are so many boxes that society places us into, and some that we play into ourselves that can limit our lives.
Things like thinking, ‘I’m a mother, so I can’t have a career or ‘There’s a big problem in the operations department, but it’s not in my job description, so I won’t suggest a change that I see would help’.
If you allow yourself to fall prey to these labels, it can be suffocating, and you won’t grow.”
You are not your role or title; evolution is the key to thriving.
2. Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu (Ethiopia)
She is an Ethiopian businesswoman who founded and runs soleRebels, Africa’s “fastest-growing footwear company.” Her shoes are popular for being made from recycled tyres, inner tubes, and organic cotton.
She is also the founder of Garden of Coffee, one of the finest hand-roasted coffees. And a snack company called Tefftastic, which has helped create jobs in her local community.
Alemu has been recognized for her business acumen and her efforts to shift the conversation about Africa away from poverty and toward the continent’s entrepreneurial spirit, social capital, and economic potential.
In 2011 Alemu was chosen by the World Economic Forum as a Young Global Leader. In addition, business Insider named her as one of “Africa’s Top 5 Female Entrepreneurs in 2012. She has also received mentions from CNN, Forbes, Guardian and bagged a couple of awards.
Alemu seeks to challenge the traditional narrative about Africa. She countered the shibboleth that Africa and Africans don’t know how to create their way to prosperity.
Create opportunities not only for yourself but also for your community.
3. Damilola Odufuwa (Nigeria)
She began her career at MTV Shuga, a 360-degree campaign that combines TV digital media to educate young people about HIV, sexual violence, and other issues. Damilola has since worked as an editor-in-chief and producer for local and international media outlets such as CNN, Konbini, Zikoko, and others.
She is also one of the co-founders of Wine & Whine- an online community, women’s event, and social enterprise for Nigerian women that addresses issues ranging from sexual violence to financial literacy. In addition, she is the Feminist Coalition co-founder and currently works as Head of PR for Africa at Binance.
Damilola was named one of the ‘100 Most Inspiring Women in Nigeria in 2018’ by Leading Ladies Africa. And she is a 2019 honoree of OkayAfrica’s ‘Okay 100 Women.’
Odufuwa also incorporates her success and talents into her activism, particularly as it concerns Black women. According to her, it is about creating opportunities for Black women to succeed, generating financial power for women, and achieving gender equality in society.
Everyone has a different experience in their various African countries, and every one of those experiences is real.
4. Elizabeth Akua Ohene(Ghana)
There were no other female reporters at her paper when Elizabeth started as a journalist in 1967. After five years as a reporter, she was promoted to editor, making her the first African woman to edit a major national daily newspaper.
She was forced to flee the country with her eight-year-old son after becoming critical of Jerry Rawlings’ then-government. Elizabeth lived in exile for 19 years. She worked as a BBC reporter in the UK, where she was a member of the award-winning BBC Focus on Africa team.
Later, she returned to Ghana to campaign for John Kufuor’s election as President. After that, she served as Minister of State for Tertiary Education under President John Kufuor.
To stand for freedom of the press, expose corrupt public officers who have scourged the country of any progress.
Know your value and be true to yourself. And let your work speak for itself.
5. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala(Nigeria)
Just last year, she became a #BeLikeNgoziChallenge trend on Twitter. Young girls dressed like her, with her signature headgear. And showed that they supported the height she had attained and would like to be like her.
Okonjo-Iweala-Iweala served as Nigeria’s finance minister and worked for the World Bank for 25 years. She is currently the Director-General of the World Trade Organization. As a result of her appointment, she has become the organization’s first African and female leader.
She won African of the Year from Forbes Africa in 2020. The Women’s Economic Empowerment Award, WEConnect International in 2017, Global Leadership Award, 2010 and 2011, etc.
To give our children good jobs, build our economy, and give African women a voice.
When it comes to doing your job, keep your ego in your handbag.
6. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Africa’s first democratically elected woman president, guided Liberia through reconciliation and recovery, following a decade-long civil war and responding to the 2014-2015 Ebola crisis.
She was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011 for her efforts to include women in the peacekeeping process. She has received a slew of other honours for her leadership. Sirleaf was elected Chair of the Economic Community of West African States in June 2016, making her the first woman to hold the position since its inception.
To issue girls, her sisters, daughters, friends, and women everywhere a simple invitation to find their voice.
Leadership is never given on a silver platter. One has to earn it.
7. Farida Charity (Uganda)
Farida Charity is a community leader and peace advocate who supports peace initiatives in Yumbe, a conflict-affected district in Northern Uganda.
Charity began her activism at a young age when she took part in peace talks with the Uganda National Rescue Front. It resulted in a formal ceasefire agreement between the rebels and the government in 2002.
She has used her position of leadership to advocate for policies that promote peaceful coexistence between the district’s refugee and host communities and for health services for women and girls.
To educate, train, provide accommodation, relief of poverty, community development, and the advancement of health.
Use your position as a leader to uplift and make the life of others better.
8. Alice Banze(Mozambique)
She is a trained social scientist with a 25-year career in government and civil society organizations (Oxfam, Gender Links).
She is the Executive Director of the Gender and Sustainable Development Association. And a member of the African Women Leaders Network, supported by UN Women.
Banze was elected to the National Elections Commission in December 2020. With the support of the Women’s Forum, an umbrella organization of Mozambican women’s rights organizations.
To have a fair representation of women in government.
More women in public life are critical because women play such an important role in developing a country.
9. Hindou Ouramu Ibrahim(Chad)
She has spent the last 20 years working to include indigenous people and their knowledge and traditions in the global discussion about climate change.
She has developed projects that demonstrate the value of indigenous traditional knowledge, particularly for women and girls, as a solution for climate adaptation and mitigation through her Chad-based non-profit Association for Indigenous Women and People Chad.
She looks for underdogs and strives to bring out the best in them wherever she goes.
You have to bring different parties together to create a solution.
10. Obiageli Ezekwesili(Nigeria)
She is a former World Bank vice president and two-time Nigerian minister who has been at the forefront of the #BringBackOurGirls campaign.
Obiageli Ezekwesili, also known as Oby Ezekwesili, is an economic policy expert, a humanitarian, and an activist who advocates for transparency, accountability, good governance, and Human Capital Development.
I would like to see a lot of people more involved in practical solutions to practical problems. Women have got to the point where we can turn the world upside down.
Don’t be voiceless when you have had the privilege of being educated. You can only become voiceless by choice. You must not make that choice.
Like the top African women leaders we talked about, let’s all aspire to be more. When we are more, we will impact our family, community, society, and economy. As a woman, you can be anything you want to be. See you at the top.