March is International Women’s Month and while we here at Clutch celebrate our women all year long, we thought we’d highlight twenty-one extra special sisters who are doing big things to make a difference all over the world. Whether in law, politics, the media or civil society, each of these women are working hard to change the world in their own unique way.
So, in honor of our sisters around the world we celebrate their successes, in no particular order, and draw inspiration from their achievements as if they were our own.
Judge Kuenyehia is one of three female African judges at the International Criminal Court of Justice in The Hague, Holland and is also its first vice-president. The ICC prosecutes and bring to justice those responsible for the worst crimes—genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes—committed anywhere in the world. A former lecturer in criminal law, gender law and international human rights law at the University of Ghana, Judge Kuenyehia has co-authored several books and influential papers on how law is interpreted and implemented in Africa.
Portia Simpson-Miller became Jamaica’s first female prime minister when she came to power in 2006 and only the third woman to become prime minister in the English-speaking Caribbean. Although she lost the premiership in the last elections, Simpson-Miller’s ascent to the top of her country’s political ladder cannot be ignored.
3. Condoleezza Rice (USA)
Love her or loathe her, United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice can’t be ignored.
Asha-Rose Migiro is a Tanzanian lawyer and politician who, on January 5, 2007, was named Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations. She was formally appointed and assumed office on February 5. Before her appointment, she was Tanzania’s Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation. Another Tanzanian, Prof Anna Tibaijuka, who serves as a UN under-secretary general and the Executive Director of the United Nations Human Settlement Programme, was the highest ranking African woman in the UN system prior to Rose-Migiro’s appointment.
For overcoming a brutal genocide that the world chose to ignore and rebuilding their war-torn country with dignity.
Valerie Amos was born in Guyana but rose to become Leader of the UK’s House of Lords and Lord President of the Council. When she was appointed Secretary of State for International Development in 2003 she became the first black woman to sit in the Cabinet of the United Kingdom. Later she was nominated to become the European Union special representative to the African Union by Prime Minsiter Gordon Brown but after an independent selection process, Belgian diplomat Koen Vervaeke was chosen to represent the EU in Addis Ababa.
The wife of reggae legend Bob Marley is a legend in her own right, both as a Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter and philanthropist. Nana Rita, as she is known in Ghana, her adopted homeland, has created a foundation to improve the lives of poor people around Africa and the Caribbean. Click here to read our interview with Rita Marley.
Affectionately known as the Iron Lady, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf became Africa’s first female head of state when she was elected president of Liberia in 2005 aged 67. With a political career spanning over thirty years, Johnson-Sirleaf was sentenced to ten years in prison before being allowed to leave the country as an exile. During the 1980s she served as Vice President of both the African Regional Office of Citibank, in Nairobi, and of (HSCB) Equator Bank, in Washington as well as other senior positions with international organizations including the World Bank. Johnson-Sirleaf has been credited with bringing stability to a previously war-torn country.
How many women can be linked so vociferously to both the African struggle for independence and the American civil rights battle? Otherwise known as Mama Africa, Makeba received a Grammy Award for an album that dealt with the political plight of black South Africans under Apartheid. But after an impassioned testimony before the United Nations Committee Against Apartheid, her records were banned in South Africa and her South African citizenship was revoked. Her marriage to Black Panthers leader Stokely Carmichael in 1968 caused controversy in the United States, and her record deals and tours were cancelled. The couple moved to Guinea, where they became close with President SÃ©kou TourÃ©. Makeba separated from Carmichael in 1973, and continued to tour. She served as a Guinean delegate to the United Nations, for which she won the Dag HammarskjÃ¶ld Peace Prize in 1986.
Listed as one of most powerful women in the world by Forbes magazine, LuÃsa Dias Diogo has been prime minister of Mozambique since February 2004, the country’s first woman to do so. Before becoming prime minister she was minister of planning and finance, and she continued to hold that post until February 2005. Mozambique, which at its independence in 1975 was one of the world’s poorest countries, is gaining popularity for its remote beach resorts. Another boon: The finance ministers of the Group of Eight nations agreed to cancel an estimated $55 billion of debt owed by 18 poor African nations, including Mozambique.
As the first female Finance Minister in Nigeria, and then briefly Foreign Affairs Minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala was the first woman to hold either position and attacked corruption to make the country more desirable for foreign investment and job creation. Now as a director of the World Bank and head of the Makeda Fund, she works for change in all of Africa. During her tenure as Finance Minister, she got the government to unlink its budget from the price of oil, its main export, to lessen perennial cashflow crises, and got oil companies to publish how much they pay the government. Okonjo-Iweala is a former World Bank vice president who graduated from Harvard and earned a Ph.D. in regional economics and development at MIT.
South Africa deputy prime minister, the first woman to hold this position.
Namibia’s minister of finance.
Award-winning author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was born in Nigeria in 1977. She earned a degree in communication and political science at Eastern Connecticut State University, and during her senior year she started working on her first novel, “Purple Hibiscus”. The book has received wide critical acclaim: it was shortlisted for the Orange Fiction Prize (2004) and was awarded the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best First Book. Her second novel, Half of a Yellow Sun, is set before and during the Biafran War. Chimamanda divides her time between Nigeria and the United States and is pursuing graduate work in the African Studies program at Yale.
Grammy-winning singer Angelique Kidjo released her last album Djin Djin in 2007, which featured guest appearances by, among others, Carlos Santana, Alicia Keys and Branford Marsalis. She has been a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador since 2002 and founded The Batonga Foundation, which gives girls a secondary school and higher education so they can take the lead in changing Africa by granting scholarships, building secondary schools, increasing enrollment, improving teaching standards, providing school supplies, supporting mentor programs, exploring alternative education models and advocating for community awareness of the value of education for girls.
In 2004 Kenyan environmentalist Wangari Maathai became the first African woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize for “her contribution to sustainable development, democracy and peace.” In 1977, Maathai founded the Green Belt Movement, a grassroots environmental non-governmental organization, which has now planted over 30 million trees across Kenya to prevent soil erosion. In December 2002, Professor Maathai was elected to parliament with an overwhelming 98% of the vote. She was subsequently appointed Assistant Minister for Environment, Natural Resources and Wildlife in Kenya’s ninth parliament.
June Arunga is a journalist and law graduate. She wrote and presented the 2004 BBC documentary on Africa, The Devil’s Footpath and was the co-presenter with the former president of Ghana, Jerry Rawlings in 2005 BBC documentary Africa: Who is to Blame? She previously studied law at the University of Nairobi in Kenya and directed youth programs at the Inter-Region Economic Network- (IREN-Kenya). June is a Member of the Board of Advisors for Global Envision a pro-market organization in the United States and Grassroot Institute of Hawaii, a public policy non-profit.
With the opening of her school for girls in South Africa, Oprah realized a lifelong dream and brought hope to hundreds of young girls whose life opportunities would otherwise have been non-existent and blighted by poverty.
Iman made history as the first black woman to appear on the cover of Vogue. Soon afterwards, she became the first black model to sign a cosmetics contract. She is CEO of IMAN Cosmetics, Skincare & Fragrances, a line she launched to market a selection of products towards Black women. Iman is a spokesperson for Keep a Child Alive, which provides drugs to HIV/AIDS children and families in Africa and India.
Sudanese supermodel Alek Wek fled to Britain to escape civil war in 1991 and was discovered at an outdoor market in London in 1995 by a model scout. She has appeared in ads and walked the runway for high-profile fashion designers including John Galliano, Donna Karan, Calvin Klein and Ermanno Scervino. Wek launched a range of designer handbags, Wek 1933, and is a member of the U.S. Committee for Refugees’ Advisory Council, helping to raise awareness about the situation in Sudan, as well as the plight of refugees worldwide. Last year, she released an autobiography, documenting her journey from a childhood of poverty in Sudan to the catwalks of Europe.
Although best known these days for her antics off the catwalk, let’s not forget that British-born supermodel Naomi Campbell blazed a trail in the 1990s by becoming the first black model to appear on the cover of Vogue (international editions). To date, Campbell has graced the covers of over 500 magazines worldwide. She’s also managed to outlast most of her supermodel peers by continuing to be in demand on the catwalks of Europe and America. Her charity work, particularly with former South African president Nelson Mandela, though largely unreported, is testimony to her strength of character and determination.