7 African Women You Didn’t Know Who Shaped History

The theme for International Women’s Day 2017 is ‘Be Bold For Change’.  It’s about taking action and not being afraid of doing what is necessary for change to happen.  There are many women before us who were trailblazers and ground-breakers invoking change in their communities and beyond.  Today I want to celebrate by recognizing seven African women who you may or may not have heard of, who made great change in their time and continue to inspire with the work they did.


Image thecaribbeancurrent.com

Born in what’s now known as Ghana in 1686, she was a great warrior after being sent to Jamaica as a slave.  She was a leader of the Maroons and was known as a military strategist helping in the fight against attacks by the British troops.  It’s also said that she helped to free many slaves. She not only empowered herself, but the enslaved blacks to break free from the oppressors.


Image Unesco.org

She was the Queen of Ndongo and Matamba. She fought fiercely against the Portuguese during 17th century Angola as they were developing the slave trade which gravely affected that part of Southern Africa.  Mbandi was a very intelligent woman and in 1622 was sent by her brother, who was the King at that time, to negotiate with the Portuguese. She met with Dom João Correia de Sousa who was the Portuguese Governor.  Distinguishing herself as a fervent negotiator, she had the skills to resist the colonial powers.  She fought using tactics in warfare and by forming strategic alliances that served her well in the continued fight until she died in 1663.



Margaret Ekpo. (Image: Wikipedia)

She was a Nigerian women’s rights activist and a Member of the Regional House of Assembly from 1961-1965.  Fueled by her knowledge of civil rights movements for women in other parts of the world, she began demanding the same rights for women in her own country.  She led a movement to stop discrimination and the oppression of women.  As a pioneer and leader of Nigerian women activists, she also founded the Aba Township Women’s Association and worked to put pressure on the political system for the rights of women.She was also a member of the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NGNC), who represented marginalized people.

In 1961 she won a seat to the Eastern Regional House of Assembly, which gave her the ability to continue to fight for issues regarding the progress of women economically, politically and socially.

Margaret Ekpo in her later years. (Image alchetron.com)



Statue of Yaa Asentewa which stands at Edweso in the Ashanti Region of Ghana.

She was a Queen Mother in the Ashanti empire.She led the Ashanti rebellion known as the War of the Golden Stool.  She is still revered today for what she did in the Ashanti kingdom.  She fought in a rebellion against the British, who were seeking refuge in their fort in Kumasi (the fort still exists today).  Her dream was for the Asante people to be free of British rule.  Eventually that was realized through Kwame Nkrumah’s movement which gained Ghana’s independence from the British.


universal press Florida - Mother Kofi
(Image: Universal Press Florida)

Assassinated while she was preaching in Miami, Florida, she was a Ghanaian activist who worked closely with Marcus Garvey as a Field Director at the Universal Negro Improvement Association.  She became a key person in the black nationalist movement, especially after Marcus Garvey was sent to prison for mail fraud in 1925.  During the time of his sentence, she became a strong figure gaining popularity and travelling through other states spreading her message of  Africa’s greatness to the people.  From the Ashanti tribe, she believed she had a strong divine vision that she would be the person to liberate the people in America who had been oppressed for so long.  She wanted to liberate them and show them they could go back to the continent they were taken from.  She talked about the greatness of Africa and how they could be repatriated back to the continent.

Unfortunately, history recorded says that Garvey, became jealous of her popularity and soon began spreading negative words about her and encouraged people to abandon her.  There were even false stories spread about her authenticity as an African person.  Eventually she left the UNIA and formed her own group.

She was killed on March 8, 1923 while delivering a message to a group of people.




Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

In 2006, Sirleaf was sworn in as President of Liberia, making her the first female president in the continent of Africa. She took over the helm of leadership after 25 years of the country being in turmoil through war and military coups.  Her election, in a continent where women were often second class paved the way for women to see they too can be in positions of leadership and insight change in their countries too.



Taytu Betul (1851-1918) Image: http://www.onlineethiopia.net

Taytu Betul was a queen of Ethiopia.  She was also a diplomat and an important figure in the resistance of Italian desires to rule in their country.  She and her husband, Emperor Menelik II were leaders in the army battles against the European colonialists who were aggressively trying to take their land.  Together the husband and wife won a victory that was one of the most significant in the history of Ethiopia.

7.  Nana Konadu-Rawlings 

Image: http://www.nkrawlings.wordpress.com

She is the former First Lady of Ghana, a leader in Ghana’s women’s empowerment movement and the first woman to run for President of Ghana.  When she ran her campaign the motto was #BeBold. A visionary woman, she has been President of the 31st December Movement since 1980.  The NGO is focused on empowering women.  She was quoted as saying “My desire is to see the emancipation of women at every level of development to enable them to contribute and benefit from the socio-economic and political progress of the country.”

Traditionally Ghanaian women didn’t have the same rights as men, but through the 31st December Movement she has taught women that they can actively be involved in the affairs of the country, including the electoral process.

Perhaps one of her most significant achievement was the role she played in the Intestate Succession Law.  Traditionally women had no rights to inheritance when their spouses died.  This law applies to survivors of anyone who dies without a will.  It provided a standard inheritance for the spouse left behind.







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