2016 was undeniably the year of the African woman.

African women broke boundaries, they challenged the status quo, they had a voice and they broke records. Here are some of those inspiring African women who kicked ass in 2016:

Ilhan Omar

Ilhan is the first Somali-American, Muslim woman legislator in the USA. The 34-year-old refugee from Mogadishu won a seat in Minnesota’s House of Representatives on November 8, as a self-styled progressive.

It will be interesting to see what she accomplishes in Trump’s America.

Ruth Negga

Every movie award season has its sweetheart. Previously, it has been Lupita Nyong’o but this year Ruth Negga is the actress everyone is talking about. Her role in Loving is currently up for Best Actress gong at The Critic’s Choice Movie Awards and The Golden Globes. She is also featured on the latest cover of American Vogue.

Mngqengqiswa, Ayesha Salie and Bhanekazi Tandwa

These three young ladies are spearheading the group of South African schoolgirls that are preparing to launch the continent’s first private satellite into orbit.

A total of 14 teenagers are currently being trained by satellite engineers as a part of a project by South Africa’s Meta Economic Development Organisation (MEDO) and Morehead State University. The satellite will use data transmitted to determine the problems Africa will be faced with in the future, and is an opportunity to engage more African women into STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics).

The students of Pretoria Girls High School

It was an inspiring moment for all young, black women across the globe when the pupils at Pretoria High School for Girls protested about being forced to chemically straighten their hair and not have ‘untidy afros’. The students held rallies at the school to voice their anger against the alleged longstanding rule. The hashtag #StopRacismAtPretoriaGirlsHigh used more than 150,000 times on Twitter.

Esther Mahlangu

Esther’s unique artwork has made headlines this year. She decorated a BMW series 7 that was exhibited at this year’s Frieze Fair in London and she collaborated with luxury vodka brand Belvedere on a massive campaign to tackle AIDS. Mahlangu also partnered with Swedish sneaker brand Eytys to create a special embodied sneaker; and finally got her artwork featured on British Airways planes. Not bad for an 81-year-old woman in 2016!

South African artist Esther Mahlangu © ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP/Getty Images
Mpho Tutu van Furth

Desmond Tutu’s daughter caused an uproar when she stepped down from the South African Anglican Church, and her father’s foundation, in order to marry Marceline van Furth. She makes our list because there is nothing bolder than giving up everything up for the right to love.

Mpho Tutu van Furth and her father, Desmond Tutu © Thos Robinson/Getty Images
Bozoma Saint John

The Ghana-born executive is head of global consumer marketing for iTunes and Apple Music and  first made waves in June when she astounded the crowd at Apple’s annual Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco. She is now officially 2016’s executive of the year and Billboard Music named her number one on their list of the Top 100 Most Powerful Women in Music.

Karate Grandmas of Kenya

These martial art matriarchs are the definition of BAD ASS. Ranging from the age of 60 – 100 (yup!) the grandmothers from the Korogocho slum in Kenya are fighting fire with fire to combat the shanty town’s robbery and rape crisis.

Nigerian Bobsled Team

Seun Adigun, Ngozi Onwumere, and Akuoma Omeoga – Nigeria’s bobsled team – are looking to make history for by qualifying for the 2018 Winter Games. Adigun sees the potential feat as a win for people across the globe. A GoFundMe page has been set up by the team to help support their pursuits.

Phiona Mutesi

Phiona has single-handedly made chess cool. The queen of Katwe has inspired so many people that not only has Disney made a movie about her, she has also been challenged to a game by chess champ (and billionaire) Bill Gates. Mutesi still plays chess today in the hopes of fulfilling her dream of becoming a Grandmaster.

Amma Asante

There is a lack of female directors. There is even more of a lack of female AND African directors. Despite the film industry’s rigidness, Amma Asante has come out on top and disrupted expectations with her film A United Kingdom: the true story of the forbidden love of King Seretse Khama of Botswana (David Oyelowo) and Ruth Williams (Rosamund Pike), a white woman from London. The film is in the running for awards as well as Amma herself.

Amma Asante © ODD ANDERSEN/AFP/Getty Images
Itunu Hotonu

Admiral Itunu Hotonu is notable as the first woman to attain the rank of Rear Admiral (a two-star General), in the Nigerian Navy. This post makes her the highest ranking female officer in the Nigerian Armed forces.

Fatma Samba Diouf Samoura

Madame Fatma, previously a Senegalese Senior United Nations (UN) official, was appointed as first female and non-European Secretary General of FIFA on 13 May 2016.

Fatma Samba Diouf Samoura, FIFA Secretary General © Daniel Smith/Getty Images for Soccerex
The women of ‘Eclipsed’

Eclipsed made history as the first play on Broadway to be totally written, directed and performed by women of African descent. Penned by Zimbabwean-American actress and playwright Danai Gurira, directed by the South African-born Liesl Tommy and starring Lupita Nyong’o, Saycon Sengbloh, Zainab Jah, Pascale Armand and Akosua Busia. Eclipsed tells the story of a group of courageous Liberian women during the country’s civil war.


Kid comedienne, Emmanuella Samuel has received an award from YouTube, for her popular comedy video series ‘Mark Angel Comedy’ at the Sub-Saharan African YouTube Awards 2016. Most certainly one to watch.