From the first ever African woman to take command of a navy vessel to that little-known Kenyan actress who’s in the latest Star Wars, here’s our list of the African women who powered change in their own individual ways this year.
‘I’d like to encourage other women to be brave enough and not think that this is a man’s world. You can achieve anything you want to achieve.’
Zimasa Mabela grew up under apartheid in a South African village just two hours drive from the ocean, but she was 18 by the time she first saw the sea.
Now, aged 38, not only is she is the first black African woman to command a South African naval vessel but she is the first ever African woman to take command of a navy vessel.
At the age of 28, Lieutenant Ouma Laouali on October 21 became the first female pilot in Niger. She was one of the Nigerien Airforce members trained by the United States as part of a programme to help fight the Islamist terrorist group, Boko Haram.
‘The fact that there are those who have and those who don’t have, the fight for equality and access for all keeps me going.’
Before the #FeesMustFall campaign began, she was just another undergrad passionate about politics. But Nompendulo went from a student in the classroom to a leader in the streets when she took a stand and led a march with other students to Luthuli House to speak boldly of their grievances to the ANC Secretary General Gwede Mantashe. You can follow her on Twitter at @Ulo_Mkat
‘No matter where you are from, your dreams are valid.’
She first appeared on the big screen as Patsey in 12 Years a Slave, but 2015 was truly the year for Lupita Nyong’o as she established herself as a Hollywood star. She was a Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue cover star; she was dedicated an official ‘day’ in Harlem, New York (October 20); and she stars in the latest Star Wars film. Not bad for 2015!
‘You could say that proving doubters wrong is something that happens a lot in life. Some call it fate; others call it karma; I call it God. It can’t just be me pulling the strings.’
Women football star, Olympian and also a first class lawyer, Lagos-born Eniola Aluko is making waves not just in premiership football, but also in the international games. She continues to challenge ideals that women football is not a ‘real’ sport by proofing to be better than ‘most of the boys’! Aluko became the first woman ever to appear as a television pundit on the BBC’s Match of the Day programme in September 2014.
Follow her at @EniAlu for some pretty inspirational tweets.
‘We are sleepwalking if we don’t match education to the labour market.’
Hadeel Ibrahim, daughter of Sudanese-born British mobile telecoms billionaire Mo Ibrahim, is the founding executive director of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation. With a contact network that ranges from Bono to Bill Clinton, she also runs the Africa Centre in New York (a personal project she launched in Summer 2014), and in May 2015, she was appointed to the United Nations (UN) Secretary General’s panel of experts to address humanitarian funding shortfalls.
‘Lots of people said “how can you work in the bush when you are a lady?…” But I can do anything I want.’
Aptly called The Black Mambas, after the longest species of venomous snake on the African continent, this team is the world’s first all-female, anti-poaching patrol unit.
The ladies work throughout game reserves and national parks in South Africa protecting endangered animals and tackling the rhino poaching crisis like a female ‘A-team’ squad. These ladies are pretty bad-ass!
‘I’ve had business sense since I was very young. I sold chicken eggs when I was six.’
Her investments and net worth have made her as controversial as her father, President Jose Eduardo dos Santos of Angola. However one cannot deny that being Africa’s first billionaire woman makes Isabel someone of interest. From nightclubs to telecoms, media, retail, finance, and energy, she has played a leading role in the economy and development of the African continent and has been instrumental in the way international investors look at Africa.
Whatever you may think of her, Dos Santos is on a path to world domination.
Ethiopian Airlines made headlines with their first all-female operated flight which took off on November 19.
But it was actually Air Zimbabwe who took off first; their all-female crew flew on November 13 from Harare to Victoria Falls.
Looks like a lot of African women are taking to the skies.