Across Africa and in the Diaspora, a class of women has led the charge for gender justice equality, and inclusion. These women emerged as bold, non-conforming, unapologetic voices echoing a resounding ‘NO!’ at traditional norms, and roles, and systemic injustices that have plagued women in African society.
In this article, we cast a light on the impactful work of ten feminist revolutionaries of African origin. These women have marched on the streets, led organizations, influenced boardrooms and newsrooms, and written award-winning books and highly accredited papers, carving out a path for the next generation of African Feminists who will turn the African continent right side up, and shake off the constraints that stifled generations of African women.
Aya Chebbi — She is a passionate Pan-African feminist and diplomat from Tunisia whose mission is crystal clear: championing the liberation of African women and girls. Aya first stepped into the limelight as a loud voice for democracy during Tunisia’s Revolution in 2010/2011, ultimately toppling a twenty-three-year dictatorship. She has since been recognised as a beacon of youth leadership, impacting over a million young people in Africa.
Aya was the African Union’s first-ever Special Envoy on Youth, serving as the youngest diplomat at the Chairperson’s Cabinet (2018 – 2021). She founded Nala Feminist Collective, a monumental multigenerational coalition of female politicians and activists working hand in hand toward transformative feminist change across Africa. Aya has served on several international councils that have produced trailblazing reports in the humanitarian, gender and development fields. She also received the Gates Campaign Award and was named in Forbes Africa’s 50 Most Powerful Women.
“I started my activism in my country, Tunisia, and my continent, Africa, because I refuse to let my gender and age define me as a subject of change and development rather than one of the drivers.”
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie — She is a renowned Nigerian writer who is widely recognised for her impactful contributions to literature, particularly in African and Feminist discussions. Chimamanda’s books—from gripping stories set in wartime to essays advocating feminism—cover diverse topics. Her writings highlight issues like race, identity, love, and feminism, aiming to improve women’s societal roles.
Her thought-stirring 2012 TEDx Euston talk–now a published book– “We Should All Be Feminists,” spurred a worldwide dialogue on feminism, with parts of the speech being incorporated in a Christian Dior show at Paris Fashion Week and sampled on Beyonce’s 2013 hit, Flawless. Her book “Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions” was released in March 2017. A passionate reformist-feminist at her core, Chimamanda has critiqued both traditional and contemporary structures that perpetuate discrimination against women.
“Some people ask: “Why the word feminist? Why not just say you are a believer in human rights, or something like that?” Because that would be dishonest. Feminism is, of course, part of human rights in general—but to choose to use the vague expression human rights is to deny the specific and particular problem of gender. It would be a way of pretending that it was not women who have, for centuries, been excluded. It would be a way of denying that the problem of gender targets women.”
Françoise Moudouthe — She is a pan-African feminist who hails from Cameroon and is deeply committed to advocating women’s rights and nurturing solidarity among African feminist movements. She is the CEO of the African Women’s Development Fund, a pioneering women’s fund that provides African women’s rights organisations with vital access to financial resources, capacity-building support, and movement-building opportunities.
Before assuming the role of CEO at AWDF, Françoise founded Eyala, a bilingual platform dedicated to amplifying the narratives and real-life experiences of African feminists. She also served as an international consultant for promoting gender justice in Africa. Françoise made significant contributions to launching Girls Not Brides, a global civil society partnership to end child marriage, and played a pivotal role in expanding its presence across Africa.
“When I self-identify as a feminist, I first acknowledge that this world I live in robs women of their power in more ways than I can count and that this is by design, not by accident. Being a feminist means that I’m doing something about it professionally, and in my personal life.”
Jaha Dukureh — She is the UN Women Goodwill Ambassador for Africa and an influential Gambian activist determined to end FGM and Child Marriage, being a survivor of both harmful acts herself, at the ages of 3 and 15, respectively. As the CEO and Founder of Safe Hands for Girls, a non-profit organisation supporting African women and girls who have endured FGM, she works tirelessly to address the enduring physical and psychological impacts of this practice.
Jaha’s work in her home country, Gambia, contributed to the ban on FGM after her passionate campaigning and support from young people. Her activism goes beyond Gambia; she joined investigations into FGM in the USA under President Obama in the USA, with her efforts resulting in the Summit to End FGM at the United States Institute of Peace. Jaha was named among Time 100’s most influential people in 2016 and New African magazine’s 100 most influential Africans in 2017. She also won the “Humanitarian of the Year” award at the African Diaspora Awards in 2017 and was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2018.
“These issues are personal to me; they’re part of my life history. We won’t have equality until girls can grow up with control over their own bodies and futures, and as long as I am alive, I will wake up every single day and scream to the world that FGM is wrong and child marriage is not different from rape.”
Nana Darkoa Sekyiamah — She is a Ghanaian award-winning feminist writer, blogger and co-founder of the renowned blog “Adventures from the Bedrooms of African Women. Nana is also the Director of Communications at the Association for Women’s Rights in Development, and she actively contributes to amplifying women’s voices. Notably, she played a key role in organising the groundbreaking Black Feminist Forum in Bahia, Brazil, through her involvement in the Black Feminism Forum Working Group.
Nana is also the convener of Fab Fem, a feminist group in Accra. She has authored significant publications, including the Communications Handbook for Women’s Rights Organisations and co-authored works on the African Women’s Development Fund. Sekyiamah’s blog and published writings aim to expand the discourse around sex and sexuality among African women. Her anthology book titled “The Sex Lives of African Women,” was published by Dialogue and garnered praise for its dynamic content.
“The young feminists make me very hopeful, you know, the young activists in Ghana and across Africa. I think their political clarity and activism is inspiring. Even with little resources, sometimes no resources, they’re really doing important work.”
Njoki Wamai — She is a Kenyan scholar-activist and feminist, currently an Assistant Professor at the United States International University-Africa, focusing on Human Rights, African Politics, International Relations, and Development. Dr. Njoki Wamai’s scholarly contributions include research papers and articles dissecting women’s roles in peace processes and societal enhancement, demonstrating her dedication to gender equality and social progress.
She completed her PhD as a Gates Cambridge Scholar at the University of Cambridge, going further into Politics and International Studies and subsequently contributing her research and articles to esteemed publications like The Nation, This is Africa, and the Conversation. Her advocacy extends beyond academia, as she was one of the leading voices in the #MyDressMyChoice Kenyan protest in 2014, highlighting the importance of women’s autonomy and agency.
“Women who have endured traumatic experiences are still often relegated to mere statistics. We have to untangle the patriarchal cultures and successive regimes keen to keep women discriminated against and silent to these injustices.”
Rana Abdelhamid — She is an Egyptian-American politician, activist, and community organiser in Queens, New York. Her activism started with the creation of Hijabis of New York, a project echoing the format of Humans of New York but dedicated to capturing the diverse lives of Muslim women through photographs and interviews.
A traumatic experience, where she was attacked in the street by an adult man trying to remove her hijab when she was 16, motivated her to start the Women’s Initiative for Self-Empowerment (WISE), an establishment that offers self-defence, entrepreneurial, and leadership programs to young women. From its roots in New York, WISE has since expanded its reach across cities, states, and internationally. Over time, WISE evolved into Malikah, a global collective empowering communities by fostering security and strength. A staunch advocate against racism and Islamophobia faced by Muslim women, Rena also ventured into politics, contesting in the Democratic primary for the 12th Congressional District.
“With Malikah, we are addressing hate-based violence and racialised violence against Muslim women that presents itself as anti-Muslim violence. It’s this tough place to be in where you want to be able to do feminist work, and you are doing work against gender-based violence, but also recognising, unfortunately, that the state and the global war on terror weaponised that narrative to continue to harm Muslim women.”
Reem Abbas — She is a prominent Sudanese journalist, writer, researcher, and feminist activist based in Khartoum, known for her extensive contributions to various renowned international publications. With an academic background in journalism, sociology, and gender studies, she has dedicated herself to shedding light on women’s rights issues and political affairs and how they affect the women in Sudan. Reem is an essential figure in Sudanese journalism, a strong advocate for women’s rights, and an influential voice for press freedom.
Reem’s impactful socio-political commentary has been featured in distinguished media outlets such as the Guardian, the Washington Post, and the Christian Science Monitor, among others. She also served as a columnist at Open Democracy and contributed significantly to publications covering Sudanese refugee stories. Beyond her journalistic pursuits, Reem has been actively involved in advocacy and communication efforts for Sudanese civil society organisations, bringing her expertise and passion to the forefront. Her advocacy for press freedoms and socio-political discourse has reached more than 15 international, regional, and local media platforms.
“Women have been excluded from leadership positions, and their participation in political processes has been limited. This exclusion not only undermines the role of women in building a more stable and just society but also prevents the full realisation of their rights as citizens. It is crucial that women’s voices are heard and valued in peacebuilding efforts, as they have a unique and vital perspective to offer, and particularly because they are the most vulnerable during a crisis.”
Rosebell Kagumire — She is a highly accomplished Ugandan journalist and socio-political commentator with expertise across media, human rights, gender equality, and peace and conflict issues. As a co-editor of the book “Challenging Patriarchy: The Role of Patriarchy in the Roll-back of Democracy,” she has actively contributed to challenging societal norms and advocating for equality.
Rosebell’s writings have been published on prominent international media outlets such as The Guardian, Al Jazeera, and Quartz, amplifying her voice on critical global issues. Formerly the communications officer for Women’s Link Worldwide, she is the curator and editor of African Feminism- AF, a platform that documents the diverse experiences of African women, shedding light on their stories, triumphs and struggles. Rosebell is also a member of the advisory council of the Centre for Feminist Foreign Policy, an organisation dedicated to advancing feminist foreign policy worldwide.
“It is very important that we establish what safety means for an African girl, for African women. So, as long as we have so many threats to women’s safety and well-being, we cannot actually develop as a continent. We cannot take off.”
Yvette Kathurima — She is an accomplished social justice and development professional with over 13 years of dedicated work advocating for women’s and girls’ rights. Her extensive experience includes noteworthy roles at Girls Not Brides, FEMNET, IPPF Africa Region, and various consultancy positions; all focused on empowering and advancing the status of women and girls.
Yvette has recently transitioned into philanthropy, committed to ensuring equitable access to resources, particularly for Black women. Yvette has played a significant role in global platforms like the United Nations, notably the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) and the Commission on Population and Development (CPD), in ensuring that the voices of African women and their perspectives were included in the 2030 agenda. She is also focused on improving access to sexual and reproductive health services and safeguarding women’s bodily autonomy.
“When girls are educated instead of married off at a young age, they have opportunities to earn an income; they are more likely to lead happier, healthier lives, and to contribute to the growth and development of their communities. Ending child marriage has to be a critical part of creating a future of empowered women.”