Women have occupied key roles in the developments that have shaped the course of African history while occupying roles as leaders, priestesses, traders, cultivators, oracles, wives, and mothers.
The turbulent years following West and Central Africa’s contact with Europe were marked by the emergence of women revered for their formidable political skills and social vision.
There can be no doubt that important and celebrated women existed in other periods of African history, but prior to the era of contact with Europe, written records of their names and achievements simply do not exist. Indigenous narratives about them have not survived to the present day, or have yet to be recognized and recorded. As the study of African history continues, however, the identities of other notable African women will surely be revealed. Here are some powerful women in the history of Africa;
She was the empress of Ethiopia and the wife of Menelik II. She was co-equal with her Emperor husband and was always consulted prior to making important decisions. Taytul was a military strategist and persuaded her husband to declare war against Italy at the Battle of Adwa to stand up for independence against Italian aggression.
Zenzi Miriam Makeba:
She was a South African singer and a world-renowned symbol for the fight against apartheid. After beginning her music career in her home country, she went into exile in the United States where she gained wide recognition. Following her marriage to the activist Stokely Carmichael, she is once again exiled – this time to Guinea where she embarked upon an African and international career. Her talent and her militant engagements made her an icon in the defense of human rights.
Yaa Asantewa, Queen Mother of the Ejisuhene, led the Ashanti in a war against British colonization between 1900 and 1901. Keeper of the “Golden Stool” of the Ashanti Confederacy, Asantewaa challenged the violent British call for the complete domination of the Ashanti confederacy and demanded the return of the King, Asantehene Prempeh I, when many others considered surrender. She and her soldiers deftly fought against the British. Though she was defeated and exiled to Seychelles, Yaa Asantewaa’s bravery and military fortitude exemplified the uniqueness of female leadership in anti-colonial processes, inspiring future generations of Ghanaians in the long fight for independence.
Often remembered as the mother of the prolific musician and activist Fela Kuti, Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti was a pioneering African feminist, social activist, educator and anti-colonial freedom fighter. Founder of the Nigerian Woman’s Union, which became the Federation of Nigerian Women’s Societies in 1953, Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti organized tax strikes against economic policies negatively affecting women, organized against the exploitation of women in business, and called for an end to colonial rule. Her dedication to ending injustice is what makes her a phenomenal woman in African history.
The famous Kenyan environmentalist, women’s rights activist and Nobel Laureate, Professor Wangari Maathai, is remembered for her compassion and dedication to improving the lives of the most disenfranchised groups in society. Maathai founded the Green Belt Movement in 1977, known then as the National Council of Women of Kenya, as a response to the economic and social needs of Kenyan women living in rural areas. The Greenbelt Movement encouraged Kenyan women to plant trees, which helped to restore rainwater and provided them with food and firewood, while also earning a small income.
Queen Amina Of Zaria:
Commonly known as the warrior queen, Queen Amina of Zaria was the first woman to become the Sarauniya (queen) in a male-dominated society. She expanded the territory of the Hausa people of north Africa to its largest borders in history. Much of what is known of Queen Amina is based on information related in the Kano Chronicles. Other details are pulled from the oral traditions of Nigeria. As a result, the memory of Queen Amina has assumed legendary proportions in her native Hausaland and beyond.
These women defied the odds in their times and made history. It’s your turn, today sister. What are you doing to make lives around you better?
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