Four Black women who have advanced human rights

The four introduced here are inspirational—for the changes they brought about, for their work ethic, and for their passion to improve the everyday lives of marginalized or oppressed groups.

SOURCEThe Conversation
Image Credit: Bret Hartman/TED Conference/Flickr

Around the world, the activism of Black women has been instrumental in shaping social justice agendas and promoting human rights. Their work has improved the health and welfare of women and girls, protected the environment and elevated the voices of the oppressed, both in their communities and further afield.

As researchers who focus on women and children’s wellbeing and rights, we have come across the work of many such Black women. The four introduced here are inspirational—for the changes they brought about, for their work ethic, and for their passion to improve the everyday lives of marginalized or oppressed groups.

Efua Dorkenoo

Ghanaian-British women’s rights activist Efua Dorkenoo (1949-2014) was a pioneering leader in the global movement to end female genital cutting.

As reported in The Guardian’s obituary of Dorkenoo, it was while working as a staff nurse at London hospitals that she learned of the medical complications faced by women who had undergone the practice.

In 1983, she co-founded the Foundation for Women’s Health, Research and Development, a women’s rights organisation which works to stop violence against women and girls.

She also became the World Health Organization’s first technical expert on female genital cutting.

Marielle Franco

Brazilian human rights activist Marielle Franco (1979-2018) drew on her experiences growing up in Maré, a favela (slum) in Rio de Janeiro, to campaign for the rights of favela residents, many of whom are Black. Much of her activism focused on addressing police violence and military intervention in the favelas.

Franco’s campaigns on these issues, as well as her work to improve the lives of poor Black women in the favelas, made her one of the most-voted-for members of Rio city council’s 2016 local elections. She was assassinated less than two years later. Her legacy has ensured that four women closely connected to her have also recently been elected to political office.

Wangari Maathai

Professor Wangari Maathai (1940-2011), a Kenyan environmentalist and human rights activist, was the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004. From her previous training and practice in veterinary anatomy, she came to recognise the connection between environmental degradation, poverty and conflict. In particular, through her work she saw the negative impact of environmental degradation on the lives of women who were the main producers of food in this context.

Recognising that these conditions resulted in more drought, loss of biodiversity and increased poverty, she founded the Green Belt Movement in 1977. The focus of this movement is on poverty reduction and environmental conservation through tree planting. By 2004, the movement had expanded to over 30 countries and has now planted more than 51 million trees in Kenya alone.

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala

Nigerian economist and politician Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is the first woman and the first African to be appointed as director-general of the World Trade Organization.

Woman dressed in blue
Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala at the Annual Meeting 2017 of the World Economic Forum in Davos. World Economic Forum / Boris Baldinger/Flickr, CC BY-NC

She worked previously as a development economist at the World Bank, where she led several projects that provided support to low-income countries during the global financial crisis of 2007-08 and the world food price crisis of 2008-09.

As two-time finance minister of Nigeria, she worked to reduce corruption.

She has supported young people in Nigeria by launching programmes such as Growing Girls and Women in Nigeria, which has helped women to gain skills and employment. She has written several books and is the co-author of Women and Leadership: Real Life, Real Lessons, published in 2020.

There are many more women that are creating change in diverse ways in their communities or beyond, often in the face of great adversity. We encourage you to look around your local community and find more Black women to add to our list.

Zibah Nwako, Senior Research Associate in Education, University of Bristol and Afua Twum-Danso Imoh, Senior Lecturer in Global Childhoods and Welfare, University of Bristol

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


If you liked this article, please donate $5 to keep NationofChange online through November.

Previous articleHow Putin’s skill-set shows up Trump’s. One’s a calculating, thuggish, earth-jolting authoritarian, the other an impulsive, thuggish, conniving buffoon
Next articleWhat is public health justice, and how do we fight for it?
Dr. Zibah Nwako is a postdoctoral researcher, trainer, consultant and visiting lecturer. Based at the University of Bristol, she obtained a Master’s degree on Educational Leadership, Policy and Development followed by a PhD that researched the welfare and wellbeing of female students in Africa through a postcolonial feminist lens. She is also interested in non-formal and life-wide community learning practices; and engages with young people using participatory methodologies and creative methods. Zibah’s career spans over 30 years of experience in both academia and industry. She worked as a Programme Manager for European Union educators’ visits and exchanges at the British Council; and as a Co-ordinator of out-of-school clubs and nurseries in London. She is a licensed trainer for women’s personal development programmes in the UK and sub-Saharan Africa, and provides consultancy services to educational institutions, small businesses and international non-governmental organisations. Currently focused on researching and developing sustainable futures for adolescent girls and young women in Africa, Zibah also provides mentoring and training in life skills and youth entrepreneurship. She is Co-Director of Doing A PhD In Africa, a community of doctoral students on the continent and in Africa's diasporas. She writes blog posts and short publications; and is an active member of several academic and industry networks. Drawing upon an interdisciplinary background, Afua's research focuses on: children’s rights and social and cultural norms; parent-child relations and the implications for children’s wellbeing and rights; the impact of historical developments and more recent social changes on constructions of childhood and child rearing practices; and children’s participatory rights with a focus on trying to move beyond discursive forms of participation. Much of this research has concentrated on Ghana and Nigeria. Afua holds a BA (Hons) degree in History and Sociology from the University of Manchester (UK), a MSc in Development Studies from the London School of Economics (UK) and a PhD in African Studies from the University of Birmingham (UK).