Five women who mark the history of Africa and the world

Portrait de Zanele Muholi fermant les yeux

July 31 marks International African Women's Day (IAFF). This world day was created in 1962 on the initiative of Aoua Keïta, a major figure in Mali's independence. The emancipation of women in Africa requires the political and social role that they occupy and this international day is an opportunity to celebrate these personalities who actively participate in the advancement of women's rights as well as the development of the African continent.

In this article, we present to you five pioneering women who mark the history of Africa and the world.

Zanele Muholi

Portrait of Zanele Muholi

Self-portrait Zanele Muholi, Bester I, Mayotte , 2015, gelatin silver print, © Zanele Muholi

Zanele Muholi is a South African photographer and activist. Describing herself as a “visual activist”, Zanele Muholi carries the voice of the LGBTI community in post-apartheid South Africa. His works are a powerful political weapon to fight against lesbophobia and racial hatred. She explains her approach: “I seek to establish a relationship based on a mutual understanding of what it means to be a woman, a lesbian and a black person today.”

In 2022, it will be exhibited at the Maison Européenne de la Photographie in Paris. (1)

Juliana Rotich

Portrait of Juliana Rotich

Juliana Rotich is a Kenyan engineer and computer scientist, who notably participated in the creation of the first African open-source platform called Ushahidi , (which means “testimony” in Swahili), allowing the free circulation of information. This citizen network was initially developed with a public security perspective, to map post-election violence in Nairobi, Kenya, and thus allow residents to indicate which streets to avoid during riots. But since then, this tool has revolutionized the international flow of data and information and is today used around the world, in more than 60,000 collaborative and citizen projects. (2) Juliana Rotich is a pioneer in the digital revolution in Africa. According to Sabine Odhiambo, Commissioner of the German Foundation for Africa, “Juliana Rotich illustrates how technological innovation can contribute to the development of the African continent and symbolizes a young and creative Africa that is actively shaping the world of the 21st century.” (3)

Souad Dibi

Portrait of Souad Dibi

Souad Dibi is a Moroccan feminist activist. In 1998 in Essaouira, she created the NGO El Khir (in French “the charitable association”) which campaigns for the socio-professional integration of women in Morocco. Each year, thanks to this association, dozens of women obtain professional training and can thus benefit from financial autonomy, a crucial issue for the emancipation of women. Souad Dibi summarizes the situation of precariousness and abuse that many women encounter in Morocco: “many women experience dramatic situations within their families: abandonment, mistreatment, dependence on their husbands. We help them understand that the best way to assert themselves is to achieve autonomy” (4)

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Portrait of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a Nigerian feminist activist. A committed writer with international notoriety, she is at the origin of the slogan “ We should all be feminists ” taken up by the designer Maria Grazia Chiuri for her first fashion show at Dior in 2017. Her speech was even used by Beyoncé in her song Flawless. In 2017, she published a work entitled "Dear Ijeweale", a true feminist manifesto on gender equality. (5) She shares 15 principles to transmit feminist education to young girls today, to deconstruct the Western beauty standards and thus combat the stigmatization of frizzy hair: "I'm interested in hair as a way to approach other things. What does society consider beautiful? You look at women's magazines , these things are important. And when you watch television. What does our society consider beautiful? Straight hair." (6)

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

Portrait of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is a Liberian politician. She was the head of state of the Republic of Liberia from 2006 to 2008 and was the first woman elected by universal suffrage as head of an African state. Co-recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011, for “her non-violent struggle for security and women’s rights”, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is recognized as a major political figure in Africa. During her mandate, she made the fight against corruption her priority and initiated numerous economic recovery measures, which later earned her the nickname "Iron Lady" in reference to Margaret Thatcher. (7)

Written by Inès Perrein

Cover photo: © Zanele Muholi, Bester IV


(1) The collection of the Foundation, Fondationlouisvuitton,

(2) Belot, L. (2015, December 4). Ushahidi, an African technology that has conquered the planet . Le 

(3) Juliana Rotich winner of the German Foundation for Africa Prize 2019 . (2019, October 26).

(4) Souad Dibi’s “participatory feminism” . (2018, July 16). diasporaechos. 

(5) Rezzoug, PL (2017, March 16). Who is Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, feminist icon?  

(6) B. (2018, February 1). Feminist icon, internationally renowned writer. . . Who is Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie? Franceinfo. 

(7) Larousse, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf - LAROUSSE .