The main roles of African women, until recently, had been limited to housekeeping: providing food, water and emotional support to the family whenever the men went out in search of food and income. The old adage of women being hewers of wood and drawers of water has relegated the power and capacity of the African woman to the duties of motherhood from time immemorial.
However, all such restrictions changed in the colonial and post-colonial era of the 1960s, when the call for women in development was highly advocated. The current Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Christine Lagarde, summarized the modern contributions of the African woman during the 2015 women-20 group at the G20 summit, when she stated that should women be given the same access to farming resources as men, the agricultural output in developing countries would increase by up to 4% – a development which would lift over 100 million people out of hunger in Africa!
Of course, agriculture is just one of numerous areas in which Africa continues to churn out some of the world’s most influential women. Read ahead to learn about five African women who are exerting power and influence in the world’s political and economic systems.
Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala: Having graduated from Harvard University with a Bachelor of Arts and also earning a PhD in regional economic development from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1981, this internationally acclaimed economist was ranked by Forbes as one of the most powerful women in the world. She has held the positions of vice-president and corporate secretary of the World Bank Group and played a major role in Nigeria’s macro-economic outlook. Her work thus helped the largest economy in West Africa gain its first-ever sovereign credit rating of BB minus from Fitch and Standard & Poor’s during the administration of former president, Goodluck Jonathan.
Proscovia Alengot Oromait: Being the youngest female parliamentarian in Africa, Oromait rose up to the responsibility at the age of 19! She represents Usuk County in Uganda’s Katakwi District, holding the seat that once belonged to her father, who died in 2012. Listed among Forbes’ most powerful African women in 2013, Oromait has proven to the world that if given the chance, the African woman is capable of managing the affairs of not just her family but also her society and nation.
Mimi Alemayehou: Considering her enviable experience in international geopolitical developments, the Ethiopian-born Alemayehou was appointed early in her career as the United States Executive Director on the board of the African Development Bank (AfDB). She later rose up to Executive Vice President of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) in the Obama administration – a promotion which saw the portfolio of OPIC grow by more than $18 billion! The rising Ethiopian financial executive is also revered as one of the architects behind President Obama’s Power Africa initiative aimed at increasing access to electricity in Africa.
Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf: Liberia’s first female president, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf won the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize for her enviable contribution to the promotion of Liberia’s reconciliation process after the country’s horrific civil war. She also made massive strides in the eradication of the deadly Ebola disease when a massive outbreak rocked West Africa, hitting her nation the hardest. Her contribution to fiscal prosperity in Liberia remains highly revered and her example of leadership, proof of the power of the African woman.
Joyce Banda: Joyce Banda became the first female president of Malawi in 2012 after several unsuccessful attempts in previous elections. She introduced major reforms such as selling off the presidential jet, slashing her salary, loosening foreign exchange controls and even devaluing the Kwacha at the recommendation of the International Monetary Fund – an economic move which has seen the Kwacha become the most performing currency in Africa. She is also the founder of the Joyce Banda Foundation International, which supports marginalized women and girls in Malawi.