Originally published in the August 2016 issue of ELLE South Africa.
50 game-changing, bar-raising, awe-inspiring African women who are shaping the continent
We’re celebrating the innovators, thinkers, creatives, leaders and activists, incredible women who, in 2016, through their work inspire a new generation of women to pursue careers in various fields and industries. Here, they share with us their thoughts and experience.
Meet The Creatives
Former model & Human Rights Activist, Somalia
In 2002, Dirie founded the Desert Flower Foundation to raise awareness for the fight against Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). In 2009, her book Desert Flower was made into a major feature film.
Making it work: ‘By working hard and not giving up on what I believe in. There is enough space for every great idea under the sun.’
Moving ahead: ‘I was mutilated in the Somali desert when I was a little innocent girl. From that day on I knew that this was very wrong and that I would fight against FGM.’
Building tomorrow: ‘We raise public awareness and support girls and women who have been affected by FGM. We opened the first Desert Flower Medical Centre in Berlin, which offers reconstructive surgery and holistic treatment. We [also] started the Save a Little Desertflower project, which protects young girls from FGM through sponsorship.’
Model, Founder of the Liya Kebede Foundation, Maternal Health Advocate, Clothing Designer for Lemlem, & Actress, Ethiopia
Kebede started her foundation to help raise awareness and resources to make maternal health care accessible for more women across the continent.
Building tomorrow: ‘My fashion business, Lemlem, is bringing African craftsmanship into the international fashion market while creating jobs for hundreds at our main studio in Ethiopia and new sites across East Africa. We’re expanding and working with new groups of artisans in Kenya, Rwanda and Madagascar. At the same time, my Foundation is focused on helping African women thrive by tackling one of their leading health concerns – surviving childbirth.’
Making it work: ‘I believe our choices and actions shape us. If you are happy with who you are then you can’t regret those choices.’
Greatest strength: ‘My persistence.’
Keeping close: ‘All my traditional Gabi blankets from Ethiopia.’
Jewellery Designer, South Africa
Pichulik, a trained artist and pâtissier, started Pichulik in 2012 after a trip around India. Pichulik is inspired by the intimate relationship women have with jewellery – it speaks of her travels, her mother or grandmother and the people she has loved.
Moving ahead: ‘It feels like something quite magical is happening – to dream up anything we want to manifest; create anything that we wish.’
Making it work: ‘When you have employees or a team that you manage, you have to maintain a level of self-awareness so that at all times you act or respond with clarity and kindness. It can be very difficult sometimes not to be triggered when you are processing personal stuff.’
Building tomorrow: ‘It is easy to get bitter, bitchy and disillusioned in the creative space, but when the purpose of your work becomes redirected by a greater meaning, of service or idealism in beauty and truth, something magical and profound occurs.’
Fashion Designer, Ivory Coast
Maléombho is aspiring to change the narrative on African fashion and in the fashion industry in general: she is looking to communicate cultures and traditions and work towards sustainable development by using local resources, craftsmanship and a modern narrative on garments.
Words to live by: ‘“Do what you can, where you are, with what you have.” From Roosevelt. Also this one I came up with: Nurture difference.’
Being inspired: ‘I am inspired by tradition and modernity and the infinite ways these two antagonist notions can interact.’
Keeping it close: ‘My most treasured possession is my creativity. You can steal anything from me: from ideas to money, but you cannot steal my creativity.’
Musunka, Model & Founder of Malaika, Democratic Republic Of Congo
In 2007, Coursaris Musunka founded Malaika, a non-profit that empowers Congolese communities through free education and health programmes. Malaika’s work impacts thousands of people through a school for girls, community centre and five fresh-water wells.
Making it work: ‘I believe in equality between men and women and in equal access to opportunity and resources.’
Being inspired: ‘People who are passionate about what they do and who are courageous enough to fight for what they believe in, no matter their circumstances.’
Building tomorrow: ‘Always have a specific goal in mind. Having that target is what keeps you on track and forces you to think outside the box as to how you can achieve it. Never take no for an answer.’
Coordinator, Design Network Africa & Co-founder of Southern Guild, South Africa
McGowan is one of the co-founders of Southern Guild, the foremost collectible design gallery in South Africa.
Making it work: ‘“No” is not a word I believe in. I really do feel that anything is possible, and when the word “no” is a response to an idea, I always try to find ways around it to make things happen.’
Omotola Jalade Ekeinde
Actress & Philanthropist, Nigeria
Ekeinde is one of the pioneers of the video film era of Nigerian cinema, becoming the most watched actress in Africa. Recently, she shot a video asking Shell and the government to ‘Own Up, Clean Up, Pay Up’ and take responsibility for the oil spills in the Niger-Delta.
Making it work: ‘I believe in humanness. I believe all humans should be treated with respect, dignity and given a level playing field to survive, irrespective of race or gender.’
Building tomorrow: ‘I am an incorrigible optimist. I guess that’s why I am an activist. I imagine the possibility for humans not to have to worry about the basics. At this point in time, it’s a failure for the human race.’
Director of South African Fashion Week (SAFW) & Founder of Fashion Academy Network (FAN), South Africa
Booysen established SA Fashion Week (SAFW) in 1997 and also initiated the first SAFW Pop Up Shop for Designers, creating income streams for the designers. We love that in 2017, Booysen will be launching the Fashion Academy Network. The academy will focus on fashion and design on all levels integrating fashion students from the beginning into the industry.
Creative & Managing Director of Stylehouse Files, Nigeria
Akerele brings global attention to African fashion through Lagos Fashion and Design Week, which was launched in 2011.
Making it work: ‘Nothing beats a woman’s ability to multi-task. The tricky part is ensuring there’s a balance and that what’s most important is prioritised.’
Poet & Performer, South Africa
United States-born and South Africa-raised Mashile uses poetry to open dialogues about women empowerment and gender violence. In her most recent piece, Threads, she combined dance, poetry and music to talk about xenophobia, cultural identity and love. Her performances often touch one’s heart and soul.
Actress & Producer, South Africa
Pheto is well known for the role of Miriam in Tsotsi, which won the 2006 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, but her career has spanned over more than a decade, with appearances in the American TV-series The Bold and the Beautiful or biographical movie Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom. She took on the difficult role of co-producer with the release of Ayanda, a coming of age story set in Yeoville. The film received many international accolades. Pheto strongly believes in supporting the local film industry.
Moving ahead: ‘I’m a wanderlust. I’m always looking forward to my next destination. But when I only have a day, you’ll find me on my couch binging on Netflix.’
Making it work: ‘I’m a woman’s woman. I love it when women are unapologetic about their feminism and work together – that’s when we achieve the unimaginable.’
Musician, The Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic
Brahim is both a contemporary sonic poet and a prominent and eloquent spokesperson for the Saharawi people and their ongoing struggle for recognition and justice. In 2009, she was a finalist for the Freedom to Create Prize that awards the power of art to fight oppression, break down stereotypes and build trust in societies. Moving ahead: ‘For me, an exiled Saharawi woman, to transmit the music and culture of an illegally occupied country is a daily challenge. For us, every little gesture could be a committed act. To attract the international attention to Saharawi’s refugees situation is also a big challenge.’
Words to live by: ‘One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever received was one of my grandmother, Ljadra Mint Mabruk. When I was a child she told me, “A quiet heart is a big wealth.”’
Artist / Photographer, South Africa
South African photographer Muholi is a self-proclaimed ‘visual activist.’ Through a series of portraits, she explores ‘black lesbian and gay identities and politics in contemporary South Africa.’ Her work shines a much necessary light on the plight of the black queer community, exposes ‘the common rhetoric that homosexuality is un-African, and [addresses] the preponderance of hate crimes against homosexuals in her native country.’ She has said, ‘When I was young, I was told that I was ugly, and I had to grow up with a sense of ugliness and shame. And I had to overcome it, because nobody can love you more than you.’