Women's Month 2022 in South Africa - 5 Influential African Women Professionals We Admire

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Smiling professional woman (photo)
Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng, the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cape Town. Source: Twitter

Today is the first day of the 66th Women's Month. Observed annually, this month is one in which women are celebrated and we call attention to women as changemakers, leaders, mothers, daughters, workers, and more. CA Global looks at 5 influential African women professionals who are making waves in their careers and industries, transforming the world as well as inspiring women in the workplace.


What is Women's Month in South Africa all about?


Although it is associated with boxes of chocolate, restaurant deals, and spa specials for women, Women's Month is about more than celebrating women in general.


It actually marks the day that women in the country came together to call for and achieve equality and change. Today commemorates the anniversary of the 1956 women's march when 20,000 members of the Federation of South African Women (FSAW) marched to the Union Buildings with signs to protest against South Africa's apartheid pass laws of the time.


FSAW took a petition to the apartheid government with over 100,000 signatures on it to demand the end of the law that required Black citizens to carry a pass book with them everywhere to maintain racial segregation in the country.


The peaceful demonstration was a significant moment and symbol of women's unity and ultimately initiated the government's scrapping of the pass laws.


5 inspiring African women professionals


Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng (South Africa)


The current vice-chancellor of the University of Cape Town in South Africa, Professor Phakeng holds a Ph.D. in Mathematical Education, the first Black South African woman to have earned the qualification. She has been named the most influential woman in the world of academics and founded an NGO that financially assists young learners who need help funding their studies.


Phakeng is a strong believer in the ability of women to make a change in the world and for other women, particularly in positions of leadership.


Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng: "When I have a dream, I pursue it without thinking about what would happen if it doesn’t work and this is what makes me.


Nene Maiga (Mali)


The CEO of Orange Botswana, Néné Maiga, was featured on the House of Rose Professional Pte. Ltd (HORP) 2022 List of Africa’s Most Inspirational Women in Leadership, which included 100 influential women. The 100 women were selected by House of Rose Professional after it looked at senior female executives from over 400 companies in Africa, showing that Maiga is one of the top women in the leadership game.


Maiga, who is originally from Mali and aged 35, was appointed CEO of Orange Botswana last year. She has long demonstrated trailblazing leadership traits. In her previous job as the CEO of Orange Middle East and Africa, she spearheaded transformative projects to promote inclusivity and value creation for the MEA region. She also steers the organisation's campaign to be a role model in gender equality. These are just some of the gamechanging initiatives she has started and led, and she has a long-held passion for tech as well as female empowerment.


Néné Maiga: "Curiosity opens so many doors in this universe, and the more you learn, the more you realise that you have even more things to learn."


Isatou Ceesay (The Gambia)

A social entrepreneur and grassroots activist, Isatou Ceesay hails from a small village in the Gambia and is the founder of a recycling and educational initiative in the country.


Affectionately known as the Queen of Recycling, in 1998 Ceesay began to teach Gambian women to transform collected plastic rubbish into items such as woven wallets and purses that they could sell to make an income. This was after she taught herself how to weave items from discarded plastic bags that she found littering her village and collected.


During this period, women in the Gambia were still not legally allowed to have jobs or earn money, and they sold their plastic-made goods in secret. It slowly became a collective called Njau Recycling and Income Generation Group, which still exists today, although it is happily no longer a secret.


Ceesay's story of activism and women's empowerment inspired a non-fiction illustrated book about her called One Plastic Bag. Ceesay now tours the world, including the US, giving talks on recycling and sharing her story.


Isatou Ceesay: "People thought I was too young and that women couldn't be leaders. I took these things as challenges; they gave me more power. I didn't call out the problems - I called out solutions."


Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala (Nigeria)


An American-Nigerian, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is the first ever woman and first African to be appointed Director-General of the World Trade Organisation, first taking office in 2021. This follows her 25-year-long career at the World Bank in Washington DC, where she worked as a development economist.


She has many achievements under her belt that show her pioneering leadership skills and efforts at striving for gender parity and female empowerment through education.


A role model for women in the academic as well as professional world, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala holds a PhD in regional economics and development from the Massachusettes Institute of Technology. She also sits on the boards of over 15 organisations and corporations, including the Mandela Institute for Development Studies, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Danone, and Standard Chartered Bank.


Last year, she was named on research firm Avance Media's 2021 100 Most Influential African Women list.


Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala: "When it comes to doing my job, I keep my ego in my handbag."


Meaza Ashenafi (Ethiopia)


The first woman to serve as President (Chief Justice) of the Federal Supreme Court of Ethiopia, Meaza Ashenafi is a lawyer and champion of women's rights and female empowerment. The changemaker transformed Ethiopia's judicial system to improve its treatment of sexual harassment cases, and founded a lawyers association that offers free legal services to women in need.


Ashenafi has a storied career: she was Judge of the Federal Supreme Court of Ethiopia from1989 to 1992, and a legal advisor to the Ethiopian Constitution Commission from 1993. Presently, along with being Ethiopia's Chief Justice, she is also an adviser on women's rights at UNECA.


Meaza Ashenafi: "My goal in life is to see Ethiopian women more empowered and claim their rightful places in society."


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Which African women leaders, changemakers, or entrepreneurs inspire you personally? Let us know in the comments below.


Happy Women's Month!


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