These three African women are rewriting the continent’s narrative

Africa has often been described as a sexist continent, because of the socio-cultural, political, economic and legal barriers that are stacked up against the African woman. However, in this predominant sexist continent where women are mostly relegated to the background, more and more African women are rewriting the narrative, rebranding the continent, and making history in and out of the continent.

Two weeks ago, on the 26th of August, Lieutenant Commander Zimasa Mabela made history by being the first woman on the continent to command a combat naval vessel. Commander Mabela was preceded by Commander Brian Short who was in charge of the SAS Umhloti for two years. “She’s earned her stripes. She’s come up through the ranks. She’s worked hard,” the former commander praised his successor. Commander Short added that Mabela is proof that women have as much chance as men. And will serve as an inspiration to other women rising through the ranks. “She’s proven that a woman can have that much of a chance as men, and that should give hope to the ladies coming through the ranks, that Commanding is not just a male dominated field. That anyone who strives for it can earn it.”

Commander Mabela was overjoyed. “I’m excited. I’m happy. And I’m looking forward to being commander,” she said. Mabela didn’t let anything get in her way, not even motherhood, which she admitted was a challenge. But with courage and determination, she has attained a new height, and shaped history.

Mabela who got her start in the navy as a telecommunications radio official in 1999, has no plan of slowing down; she intends to take command of a bigger ship. But for now, SAS Umhloti will do.

Credit - This is Africa
Credit – This is Africa

As if on cue, last week the continent recorded yet another history maker in the person of Helen Mukoro. A Nigerian migrant in Spain who emerged the Presidential candidate of an opposition party for the forthcoming elections in Spain. The Nigerian born lawyer and politician makes history for being the first immigrant and the first woman to be the presidential flag bearer of a political party.

Helen Mukoro who is a native of Delta state, Nigeria, travelled to Spain in 1992. But with hard work and resilience, she established a law firm in Spain.

Helen says the need to be involved in decision, with the obligation to leave a legacy for future generations prompted her to venture into politics. “I saw the need to go into politics as a means to making my explanation of political leadership that suits the interest of the people and I’m ready to listen and care for the needs of constituents.”

Whether or not she wins in the Spanish general election on the 20th of December 2015, Helen has definitely made a dent in history.


When Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf  became the first female President of Liberia in 2006, it marked an important day in the history of the continent; she was Africa’s first elected female Head of State. Since she became president, Johnson Sirleaf has been committed to fighting corruption and rebuilding the country’s fragile economy.

Often described as Africa’s Iron Lady,  Johnson-Sirleaf has become a symbol of hope and a pillar of strength for Liberia, a country she inherited in ruins. Under her leadership, Liberia has overcome huge challenges and undergone dramatic changes – debt relief, corruption, Ebola, foreign relations. The achievements of this phenomenal 77 year old can be attributed to her remarkable leadership skills, one gained by years of education and experience. She boasts a degree in economics from the University of Colorado, an associate degree in accounting from Madison Business College, Wisconsin, and a Master of Public Administration from Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government in 1971.

Over the years, Johnson-Sirleaf has gained global recognition, and received quite a number of international awards, including the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize, and 2012 Indira Gandhi Prize for Peace, Disarmament and Development. And as of 2014, she is the 70th most powerful woman in the world.

Till date, Africa’s Iron Lady, stays committed to her goals of social justice, peace and economic stability in her country.

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