4 black women who advanced human rights

Their work has improved the health and well-being of women and girls, protected the environment and raised the voices of the oppressed

Around the world, black women’s activism has been instrumental in shaping social justice agendas and advancing human rights. Their work has improved the health and well-being of women and girls, protected the environment, and raised the voices of the oppressed, both in their communities and beyond.

As researchers who focus on the welfare and rights of women and children, we have discovered the work of many black women. The four featured here are inspiring – for the changes they have brought about, for their work ethic, and for their passion to improve the daily lives of marginalized or oppressed groups.

Efoua Dorkenoo

Ghanaian-British women’s rights activist Efoua Dorkenoo (1949-2014) was a pioneer leader in the global movement to end female genital cutting.

Efoua Dorkenoo. Lindsay Mgbor for DFID, Department for International Development, UK/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA

As reported in The Guardian’s obituary of Dorkenoo, it was while working as a nurse in London hospitals that she learned of the medical complications faced by women who had undergone the practice.

In 1983, she co-founded the Foundation for Women’s Health, Research and Developmenta women’s rights organization that fights violence against women and girls.

She also became the first Technical expert on female genital cutting.

Marielle Franco

Brazilian human rights activist Marielle Franco (1979-2018) draws on his experiences growing up in Maré, a favela (slum) in Rio de Janeiro, to campaign for the rights of favela residents, many of whom are black. Much of his activism has focused on combating police violence and military intervention in the favelas.

Woman speaking to the crowd
Marielle Franco. Media NINJA/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA

by Franco campaigns on these issues, as well as her work to improve the lives of poor black women in the favelas, have made her one of the most voted members of the Rio City Council local elections in 2016. She was murdered less than two years later. Her legacy resulted in four women closely related to her also being recently elected in political office.

Wangari Mathai

Professor Wangari Mathai (1940-2011), Kenyan environmentalist and human rights activist, was the first African woman to win the Nobel Prize of Peace in 2004. From her previous training and practice in veterinary anatomy, she came recognize the link between environmental degradation, poverty and conflict. In particular, through her work, she saw the negative impact of environmental degradation on the lives of women who were the main food producers in this context.

Woman standing speaking into a microphone
Wangari Mathai. The Timeline/Wikipedia, CC BY-SA

Recognizing that these conditions lead to more drought, loss of biodiversity and increased poverty, she founded the green belt movement in 1977. This movement focuses on poverty alleviation and environmental conservation through tree planting. In 2004, the movement had extended to more than 30 countries and has now planted over 51 million trees in Kenya alone.

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala

Nigerian economist and politician Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is the first woman and the first African to be appointed chief executive of the world trade organization.

woman dressed in blue
Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala at the 2017 World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos. World Economic Forum/Boris Baldinger/Flickr, CC BY-NC

She previously worked as a development economist at the World Bank, where she led several projects which provided support to low-income countries during the global financial crisis of 2007-08 and the global food price crisis of 2008-09.

As Nigeria’s two-time finance minister, she worked reduce corruption.

She has supported young people in Nigeria by initiating programs such as Growing Girls and Women in Nigeria, which has helped women gain skills and find jobs. She has written several books and is co-author of Women and Leadership: Real Life, Real Lessonspublished in 2020.

There are many more women creating change in various ways in their communities or beyond, often in the face of great adversity. We encourage you to tour your local community and find other black women to add to our list.The conversation

Zibah ​​NwakoSenior Associate Researcher in Education, University of Bristol and Afua Twum-Danso Imohlecturer in children and well-being in the world, University of Bristol

This article is republished from The conversation under Creative Commons license. Read it original article.

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