Introducing OkayAfrica’s 100 Women 2019 List
By: CHRISTINA COLEMAN
Daughters of the Continent
Calling on the spirit of their ancestors before them, generations of young people have historically been able to overcome insurmountable challenges to push the culture forward. What’s more, young women are not only the backbone of each movement for change and progress, they are the executors and the soul.
Nigerian women’s right activist Funmilayo Ransome Kuti was only in her 20s when she organized literacy classes for women, a pathway that eventually led to her playing an integral role in women’s right to vote. South Africa’s Prudence Mabele was just 22 years old when, in 1992, she decided to publicly disclose her HIV status—the first Black woman in South Africa to do so—to create and promote policy that would support women living with the virus. A number of African youth around the continent, some even younger, have literally put their bodies and freedoms on the line to create more inclusive spaces. More lucrative opportunities. More accessible education.
It is why this year, we have dedicated the OkayAfrica 100 Women list to those daughters who embody the fortitude of their continental mothers, paired with a sovereignty that is wholly unique to today’s youth culture. Freedom of minds, agency over our bodies, and equity for all is not a choice. It’s the only way.
Youth culture, as we interpret it, does not subscribe to the idea that those who are participants are young in their stage of life. This list of women—carefully curated from over 500 nominations—is one that spans over two generations of changemakers and is not beholden to age. These are individuals who are both youth peers actively working to undo generational oppression in all forms and women who have dedicated their lives to investing in young people.
As much as the world has relied on a reserve of young people to progress, we, as a global nation, have forgotten to pour back into them. Africa, as always, has the most potential for exponential growth and change of any of the continents. We have the resources and the minds. With the youngest population in the world, progression is inevitable. But with many of our young people still underserved in many areas, we must continue to empower, bankroll, educate, and provide opportunity.
That’s exactly what this year’s list has done.
Honorees like the outspoken British-Ghanaian model Adwoa Aboah—who has created a safe online community for young girls and women to discuss a range of issues from mental health to sexuality—and 18-year-old Olympic short track speed skater Maame Biney are advocating for autonomy through sex positivity and sports.
Fashion designers like Nigeria’s 21-year-old Teni (Tia) Adeola of SlashedByTia and south Sudanese beauty blogger Nyma Tang are utilizing the tools of social media to create opportunity for young African entrepreneurs like never before.
From Hollywood (Zimbabwe-American Danai Gurira and Senegal’s Anna Diop) to literature (Nigerian-American Tomi Adeyemi and Cape Verde’s Shauna Barbosa), African women are creating narratives for young Black girls that rival if not surpass mainstream.
And then there’s Ilhan Omar, America’s first Somali-American Congresswoman (and one of two Muslim Congresswoman) who is stoking fire in the U.S. to finally challenge the archaic and white supremacy patriarchy of its government.
These women are disrupting the status quo socially, economically, and politically. They are creating safe spaces for African women globally, driving technological and scientific advancements, pushing for inclusivity in television, film, art and media, and steering us toward a more sustainable way of living.
The annual OkayAfrica 100 Women List is our effort to acknowledge and uplift African women, not only as a resource that has and will continue to enrich the world we live in, but as a group that deserves to be recognized, reinforced and treasured on a global scale.
This year, we acknowledge that the youth will lead the way. This is our ode to them.