Celebrating Women's History Month
It’s important to discuss the vital role and contributions that women have made, both historically and within the contemporary era. Women’s History Month has now provided the space to do that, but the idea for Women’s History Month did not come to fruition until the late 1970s, early 1980s. As mentioned in History, the idea for this celebration in the United States grew out of what was a week-long celebration led by a school district in Sonoma, California. But before any of this existed, the inaugural International Women’s Day was celebrated on March 8th, 1911.
Despite the fact that the international celebration is bound to one particular day, we take this time to acknowledge prolific African women and women of the diaspora who have made significant contributions from the early 1900s and onward.
Miriam Makeba, who was born in Prospect Township near Johannesburg in 1932, was a South African singer and civil rights activist. She was affectionately known as “Mama Africa” and became known for using her music as a means of engaging in the anti-apartheid struggle.
Wangari Maathai was a Kenyan political activist who was the first African woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, as well as the first woman in East and Central Africa to earn a doctorate degree. With an extensive background in Science and a position on the National Council of Women of Kenya, she advocated for environmental conservation through her founding of the Green Belt Movement. This movement now encompasses other African nations, as it now includes the Pan-African Green Belt network. And although Wangari Maathai passed in 2011, her initiative continues to exist today, with a focus on tree planting and water harvesting, climate change policy within Kenya, greater calls for democracy, and global environmental policy and protection for forest communities.
Funmilayo Kuti, who was born in 1900, was a Nigerian activist, educator, political campaigner, and women’s rights activist. She was born in Abeokuta, where she created the Abeokuta Women’s Union. In the 1940s, when oppressive market conditions involving the fines and taxes disproportionately placed upon women occurred under colonial rule, she encouraged women to lead a revolt. This revolt, although arduous, eventually led to the suspension of the flat tax imposed on women.
ST. JOSEPHINE BAKHITA
St. Josephine Bakhita, who is also known as Mother Maretta, was born in modern day Darfur, Sudan in 1869. At the age of 9, she was kidnapped and sold into a life of slavery throughout the Middle East, Turkey, and Italy. After being sold to a family of the nobility in Italy, she was exposed to Christianity. She was later granted her freedom, and shortly thereafter, she converted and joined the Canossian Sisters. Despite the very arduous period of her life as a slave, she was able to develop a very strong relationship with the community where she resided as a novitiate. Josephine Bakhita passed away in 1947 and was later canonized by Pope John Paul II in 2000. Today, she is recognized as the patron saint of Sudan and of the victims of human trafficking.
Barbara Smith was born in 1946 in Cleveland, Ohio. She is most notably known for her participation in Black feminist efforts that began in the 1970s in the United States. Her involvement in political and social issues began as a child, but it was in higher education that she began to have a more prominent role in movements like the National Black Feminist Organization. Along with her sister, Beverly Smith and a Chicago-native, Demita Fraizer, they created the Boston chapter of the NBFO, which then became a group of its own called the Combahee River Collective. The Combahee River Collective formed out of the need to organize, provide emotional support, and raise awareness about issues that plagued Black women, particularly those who identified as Lesbian and came from working-class backgrounds.
While this is by no means an exhaustive list of notable African women or women of the diaspora, the common trend amongst them is that their contributions to society may have occurred through an unanticipated series of events or in ways that might have been unconventional for the time period of which they lived or are currently living.