Leading African women in development

Leading African women in development


Join the fight against extreme poverty

ONE’s Poverty is Sexist report makes the observation that while poverty affects both men and women, it has a greater impact on women in the least developed countries. On every indicator, life is significantly harder for girls and women in least developed countries compared with those living in other countries. Despite this, African women are leading the way to bring about change in every sector. The following women are leaders in their field working to make life better for all.


Poor nutrition is a central cause for poor health and development outcomes for women and children and a contributor to gender inequality through lowered productivity. More than 55 million children in Sub-Saharan Africa are affected by stunting and 46% of pregnant women are anemic. Poor breastfeeding practices mean that infants do not get the nutrition they require in the first several months of life.


Photo Credit: Fortune

The Honorable Dr. Ruth Oniang’o is an influential figure championing the need for better nutrition for mothers and children. A member of Kenya’s parliament from 2003-2007 and an internationally acclaimed professor, she has worked with the Food and Agriculture Organization, the World Health Organization, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and others. She has been instrumental in showcasing the work of African researchers in nutrition through and founded the African Journal of Food, Agriculture, Nutrition and Development. Dr. Oniang’o also contributes locally the Rural Outreach Program which provides support to Kenyan smallholder farmers.


Access to internet and mobile phones can increase women’s access to more income through jobs, business opportunities, and education. In Sub-Saharan Africa, nearly 45% fewer women than men have internet access and women are 23% less likely than men to own a mobile phone. Changing this situation is key to increasing women’s economic opportunities.


Judith Owigar, Linda Kamau, Marie Githinji, and Angela Odour are co-founders of Akirachix and leaders in Kenya’s tech industry with a commitment to ensuring that the poorest young women in Nairobi have access to information and communications technology. The training program targets tech sector gender inequalities through mentorship and training. Through networking sessions, the founders of Akirachix connect aspiring entrants and seasoned veterans in technology in an effort to build a spirit of curiosity and collaboration.


In Africa, more women (58%) than men live with HIV. Many women still lack access to quality health services and programs that will enable them to stay healthy.

Photo Credit: BWH Global Health Hub

Photo Credit: BWH Global Health Hub

Tackling the health problems that prevent people from reaching their full potential is a passion for Dr. Agnes Binagwaho. The current Minister of Health for Rwanda, Dr. Binagwaho has been instrumental in championing health systems transformation in her country. Through her various posts at National AIDS Control Commission and the Ministry of Health, she has contributed to growing a vibrant health sector. As result of her efforts and others like her, Rwanda has seen a 66% decrease in infant mortality since 2000, a 70% decrease in child mortality, and a dramatic 60% drop in AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis deaths.

Economic Empowerment

In sub-Saharan Africa, 86% of women are in vulnerable employment in comparison with 70% of men. Lack of access to social protection, equal pay for equal work, access to finance and financial institutions serve to exclude women from embracing opportunities to achieve their potential.


Photo Credit: Cartier Women’s Initiative

Wendy Luhabe, a South African businesswoman and entrepreneur sets an example for women’s economic empowerment. A former director of the Johannesburg Securities Exchange (JSE) and chancellor of the University of Johannesburg, she also co-founded Women’s Investment Portfolio Holdings Limited (WIPOLD), the first female owned company listed on the JSE, to empower black women in South Africa by integrating development and empowerment at the heart of business operations. At the community level, Wendy encourages micro-enterprise through pilot bakeries for women in four South African provinces.


Education is a central part of girls and women’s development. However, statistics show that girls continue to fall behind – nearly two-thirds of sub-Saharan African girls not in school will never get there.

Photo Credit: Autograph

Photo Credit: Autograph

Innovators like Rapelang Rabana of Botswana are transforming the way students learn by using technology to provide tools for measuring performance and encouraging information retention. Her online training and education company Rekindle Learning uses pedagogical theory on how students learn to pioneer solutions for achievement.


Investments in sub-Saharan African agriculture are 11 times more effective at reducing poverty than investments in other sectors. As one half of the agriculture labor force, women make a critical contribution, yet lack adequate resources for food production (i.e extension services, financing, etc.).

Photo Credit: AWARD Fellowships

Photo Credit: AWARD Fellowships

70 of Africa’s top female scientists recently received the AWARD (African Women in Agricultural Research & Development) Fellowship and work hard to increase women’s participation and productivity in agriculture. The AWARD Fellowship cultivates female leadership in agriculture through the mentoring and training of female agriculturalists in Africa to provide support to value chain research, gender responsiveness, and designing innovations for smallholder farmers. Recipients of the award have varied focus, including clean energy technology for smallholder farmers or empowering rural women through capacity building in agriculture extension, nutrition education, and livelihood programs.


For 1.3 billion people worldwide energy access is an unaffordable luxury. These people have no access to electricity which is critical for health system infrastructure, cooking, and business opportunities. Many African businesses cite lack of reliable energy as the greatest obstacle to growth.


Joycee Awojoodu, a Nigerian energy advocate, has committed herself to helping advance solutions for reliable energy in her country. In her role at the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission and within the Federal Ministry of Power, she champions policy to incentivize investments in renewable energy. She also supports youth entrepreneurship through the Solar and Alternative Resources organization which she founded to enable youth to enter the energy sector as “solarpreneurs.” SOAR empowers youth by providing business support, connecting entrepreneurs to markets, and training in the use and assembly of solar panels.

Transparency and Accountability

Holding governments accountable for how they spend money in the extractives sector is critical to robust democracy and engaged citizenship. Poor transparency in the management of natural resources can be considered a violation of human rights and has negative impacts on people’s health, well-being and livelihoods.

Ms. Winifred Ngabiirwe from Uganda is the Executive Director for Global Rights Alert and Chairperson of Publish What You Pay Uganda. She leads 40 member organizations in an advocacy coalition aimed at raising awareness about the extractives sector in Uganda. Via mobilization, capacity building and advocacy, the coalition works to ensure that Uganda’s use of natural resource is transparent and accountable to its people. Ms. Ngabiirwe and others continue to advocate for the adoption of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) to promote openness and accountability.

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