Fight the Power: 10 Black Women Activists in the Diaspora You Need to Know

by Jaimee A. Swift 

Irrespective of time, space, age or locale, Black women in the African Diaspora are actively advocating for and discussing the varying needs and issues that affect their respective communities. Both historical or contemporary figures, the women on this list serve as excellent examples of the extensive work that is being done to expand the Pan-African paradigm of the Black voice.

1. Lélia Gonzalez — Brazil

An anthropologist, professor and intellectual, Lélia Gonzalez served as a pioneer in the quest for racial equality, gender equity and social justice for Black women in Brazil. An unapologetic Afro-Brazilian feminist and activist of the Movimento Negro Unificado (The Unified Black Movement, an organization that revolutionized Black activism in Brazil), Gonzalez stood on the frontlines of the movement — discussing the varying intersections of oppression that Black Brazilian women faced in society. She was one of the first Brazilian feminists to address white feminism’s lack of inclusion of the systemic, social inequities and prejudice that Afro-Brazilian women faced. A daughter of a black railroad worker and an indigenous maid, Gonzalez earned her Bachelor’s degree in philosophy and history, a Master’s in Social Communications and a Ph.D. in Social Anthropology.

A founding member of the Black Women’s Collective, N’zinga, and afro-bloco/cultural activist group, Olodum, Gonzalez served in Brazilian universities for over thirty years until her untimely death in 1944, at the age of 59. Her revolutionary work is revered by many contemporary Afro-Brazilian women activists, who look to Gonzalez as a trailblazer for Black racial and gender equity in Brazil.

2. Wangari Maathai — Kenya

A Kenyan environmentalist and political activist, Wangari Maathai was the founder of the Green Belt Movement, which is an organization that empowers women to conserve the environment, help their communities and improve livelihoods. Aiming to counter the threat of deforestation, Maathai mobilized African women and paid them shillings to plant trees in their communities. Through this international female solidarity, over 30 million trees were planted.

An advocate for women’s rights and democracy in Kenya, Maathai became the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize Laureate in 2004. Having authored four booksThe Green Belt Movement; Unbowed: A Memoir; The Challenge for Africa; and Replenishing the Earth — Maathai was also the first woman in East and Central Africa to earn a doctorate.

3. Noerine Kaleeba  Uganda

Imagine your partner returning home from being abroad to have he or she unexpectedly pass away a week later. From AIDS. This was the unfortunate reality of Dr. Noerine Kaleeba, whose husband passed away from AIDS upon returning to Uganda after graduate study in the United Kingdom. In the face of such an adverse and sorrowful situation, Kaleeba was able to turn her tragic reality to that of transformative HIV/AIDS activism and advocacy in her native Uganda and beyond.

In 1997, founded the AIDS Support Organization Uganda (TASO Uganda), which serves as the prototype for challenging the stereotypes and discrimination of those with the disease as well as restoring hope and dignity of people and families with HIV/AIDS in Uganda. Serving as TASO’s first executive director for eight years, TASO has not only matriculated into a household name in Uganda, but is also recognized as pillar of the global health equity community.

4. Angeline Jackson  Jamaica

After Angeline Jackson and her friend were kidnapped at gun-point and sexually assaulted by anti-gay rapists in Jamaica, Jackson became a fiery advocate for LGBTQ rights. In a country where homophobic sentiments are rampant, after her assault, she was told by a policewoman to “leave [that] lifestyle and go back to church.”

In response to such insensitivity and discrimination, Jackson created and is the director of Quality of Citizenship Jamaica (QCJ), the only-registered non-profit for lesbian and gay women. Founded in 2013, Quality of Citizenship Jamaica fosters the enhancement of healthcare for lesbian and bisexual women in Jamaica, as well as increases LGBTQ participation and brings awareness to Jamaican constituents about health, HIV, and human rights.

In April of this year, President Obama during his visit to Jamaica commended Jackson for her efforts and referenced her as a global activist for LGBTQ rights.

5. Francia Marquez-Mina — Colombia

“Black sons of bitches: You’ve been declared a military objective. Your days are numbered.”

This is only one example of the numerous threats that Afro-Colombian community leader, Francia Marquez-Mina has faced for her undying advocacy for her people. An active community leader in the Yolombo municipality of Buenos Aires, she is known for her denouncement of the mining in indigenous communities as well as the extreme effects of the war that has displaced many Colombians. Defying paramilitary threats by illegal armed groups that aim to threaten, kill and rape Colombia’s rural Black and indigenous people, Mina has mobilized a group of women to stand up to these groups and defend their lands.

Mina, who is the President of the Community Council of the city, recently released letter to the media, painting a vivid picture of the devastating plight that Afro, indigenous, and peasant communities are facing in Colombia.

6. Faith Bandler — Australia

Political activist and writer, Faith Bandler served as a profound campaigner for the rights and equality for the Aboriginal people in Australia. Born to a Scottish and Indian mother and a father who was kidnapped from an island to work in the cane fields in Australia, Bandler was an influential activist who created organizations to advance the rights of the indigenous people, including the Aboriginal Australian Fellowship and the Federal Council for the Advancement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders.

Bandler was also a key figure in the 1960s campaign to grant equality and citizenship to the Aboriginal people. After a decade of staunch activism and speaking at over hundreds of churches, forums and functions, the Australian government acquiesced to Bandler’s campaign and granted citizenship in a 1967 referendum.

Bandler also established the Women’s Electoral Lobby, the Australian South Sea Islanders National Council and the Australian Republican Movement.

7. Claudia Jones — London

Born in Port-of-Spain Trinidad in 1915, Claudia Jones was a central figure in London’s Caribbean community. When she was eight years old, she moved to Harlem, New York. In 1936, she became an active member of the American Communist Party and in the late 1940s; she became the editor of the “Negro Affairs” section of the party’s newspaper, the Daily Worker.

After being deported to London in 1948, she became an activist for Black rights and equality; as many West Indians faced extreme prejudices in London due to post-war migration. In response to the racism, Jones founded the West Indian Gazette in 1958, which was Britain’s first Black newspaper. Known as the “mother of Notting Hill”, Jones created the Notting Hill Carnival, which was a West Indian event created in response to the 1958 riots; in which vigilantes attacked members of the Black community. The event was crafted to initiate amicable relationships between the communities in London and in January 1959, the first carnival was held.

8. Minna Salami — Nigeria

A Nigerian-Finnish writer, speaker and commentator on African feminism, society and culture, Minna Salami is the founder of MsAfropolitan, an award-winning blog that discussing contemporary African culture from a feminist perspective. Aiming to celebrate the entirety of the African woman, Salami’s blog is a counter to the textual objectification of African women and provides a multi-faceted outlook on African heritage womanhood.

Using feminist activism to discuss varying issues in African culture, including pop culture, decolonization, and pan-African news, she is listed by Elle Magazine Malaysia as one of the “12 women changing the world” and Applause Africa listed her as one of the “40 African change-makers under 40.” A contributor to various news outlets such as The Guardian, Al Jazeera, Huffington Post and the Observer, she is a regular guest speaker at conferences, discussing themes that range from dismantling patriarchy and communications as a tool for social change in Africa.

9. Jessica Horn — Uganda

A Ugandan poet and women’s rights activist, Jessica Horn is the founder and creator of Akiiki Consulting, which is an interdisciplinary, African-centered consultancy organization for the advancement of women’s rights and justice. Having worked on countless initiatives to end violence against women and to support women living with HIV/AIDS, Horn was nominated as a Soros Reproductive Health and Rights fellow, authoring a book chapter of the African feminist perspectives on female genital mutilation.

A founding member of the FRIDA, the Young Feminist Fund, and lead author of the Bridge Cutting Edge Pack on Gender and Social Movements, she is also an adviser to oldest international women’s fund, Mama Cash and to Urgent Action Fund-Africa, which is a feminist and women’s human rights pan-African fund registered in Nairobi, Kenya.

10. Yaa Asantewaa — Ghana

Born in 1840, Yaa Asantewaa was the queen mother of the Edweso tribe of the Ashanti people, in what is now modern-day Ghana. A member of an independent federation of Ashanti families, she was the principal leader of the Ashanti rebellion against British colonialism in 1900. Known as The Golden Stool or the Yaa Asantewaa War, the Queen Mother rallied women of the land together to fight after some of the males of the tribe entertained the idea of giving the Golden Stool -- which was the symbol of the Ashanti throne and kingdom -- to the British.

Defying orders, Asantewaa led an army of 5,000 against the British but would later be captured and exiled to Seychelles. A successful politician, human rights activist, intellectual and leader, Queen Mother Yaa Asantewaa was also a promoter of female emancipation and gender equality during her reign.

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Jaimee A. Swift is a graduate of Howard University and Temple University, with a Master of Arts in Political Science and a Bachelor of Arts in Communications, respectively. A writer and truth-seeker at heart, Swift is contributing writer at For Harriet. You can follow her on Twitter @jaimeeswift.