In celebration of Women’s History Month, Pan-African brand Okay Africa has unveiled a list of 100 African women who have influenced the world.
The women were selected from industries including arts, business, politics, and sports. The list includes Amma Asante, Philomena Kwao, Yaa Gyasi, Benny Bonsu, Karen Attiah Bozoma Saint-John and Jojo Abot.
Benny Bonsu has several talents: she’s the writer and creator of Bedroom Diaries of a Black Woman, has a background in education as a behavior specialist and was a part of the organizing committee for the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. However, this multitalented Ghanaian is best known for being a broadcaster, writer and producer for BT Sports.
In 2015, Bonsu covered the very first NBA Africa Game in Johannesburg, South Africa for BBC Africa, a landmark moment in her career. Last year, she won the Best Diaspora Media Personality award for Ghana Sports Excellence. Nonetheless, Bonsu is involved with organizations that support women and young people: she’s a business mentor for the Cherie Blair Business Foundation, where she conducts worldwide mentorships with women on business, and is part of the UN Women UK Committee. Lastly, but not least, Bonsu founded Girls in Sport, where she tours 100 schools and colleges in London, reaching out to girls who love sports.
Amma Asante is a London-based, award-winning writer and director. The Ghanaian-British screenwriter got her start in the entertainment industry as an actress. During her late teens, acting took a backseat as she made her way into directing. The BBC2 urban drama Brothers and Sister, featured a young David Oyelowo who is now an A-list Hollywood star (Selma). In 2004, she wrote and directed her first film,A Way of Life, which debuted at the Toronto Film Festival and won seventeen international awards.
In 2004, Asante followed up A Way of Life with her second feature film Belle which became a phenomenal success that Oprah publicly endorsed. The movie led to widespread international acclaim, which resulted in Asante featuring as one of CNN’s Leading Women of 2014. Additionally, she was honored alongside Barbara Walters, Katie Couric and Jane Fonda at the 2014 Media Center awards. Asante has two highly anticipated 2017 features, Where Hands Touch and A United Kingdom.
Yaa Gyasi, an award-winning writer hailing from Ghana, spent years researching her novel, Homegoing. It was a visit to her native country in 2009 on a Stanford University grant that led Gyasi to rethink her initial story idea.
At the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, she honed in on her thoughts and wrote the critically-acclaimed book—securing a seven-figure advance for the work. A New York Times Best Seller, Homegoingcaught the attention of cultural critics Ta-Nehisi Coates and Roxane Gay—who both endorsed it. Since Homegoing’s release in June 2016, NPR named it the Debut Novel of the Year, and it was also one of Oprah’s 10 Favorite Books of 2016, as well as a Time Top 10 Novel of 2016. Recently, Forbesnamed Gyasi as one of their 30 under 30 honorees and she is a National Book Award 5 under 35 honoree.
Homegoing follows two half-sisters, separated by the slave trade. One is sold into slavery while the other marries a British slaver on the Ghanaian coast. The book traces three generations of family on the African and North American continent over a 300 year period.
Gyasi, 26, was born in Ghana but grew up in Alabama. She studied English at Stanford University as an undergraduate student and is excelling in her field. For writing about a traumatic time period with incredible power, Gyasi is an African writer to watch—as her 2017 Pen America Literary Award nomination shows.
Hailing from Accra, Ghana, Jojo Abot is an accomplished artist who experiments with different genres including, electronica, afrobeat, jazz, neo-soul, house and reggae.
Abot also uses photography, literature and performance art to showcase her talent. Fyfya Woto, is the singer-songwriter’s EP which talks about a woman’s right to choose and tells the story of “a young, Anlo (Ghanaian) woman hungry to be loved…Caught in a compromising situation with her Caucasian lover in a time of slavery and divide, she is brought before a tribunal at which she must save not only herself but also her lover.” The themes that come through include duty, love, family, freedom and tradition, to name a few.
Abot is scheduled to go on tour with Lauryn Hill later this year and has made a name for herself as a passionate performer who has graced the Summer Stage and Global Citizen platforms.
The Ghanaian creates work from Accra, New York City and Copenhagen.
Bozoma “Boz” Saint-John is currently heading Apple Music’s Global Consumer Marketing division. Although she has been hustling in the marketing field for over a decade behind the scenes, Saint-John stole the spotlight in 2016 at Apple’s World-Wide Development Conference when she led thousands in a karaoke style, sing along to “Rapper’s Delight.” The Ghanaian born, Wesleyan University alum started her career with Pepsi Co. by being at the forefront of their music festival based marketing strategy. She is the creative force behind some of your favorite, yet subtle, superstar marketing moments. She arranged Beyonce’s blackout Superbowl performance, the Apple commercial with Kerry Washington, Mary J. Blige & Taraji P. Henson and was instrumental in inking deals with Taylor Swift. Billboard has named Boz a “Top Woman in Music” and she has also been inducted in the American Advertising Federation’s Advertising Hall of Achievement.
Philomena Kwao is a London-born, New York-based plus-size model of Ghanaian descent. She is known for her closely cropped hair, chocolate hue and curvaceous body. Kwao has modeled in international campaigns for brands such as Torrid, Nordstrom, Lane Bryant and Evans. Additionally, she nabbed a coveted feature in Sports Illustrated and has high-profile interviews with Elle Magazine, New York magazine’s The Cut where she speaks about inclusion. Kwao exemplifies both beauty and brains. She has obtained a degree in economics and a Masters’ degree in international health management from Imperial College London. She was discovered as a Masters degree student in 2012, and pursued her modelling career thereafter. Currently, Kwao is signed with Models1 in the UK and JAG Models in the USA. She also began her own charity called The Lily Project where boys and girls counsel with mentors via the internet. When asked about her goals for her modeling career she is quoted as saying, “Ultimately I would like to use my voice to advance healthcare access around the world.
Nigerian-Ghanaian-American Karen Attiah is a force in the online journalism world. She’s the global opinion editor at Washington Post, which is a grand title that speaks for itself—and she lives up to it. With her articulate, opinionated, thoughtful pieces, she is one of many voices that pushes the boundaries of journalism and urges us to think critically about our world—even if some commenters strongly disagree with her views and reports.
Attiah covers international and national politics, social justice, race and gender for The Post. Her work has also appeared in Salon, Huffington Post, ABC News, Voices of America and many other publications.
Nadia Rose is a 24-year-old, wicked cool rapper from West Croydon, London. The UK-based rapper is of Ghanaian descent and is the next rising rap star coming out of a British brigade of mostly male rappers. As the daughter of a DJ, she began writing bars at age 13 and her favorite hobby, reading the dictionary, has proven useful to creating the visionary’s witty, punchline filled singles.
On January 13, 2017, Rose released her EP Highly Flammable following the successful release of her singles “Station,” “BOOM!” and “SKWOD.” The video for “SKWOD” has over 2.9 million views in its 7 months on YouTube.
She was born into the British rap royal family; her cousin, Stormzy, is a major player in the Grime scene. Additionally, she is receiving high praise from American R&B Superstar, Alicia Keys. In her videos, Rose drops swaggy rhymes to match her fashionable look. This combination has garnered her sponsorships from Adidas, G-Star, Beats by DRE and DKNY. Her sponsorships and sick bars have led to a string of sold out shows with the likes of Anderson. Paak and Section Boyz. Rose is now signed to Relentless Records, a subsidiary of SONY Music Group so it’s safe to say you will see her again.
Michaela Coel, 26, is the Ghanaian-British comedian cracking people up with her quirky Netflix series, Chewing Gum. The actress won the 2016 BAFTA for best “Female Performance in a Comedy Programme.” The popular Netflix series is based on her one-woman show, Chewing Gum Dreams.
For creating groundbreaking content that covers the angst and awkwardness of adolescence, in a council estate, Cole is proof that comedic material can be found in places people dismiss as dismal. She does a great job of showing the nuances of growing up as an immigrant in a less privileged community, and her work is changing how people see young Brits of color in media.
Coel won a scholarship to attend the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, and despite being one of the few black students to attend, she excelled and is positioned for global success in TV and film. Scores of fans await Chewing Gum’s return to Netflix in April 2017, which will no doubt have the candor, punch lines and memorable characters viewers love to watch.
Farida Bedwei, a Ghanaian software engineer, was diagnosed with cerebral palsy at one years old. But that hasn’t been a disadvantage in her career. Bedwei is the co-founder and chief technical officer of software company Logiciel, and the developer of a cloud software platform that 130 nationwide microfinance companies use today. The South African publication, CEO Magazine, named her the most influential woman in government and business in Africa. She’s the definition of a boss.
As society is becoming more aware of marginalization, intersectionality and “isms” that systemically hold people back, it’s important to recognize that people with different abilities are not disadvantaged—they’re worthy, they matter. “I am a role model for a lot of children with disabilities so it’s very important for me to showcase to the world that…Yes…You can have a disabled child and it’s not the end of the world,” Bedwei tells CNN. She’s right—it can be the beginning of a whole new world.
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