Welcome to Women's History Month! Every year, WHM is observed in March to celebrate women’s contributions to culture and society. It started as a week in 1978 and expanded to a full month six years later. WHM is a time when the achievements of women are highlighted—not only in history but also in current times.
We decided to spotlight 10 (out of the many) notable Nigerian women that we all know and love due to their lives’ work.
How many do you recognize?
Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is a Nigerian-American economist who was unanimously appointed as Director-General of the World Trade Organization in 2021. The first woman and first African to occupy this position, she was also the first woman to hold both the positions of Finance Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs in Nigeria.
She has decades of experience at the World Bank and played a significant role in Nigeria’s finance sector, from debt to fund management, while she was in office.
A few of her recognitions include one of the 50 Greatest World Leaders (Fortune); Top 100 Most Influential People in the World (TIME); Top 100 Global Thinkers (Foreign Policy); and Top 100 Most Powerful Women in the World (Forbes).
Nigerian-British singer and songwriter Sade Adu is a legend in contemporary music. Her timeless R&B and soul music alongside her elegant aesthetic has always set her apart in the industry.
She became the first Nigerian to win a Grammy Award with her award for Best New Artist in 1986. One of the most successful British female artists in history, Sade was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 2002 for services to music. She was promoted to Commander of the same Order (CBE) in the 2017 Birthday Honours, also for services to music.
For most Nigerians and even other Africans, Patience Ozokwor was very present in our childhoods through the many characters we saw her play right on our TVs. She has brought so much joy and entertainment to the lives of people all over the world through her passionate acting.
In 2014, “Mama G” was honored by the Nigerian government as one of the country’s International Acclaimed Artists as part of the Centenary Anniversary Awards. Also a gospel singer and fashion designer, she remains one of the most popular Nigerian stars in the world!
A staple in Nollywood, Genevieve Nnaji is a world-famous actress, director, and producer. She made history in 2009 by being the first Nigerian actress to be profiled on The Oprah Winfrey Show.
In addition to her countless acting roles, she has worked in fashion, as a model, and has released music.
She won Best Actress of the Year at the City People Awards in 2001 and at the African Movie Academy Awards (AMAA) in 2005. In 2011, she was honored as a Member of the Order of the Federal Republic by the Nigerian government for her contributions to the Nigerian film industry. In 2015, Genevieve produced her first movie titled Road to Yesterday and in 2016 it won the award of Best Movie in West Africa in the African Magic Viewers Choice Award (AMVCA).
Tiwa Savage is a Nigerian-American singer, songwriter, and actress who paved the way for women in the Nigerian music industry.
In 2014, she became the first female Nigerian artiste to be nominated for the BET awards. In 2016, her management and publishing deal made her the first Nigerian artist to be signed to Roc Nation. She was also the first woman to win in the category of Best African Act at the 2018 MTV Europe Music Awards.
Tiwa’s international music career has been an inspiration to many Nigerian women like 19-year-old Ayra Starr, who is currently taking the world by storm.
Also known as “Jenifa” after her famous movie by the same name, Funke Akindele has over 100 movies to her credit as an actress, writer, and producer.
She became popular around 1998 after her role in the popular United Nations Population Fund-sponsored sitcom I Need to Know and has become one of Nigeria’s most popular actors, especially in the Yoruba film industry. In addition to her acting, she is the CEO of Scene One Film Production and made her directorial debut in 2019 with the film Your Excellency. She launched her own web series called Aiyetoro Town on SceneOneTV.
Her movie Omo Ghetto currently holds the record of highest-grossing Nigerian movie of all time, breaking the four-year record of The Wedding Party. She has won multiple awards in Nigeria and Africa for her roles and continues to entertain with her amusing characters.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Americanah. Half of a Yellow Sun. Purple Hibiscus. The Thing Around Your Neck. We Should All Be Feminists. You have probably read or come across these titles by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. A writer and storyteller, she is globally known for her work on culture, politics, gender, and race. From religion to feminism to LGBTQ+ issues, Chimamanda continues to write and speak on tough topics in society.
She has received honorary doctorate degrees from universities all over the world and has received multiple awards. Chimamanda inspires a lot of women around the world to write their stories and aim for the stars in whatever they do.
Bukola Elemide, known to the world as Aṣa, is a Nigerian-French singer, songwriter, and artiste. Her music style is soulful with a mix of pop, funk, reggae, and jazz. She is one of the most popular Nigerian musicians in the world and her music covers the deep themes of love, life and changing the world.
Aṣa was recently Spotify's EQUAL Africa Music Programme ambassador of the month as part of its initiative to commemorate International Women’s Day. With this program, different African female artistes are announced monthly to promote gender equality in the music industry and showcase influential female musicians. Her rich voice and Afrocentric vibe continue to make her a great model to women and shown the beauty of being connected to the culture.
Kiki Mordi is an Emmy-nominated journalist, radio presenter, and filmmaker. Her career started in 2013 as a broadcaster in Rhythm FM Benin City, where she soon became an audience favorite. In 2017, she became the head of presenting at Women Radio 91.7 in Lagos, which was Nigeria’s first radio station dedicated to women and their families.
In 2019, her investigative film with BBC Africa Eye titled “Sex for Grades” went viral. The documentary, which uncovered sexual harassment in West African universities, showed her talent to the world and encouraged women to share their own experiences. It also spurred a national movement and led the Nigerian senate to reintroduce the anti-sexual harassment bill which passed in 2020, proposing up to 14 years in jail for offenders.
Kiki is now the founder of Document Women, a media platform that documents women's influence on society. Some of her awards include the MTV EMA Generation Change Award and the Michael Elliot Award for Excellence in African Storytelling.
Were you keeping up with the #EndSARS movement in 2020? If so, you probably recall grassroots activist Aisha Yesufu who was very vocal on the issue. She came into the limelight in 2014 when she co-founded the #BringBackOurGirls movement to raise awareness about the 276 schoolgirls abducted by Boko Haram and call for their rescue.
While the EndSARS movement was focused on police brutality in Nigeria, activists like Aisha spoke about Nigeria’s core issues and the multifaceted problems of policing and bad governance. She continues to speak on Nigeria’s problems while fighting for a better future.
In 2020, she was one of BBC's 100 Women and among the Top 100 Most Influential Africans by New African magazine. Her courage and passion inspires women in Northern Nigeria and beyond to be tenacious in whatever they believe in.
These are just a few of the women that represent Nigeria in amazing ways and lead the upcoming generations of Nigerian women by example.
Who are some other notable Nigerian women that are doing big things in the world? Mention them in the comments!