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International Women’s Day: Honoring African Women Heroes

March 2, 2016

International Women’s Day on March 8 is a great opportunity to honor the women who have made a positive difference to our lives; they might be a family member, a politician or even a celebrity. But what about the unsung ‘sheroes’ who quietly work to make a lasting difference to some of the world’s most marginalized communities while fighting environmental degradation?

To mark the occasion, we invite you to be inspired by the seven African women heroes who have been awarded the Goldman Prize. These women have endured harassment, arrests, and even threats to their lives.

You can honor their work by taking a deeper dive into each of their backgrounds, share their stories or, most importantly, take action to support their continued work:

Wangari Trees





Who? Wangari Maathai

What? The first environmentalist — and African woman — to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, Maathai was internationally renowned for her struggle for democracy, women’s rights, and environmental conservation. Maathai died in 2011 after a long career in grassroots activism that has inspired countless others.  

Continue her legacy: Join the Green Belt Movement and the Wangari Maathai Foundation as they continue Maathai’s work, including building The Wangari Muta Maathai House — a place of learning, growth, and action.Ikal Water

Who? Ikal Angelei

What? Organized the indigenous communities around Lake Turkana in Kenya to fight the construction of a $60 billion dam that stands to destroy their way of life.

Build on her momentum: Join Friends of Lake Turkana’s #BeyondTurkana campaign as they expand their work to protect the livelihoods of over 300,000 Kenyans. This involves the herculean task of fighting two more dams, as well as fighting the spread of sugarcane and cotton plantations that dump polluting nitrates into Lake Turkana.Makama PolicyWho? Thuli Makama

What? As Swaziland’s only public interest environmental attorney, Makama worked for years to include local people in conservation efforts, protecting them from forced removals from their land to make way for big game parks. She won a landmark case in 2009 which gave communities a say in the management of their lands. Makama’s work — balancing the interests of both wildlife and people — was highlighted in the new documentary “Unfair Game: The Politics of Poaching”, narrated by Robert Redford.

Help continue her work: Stop the exploitation of Swaziland’s wildlife and end the importation of elephants from Swaziland to US zoos.Portrait of Phyllis

Who? Phyllis Omido

What? A former employee of a lead smelter, Omido quit her job after learning her breast milk, tainted with lead from exposure at work, and was making her baby sick. She galvanized the community in Mombasa, Kenya, to shut down the smelter that was exposing people to dangerous chemicals.

Take her fight to the next level: Support Omido’s campaign for environmental justice for the lead-poisoned children of the Owino Uhuru community in Kenya.

Laila Waste

Who? Laila Iskandar

What? Iskandar worked with Cairo’s historically marginalized garbage collector community — the zabbaleen — to improve their living conditions and the environment. She helped the young women of the zabbaleen community find alternative income sources such as weaving, leading them towards independence.

Be her ally: Learn more about the zabaleen way of life.Margaret Wildlife

Who? Margaret Jacobsohn

What? A conservationist, Jacobsohn co-founded the Integrated Rural Development and Nature Conservation program, which pioneered a natural resource management program in Namibia. This combines ecotourism with community development which has become a model for wildlife conservation throughout Africa. Today, more than 80 Namibian communities – one in eight Namibians – are managing and benefiting from their wildlife through legally registered conservancies, covering more than 20 percent of the country. This program has also helped reverse the pattern of decline of elephant and rhino populations in the country.

Become an advocate for community conservation: Learn more about their innovative approach to conservation.Fatima empowermentWho? Fatima Jibrell

What? Jibrell helped save northeastern Somalia from the logging of old-growth acacia trees, vital to pastoral communities and wildlife. She trained women in leadership and land management in an area of expanding desert and water scarcity.

#ChangeTheStory: Jibrell’s organization Adeso is committed to a different future for Africa. Sign up for the Adeso newsletter and learn more about how they are working to build stronger, more resilient Somali communities. You can also make a donation and help them do even more to protect Somalia’s fragile environment.

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