Black women play an integral role in human rights movements in countries around the world, yet they don’t always receive the recognition they deserve for their contributions. That discrepancy is reflected online on sites like Wikipedia, where only 20% of articles are about women and even fewer are about women of color since most of the contributors to the site are white.
The most robust online user-generated encyclopedia, largely edited by white male editors, tends to leave out African topics and issues, or perpetuate negative images about the African continent.
One major barrier to getting more Black women on Wikipedia is the site’s “notability” criteria that sparked debate in 2019, when an anonymous Wikipedia user deleted African-American scientist Clarice Phelp’s entry because they felt she had not earned a page.
In recent years, several initiatives have aimed to add more women of diverse backgrounds to Wikipedia by empowering volunteers with the tools and information to create new articles. The WikiProject Women in Red is a group tackling systemic bias on the platform, and WikiMedia Sweden, with support from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), hosts an annual #WikiGap edit-a-thon on International Women’s Day.
Here are seven African women activists advocating for issues related to the Global Goals that Wikipedia users would like to see added to the platform.
1. Madame Cissé Hadja Mariama Sow
Sow was one of the 1,000 women nominated for the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize. Born in Guinea’s Labé region, she works as an advocate for women and girls with various NGO women’s associations, youth organizations, and interreligious organizations, as well as on efforts to advance religious participation in national and international affairs with a focus on the Muslim community. Sow was the first president of the West African Women’s Associationa and acted as general secretary of the Union of Revolutionary Women of Guinea for 12 years.
2. Nebila Abdulmelik
Abdulmelik promotes the use of different art forms to build awareness of inequality and oppression. Born in Ethiopia, she has studied, lived, worked, and traveled to over 30 countries worldwide. Abdulmelik has worked with pan-African women's rights organizations such as FEMNET, and the African Union with the African Governance Architecture Secretariat. She led the #JusticeForLiz campaign signed by nearly 2 million people globally to sentence three rapists who gang-raped and killed a 16-year old Kenyan girl and urged conversations about sexual and gender-based violence in the media. During the development of the Global Goals in 2015, Abdulmelik also advocated for the gender-specific Global Goal 5 to empower all women and girls.
3. Jeannine Mukanirwa
Mukanirwa worked for the women’s human rights organization Promotion et Appui aux Initiatives Femininesin the Democratic Republic of Congo’s North Kivu province, providing women with assistance through community-based projects. In the early 2000s, she was one of the few advocates in the eastern Congo willing to speak out openly against rape and was threatened and arrested often. Mukanirwa eventually fled to Canada to escape further persecution.
4. Mercy Akuot
Akout’s parents forced her to enter a child marriage with her uncle at 15 years old while living in South Sudan. She ended up running away to Uganda and then Kenya’s Kakuma refugee camp, where she delivered a TEDx talk on her experience in 2018. Akout also put together the album Bado Mapema (It’s Still Early) with other young women in the camp that tells their child marriage stories. Now, Akout works to continue advocating against child marriage and for girls’ education through mentoring and facilitating important conversations with young girls.
5. Kagendo Murungi
The late Murungi was a feminist advocate artist and filmmaker who fostered collaborative creative community spaces to promote social justice and peace. She dedicated her life to improving LGBTQ+ and women’s rights in Kenya. The former Africa program manager at the organization OutRight Action International worked to draw the link between colonialism and homophobia across the African continent. Murungi was a founding member of Rutgers University's radical, multicultural woman of color collective.
6. Bibata Ouédraogo
Ouédraogo is dedicated to the promotion of sexual and reproductive rights and the right to maternal health in Burkina Faso, which has some of the world’s highest rates of harmful practices against women and girls. The president of the women’s association for the development of Burkina Faso, AFEDEB, she facilitates community outreach to fight HIV/AIDS, violence and discrimination against women, female genital mutilation (FGM), and child marriage.
7. Beatrice Mukansinga
Mukansinga founded the nonprofit organization MBWIRANDUMVA (“Speak, I Am Listening”) in 1996 to address help support women who were displaced and lost their families in Rwanda’s genocide in 1994. An encounter with a young mother who was a genocide and rape survivor who tried to give up her child inspired Mukansinga to found her organization. MBWIRANDUMVA has helped thousands of women and girls receive therapy, financial support, and skills training.
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