South African writer Olive Schreiner was born in what is now Lesotho on 24 March 1855. The ninth of twelve children born to Rebecca Lyndall and her husband, Gottlob Schreiner (1814–1876), a German-born missionary, she and just six of her siblings survived childhood. In adulthood, she suffered debilitating ill-health, exacerbated for a time by grinding poverty.
For a time, Schreiner earned a living as a governess and teacher, but she devoted her free time to writing The Story of an African Farm, a radical feminist novel informed by her experience of growing up in Africa. As soon as she could afford to, she sailed for Britain where she hoped to train as a doctor. Unfortunately, although she attended lectures at the London School of Medicine for Women, established in 1874 by an association of pioneering women physicians, ill-health prevented her from completing her training. Continue reading Olive Schreiner
Huda Sha’arawi was an Egyptian feminist and activist who founded the Egyptian Feminist Union.
Huda was born in Cairo in 1879 and came from a very wealthy Egyptian family. Life for boys and girls in Egypt at that time was quite different. As Huda grew she came to notice there were many things permitted for her brother which were forbidden to her. For example, when she saw her brother riding a horse she wanted one too, however she was told that riding wasn’t for girls. Huda was educated, but again, there were differences in the subjects she was allowed to study and those which her male relatives were. She said;
“I became depressed and began to neglect my studies, hating being a girl because it kept me from the education I sought. Later, being a female became a barrier between me and the freedom for which I yearned.” Continue reading Huda Sha’arawi
I was honoured to be invited to speak this week at the policy launch in Birmingham for the Women’s Equality Party. I made sure to namecheck a bevvy of wonderful Sheroes! Below is a transcript of my speech (with hyperlinks added for further info.)
“When I was first asked to give a short talk this evening and share the stories of some inspiring Sheroes of history many women came to mind. Should I talk about a woman who rallied for social change, as we are attempting to do, like Emmeline Pankhurst or Margaret Bondfield? Or maybe I should speak about a great historical female leader like Boudica or Cleopatra?
Continue reading Women’s Equality Party Policy Launch
One of the most important women in African politics in the first half of the twentieth century was Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, who was from the Yoruba people who had traditional structures which allowed women to be involved in decision-making and administration.
Funmilayo was born in 1900 to parents who were Christian, English-speaking trading agents for British merchants. Her parents believed, unusually for the time, that girls should be educated as well as boys so Funmilayo went to school where she showed academic promise. With the help of family and friends, at the age of nineteen she was sent to England to continue her education. She boarded with a British family and stayed for three years, returning to Nigeria in 1923 when she became a teacher in her home region of Abeokuta.
Continue reading Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti – ‘Vagina’s Head Seeking Vengeance’
From Queen to King: The Story of King Hatshepsut
In Ancient Egypt, a young girl did something unprecedented: she declared herself Pharaoh, King of Egypt. This young girl is King Hatshepsut. Her architectural and economic achievements are prolific, but were nearly lost in the annals of history.
Hatshepsut was born circa 1508 BCE; she was the daughter of King Thutmose I and his Great Royal Wife, Queen Ahmose. Hatshepsut grew up in a world of privilege and held great power and influence. She held the religious title of God’s Wife, which meant she was a link between the people and Amen-Re, the chief god in Egyptian theology.
Continue reading Hatshepsut – The Shero King
Phillis Wheatley was a poet and the first African American woman to have her work published.
Phillis Wheatley, as her name became, was born in West Africa (probably Senegal). Her African birth name is unknown to us now, because when she was only 7 years old she was kidnapped and shipped to America to be sold as a slave. The ship she sailed on was called The Phillis, from which she got her new name. The family she was sold to were the Wheatleys.
The Wheatley’s daughter taught Phillis to read and write, which was quite unusual for a slave. She was a quick learner; by the time she was 9 years old she had mastered English, by the time she was 12 she could handle Greek and Latin too! The Wheatley family encouraged her learning and she began to read all the books she could lay her hands on.
Continue reading Phillis Wheatley
*Trigger warning; rape & torture*
Djamila was born in Al-Qasaba neighbourhood in colonial Algeria in 1935 to an Algerian father and a Tunisian mother. Her family was a middle class family and she was the only daughter amongst seven sons.
Djamila started her national struggle against the French colonisation from a very young age. She went to a French school where they were forced to sing the anthem ‘France is our Mother’ whereas Djamila would say instead ‘Algeria is our Mother’, which ended up in her getting punished.
Continue reading Djamila Bouhired – Algerian Freedom Fighter