As part of its celebration around International Women’s Month, Facebook has announced the launch of ‘LeadHERs: Life Lessons From African Women’, a collection of beautifully inspired stories & life advice from 19 women who are breaking boundaries in fields such as media, entertainment, politics, education and business.
The 19 women include Ghanaian journalist, editor and politician, Elizabeth Akua Ohene. When Elizabeth Akua Ohene became a journalist in 1967, there were no other female reporters at her paper. After twelve years as a reporter, she was appointed as editor, becoming the first woman to edit a major national daily newspaper in Africa. But when she was critical of Jerry Rawlings’ then-government, she was forced to take her eight-year-old son and flee the country. She lived in exile for 19 years, working as a reporter for the BBC in the UK, including being part of the award-winning BBC Focus on Africa team.
When she returned to Ghana in 2000, she campaigned for John Kufuor for President; when he was elected the following year, Elizabeth joined the new administration as Minister of State to the Ministry of Education, Science and Sports.
Sharing her lesson on how to know your values and be true to yourself, Ohene reveals in the book:
My maternal grandmother, whom I was sent to live with from the age of five to nine, was an early powerful female role model for me. She had been widowed before the age of 40 and had been left with six children to bring up but refused to remarry as was the custom. She had a fearsome reputation in her small village, and therefore nobody was allowed to mess with me. Looking back, I think she taught me the importance of knowing what you want out of life and making sure you don’t get pushed into things.
My own parents were both teachers and so questioning everything was part of my upbringing. I always knew I’d do something with words when I grew up and I wrote for the school magazine, but I’m not sure I had my sights set on being a journalist. When I finished university in 1967 someone told me the Daily Graphic, our national newspaper, was recruiting. I applied, had an interview and was successful.
The first thing that hit me was a cloud of smoke when I walked into the office, because everyone smoked. The atmosphere there was extremely male. The only women there were the two typists – journalists handwrote their articles and then handed them to be typed up – by a woman in the library. As I was led around the office by the editor, I was told that there had been “girls like you here before and they don’t last long”. I then had a really horrendous experience with the feature’s editor, who when I said hello and held out my hand, grabbed my wrist and said sexually suggestive things to me. I remember the tears springing to my eyes, but I suddenly thought, “I am not going to let you see me cry over this.” I looked him straight in the eye and said, “Are you quite finished?” It didn’t take long until they realised that my copy was good and that I got the story: I let my work speak for itself. I think that is the best way to help with confidence.
It was a very tumultuous period in Ghana in 1979; there had been a military uprising and people were being publicly executed. I wrote an article saying the killings should stop; people said it was brave, but I just knew I had to write it. Because it was a state-owned newspaper, every time there was a change in government, a new editor was appointed. When the new government was elected, I was selected to be editor. I was only 34 and the first woman to hold that role; I accepted on the condition that they would stick to the new procedures they were proposing around state-owned media.
Two years later we had another coup. I was extremely angry; I didn’t particularly support the government at the time, but my view was that it had been elected and the people should remove them at the next election, rather than being forced out by the military. I wrote this, and as I was going home from work one day, I heard on my car radio that I should report to military barracks. I decided not to do that, but to leave the country with my eight-year-old son. I thought we would be gone for six months; we spent 19 years in exile in London.
I kept working as a journalist for the BBC, then, in 2000, I took a six-month sabbatical from my job to come back to Ghana to campaign for John Kufuor in the Presidential elections. When he won, he offered me a position in his government, so I called the BBC and quit. I loved my job, but I needed to go home. It wasn’t a huge shift to get into politics: when you’re a journalist you’re already involved in politics. I had been hugely angry about having to flee my country and live-in exile: the thought that anyone should have to leave their home just because they don’t agree with the government was disgusting to me. I got into politics because I wanted to make sure that never happened to anyone else in my country
Available for free in digital and physical formats, the book provides inspirational real-life stories for future generations and young leaders. Each chapter focuses on a personal experience and life lesson around how these women have navigated their path to success, alongside the challenges they have had to overcome along the way. ‘LeadHERs: Life Lessons from African Women’ isaimed at encouraging, inspiring and guiding the reader – no matter the background, age or ambition.
‘LeadHERs: Life Lessons from African Women’ follows on from the successful 2020 launch of ‘Inspiring #Changemakers: Lessons from Life and Business’ in South Africa. This 2021 book is further brought to life through a series of beautifully illustrated artwork specially commissioned from four female artists from across the continent – Massira Keita from Côte d’Ivoire, Lulu Kitololo from Kenya, Karabo Poppy from South Africa, and Awele Emili from Nigeria.
With over 5,000 copies printed, the book will be provided for free to a number of Facebook’s local training partners including She Leads Africa, Fate Foundation, DigifyAfrica, Siyafunda, Smart Ecosystems for Women and cCHub. These will be distributed across 15 countries, including South Africa, Nigeria, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Liberia, Senegal and Kenya – in schools and to beneficiaries of training(s) offered by Facebook partners.
Nunu Ntshingila, Regional Director, Facebook Africa, said: “At Facebook we know that African women are at the helm of shaping the future of our promising continent – they are changemakers, mothers and CEOs. This book is a celebration of just some of the exceptional African women who in their own right are trail-blazers, motivating and inspiring people and advocating for good across Africa, and the world. We’re excited about their individual stories, inspired by challenges they’ve endured and how they’ve risen above these, and importantly how they’ve turned these into important life lessons to help inspire others.”
The women featured in ‘LeadHERs: Life Lessons From African Women’, include:
- Tara Fela-Durotoye – Entrepreneur and CEO [Nigeria]
- Elizabeth Akua Ohene – Journalist and Politician [Ghana]
- Hawa Sally Samai – Founder, CEO and Campaigner [Sierra Leone]
- Saran Kaba Jones – Founder and CEO [Liberia]
- Temi Giwa-Tubosun – Founder and CEO [Nigeria]
- Baratang Miya -Tech entrepreneur and CEO [South Africa]
- Dr Judy Dlamini – Entrepreneur, Author and Philanthropist [South Africa]
- Yvonne Okwara – Journalist and News Anchor [Kenya]
- Tecla Chemabwai – Athlete and Educator [Kenya]
- Alice Nkom – Lawyer and Human Rights Activist [Cameroon]
- Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim – Global Activist [Chad]
- Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu – Founder and CEO [Ethiopia]
- Lelemba Phiri – Entrepreneur, Investor, Educator [Zambia]
- Vanessa Hau Mdee – Media personality, Musician and Podcaster [Tanzania]
- Monica Musonda – Lawyer, Entrepreneur and CEO [Zambia]
- Kalista Sy – Showrunner and Screenwriter [Senegal]
- Noella Coursaris Musunka – Model and Philanthropist [Democratic Republic of the Congo]
- Samantha ‘MisRed’ Musa – Media personality, Social Influencer and Philanthropist [Zimbabwe]
- Djamila Ferdjani – Doctor and Entrepreneur [Niger]
This March marks the three year anniversary of Facebook’s #SheMeansBusiness programme in Sub-Saharan Africa, an initiative designed to inspire, empower and train female entrepreneurs across the continent to build, grow and start their own businesses. As part of this, Facebook is launching a new training component on business resiliency through financial education in Nigeria, South Africa and Senegal, with the additional modules aimed at improving female business owners’ financial management skills, whilst addressing challenges that women entrepreneurs face, such as access to capital.
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