In the spirit of International Women’s Day (Month) we revisit the September issue of British Vogue, guest edited by HRH the Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle (yes, our forever royal), focuses on 15 women who are ‘Forces for change’ through their determination to break barriers and positively reshape society. Among these 15 women, 6 are phenomenal black women. These women are Adut Akech Bior, Adwoa Aboah, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Laverne Cox, Ramla Ali and Yara Shahidi. Some of their stories and causes are explored below.
CHIMAMANDA NGOZI ADICHIE: The African feminist
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a Nigerian author and a world renowned feminist. She is perceived as one of the emblematic figures of African feminism and the global feminist movement at large. Her literary work ranges from novels to short stories and non-fictional essays.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was born in Enugu, Nigeria and grew up in the university town of Nsukka, Nigeria. Her father was a professor in Statistics and her mother, the university’s first female registrar. As a result, she was exposed to literature at an early age. However, she quickly realised that the books available to her did not relate to her immediate environment. Consequently, she decided to explore African literature and found herself falling in love with the works of African writers such as Chinua Achebe. She subsequently committed herself to becoming one of the literary voices of the African continent.
Chimamanda’s story is peculiar as she has started her higher education journey in medical school, nevertheless, her passion had always been storytelling through writing. She therefore left Nigeria to the U.S.A where she pursued a Bachelor’s degree in political science followed by a MA degree in creative writing (Johns Hopkins University) as well as a MA degree in African studies (Yale). She later went on to being conferred a few honorary degrees by her alma mater amongst other institutions.
Her political science and African studies background is reflected in her novels such as Americanah (2013) in which she explores the complexity of race relations in America. She also touches on the heart-breaking reality of the Nigerian Biafran war through Half of a yellow sun (2006). Finally, through Purple hibiscus (2003), Chimamanda focuses on the issue of domestic violence. Purple Hibiscus (2003), won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, whilst Half of a Yellow Sun (2006), won the Orange Prize. Americanah (2013), on the other hand, won the US National Book Critics Circle Award, and was named one of The New York Times Top Ten Best Books of 2013.
Chimamanda’s landmark TedTalks, are amongst the most watched TedTalk videos with ‘The danger of a single story’ totalling 5.2million views (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D9Ihs241zeg ) and ‘We should all be feminists’, 5.5 million views (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hg3umXU_qWc).
Her TedTalk, We should all be feminists’ was further popularised in 2013 after getting sampled by Beyonce in her song ‘Flawless’. Her book-long essay ‘We should all be feminists’ (2014) was internationally acclaimed and its title was used to create a T-shirt for the Dior SS/17 collection. A percentage of the proceeds from the T-shirts were given to Rihanna’s foundation, The Clara Lionel Foundation, which supports global education, health and emergency response programs. Adichie’s latest essay, ‘Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions’ was published in March 2017 and was based on a letter Adichie wrote to a friend whom had asked for advice about how to raise her daughter as a feminist.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was named one of TIME Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World in 2015. In 2017, Fortune Magazine named her one of the World’s 50 Greatest Leaders. She currently divides her time between the US and Nigeria where she gives creative writing workshops.
YARA SHAHIDI: The voice of a generation – actress and activist
born in an iranian and african american family, yara debuted her acting career at 8 years old in the movie ‘imagine that’ in which she played eddy’s murphy’s daughter. she subsequently got her break out role as zoey johnson in the abc tv series ‘black-ish’ and its spinoff ‘grown-ish’. since then, yara has frequently used her platform and large following to speak out against issues directly affecting women and the black community such as police brutality, gender inequality or the decolonisation of the educational system in america.
in 2017, she received admission into harvard university where she chose to study sociology and african american studies. her application was supported by a letter of recommendation from the former first lady of the united states of america, michelle obama. she has become a notorious figure for young activism over the years. she maintains links with ngos such as ‘girls for gender equity’ and the ‘third wave fund’.
in high school, she started yara’s club in partnership with the young women’s leadership network, providing online mentorship as a means of ending poverty through education. in 2017, she interviewed hillary clinton for teen vogue. in 2018, she launched eighteen x 18, a national initiative with the goal of encouraging political involvement and voting from young people.
yara mainly argues that education should be reformed globally and more specifically in america as the curriculum tends to be heavily eurocentric. according to yara, individuals would be more empathetic towards one another if they had an understanding of each other’s stories, struggles and the way they navigate life.
yara is also strongly embedded in the fashion industry and has graced the cover of multiple renowned magazines such as elle uk, harper’s bazaar arabia and porter magazine. moreover, she is a brand ambassador for chanel. in 2018, she was featured in bof’s list of the 500 people shaping the fashion industry.
ADWOA ABOAH: An agent of change – Bold and unapologetic
Adwoa was born and bred in London. Her father is a Ghanaian-British fashion location scout and her mother the founder of the CLM agency, one of the most influential management agencies in the creative industry. Adwoa was featured on the BOF’s 2018 list of the 500 people shaping the fashion industry, along with her mother, Camilla. She is a model, stylist, activist and a British Vogue contributor. Her cause is directly linked to her platform, Gurls Talk. Adwoa’s platform, Gurls Talk, has the mission of empowering women from all walks of life. On Gurls talk, women can discuss a multitude of issues directly impacting the way they navigate the world such as immigration, sexual identity and mental health. The platform includes a podcast powered by Nike which carries the same name; conferences and seminars. In December 2017, Adwoa graced the cover of Edward Enninful’s first British Vogue issue as Editor-In-Chief of the publication. On the cover, she was crowned with a headscarf, symbolising a new era for the magazine. In the same year, she earned the title of Model of the year.
Adwoa represents the voice of change for British fashion. As a result, she has been appointed Ambassador for positive change by the British Fashion Council. In partnership with the council, she has recently launched a mentorship scheme aiming to introduce five young people to careers in the fashion industry.
Aboah is a positive role model for young girls, embodying boldness and unapologetic genuineness. Earlier this year, Barbie celebrated its 60th anniversary by raising awareness around the Dream gap (girls start to limit themselves from the age of 5 due to their gender) and selecting 21 inspirational women for their ‘Shero’ doll collection in an effort to close this gap. Adwoa was amongst the 21 women selected by the global brand. She often emphasises the fact that she wants girls to feel represented, capable and empowered. In this vein, she is planning a school tour with her platform ‘Gurls Talk’ to provide a safe space for young girls to freely discuss matters that are not addressed in their curriculum.
ADUT AKECH BIOR: From refugee to model of the year
Adut Akech Bior, 19, was born in Kakuma, Kenya’s largest refugee camp, shortly after her family fled civil war in South Sudan. She grew up in the camp until the age of 6, when she moved to Adelaide, Australia. Her family has been living in the city as refugees ever since.
Adut started her modelling career in Australia at 13 and secured her first major fashion show in 2017 at 16, walking for Saint Laurent in Paris. The show kickstarted her fashion career and she was subsequently signed to Elite Model Management in Paris.
Last year, Adut was featured on BOF’s list of the 500 people shaping the fashion industry and earned the title of model of the year 2018. She was also recognised by TIME as one of the “25 Most Influential Teens of 2018”.
Bior is the second black model in history to land the concluding bridal spot in a Chanel couture show. As of September 2019, she had secured five international Vogue September issue covers.
Akech has decided to dedicate her life to breaking down the stigma around refugees. Her goal is to make the world understand that refugees are normal individuals, and should be accepted into society as such. In this context, she has started work with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, promoting initiatives to support refugees worldwide.
Adut was contacted by HRH the Duchess of Sussex earlier this year to be featured in the British Vogue September issue, the young model was described as inspirational.
RAMLA ALI: The strong and fearless Somali boxer
Ramla Ali is the most decorated Muslim female boxer in history. She was born in Mogadishu, Somalia where she grew up until her family fled the civil war, seeking refuge in the UK. Indeed, her elder brother was killed at 12 years old, hit by a mortar shell whilst playing in the street. Due to the circumstances in which her family has had to flee Somalia, she does not know her exact age.
Ali was frequently bullied as a child for being overweight. Consequently, she decided to take boxing classes as a form of exercise. She rapidly developed a passion for the sport and religiously attended boxing classes. Her family disapproved of her new hobby and asked her to stop, which she did for a few years. However, her strong passion for the sport led her to secretly start training again. She nonetheless, had to hide her boxing career from her family for years as they believed it was not a suitable activity for a woman. With the help of her coach, now husband and an uncle, she was able to convince her family to let her practice the sport freely.
Ali is currently the first Muslim British champion and the African zone Featherweight Champion. She is also the first female boxer in history to have won an international gold medal while representing Somalia.
Ramla Ali is inspiring and represents strength and courage. As a result, a biopic on her journey titled ‘In The Shadows’ is currently getting produced by Film4, led by the BAFTA award winning and Oscar-nominated producer, Lee Magiday.