Nigerian Women Who Broke Boundaries

womens day


From the academia and aviation sector to entertainment and life&style, Nigerian women abound who have challenged the norm and changed the status quo. In commemoration of the International Women’s Day (which is today), we run through a list of Nigerian women who have had the courage to change the status quo thereby aspiring their fellow women to do the same.

  • Chioma AjunwaThe world watched in wonder at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics games as Chioma Ajunwa jumped her way to becoming the first Nigerian and indeed West-African woman to win a gold medal in a track and field event. Ajunwa won the gold medal in the women’s long jump event and was awarded a national medal, Member of the Order of Niger (MON) by then President Sanni Abacha for the feat.

  • Grace Alele-WilliamsIn 1985, Grace Alele-Williams made history in Nigeria by becoming the first woman to be a Vice-Chancellor of a university – University of Benin. Prior to this, she had also emerged the first female Professor of Mathematics Education in 1974 as a faculty member in the University of Lagos.
  • Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: a prolific and award-winning Nigerian writer, Adichie gained international recognition for her work “Purple Hibiscus” (which won her the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize award amongst other awards) and ”Half of a Yellow Sun” (which has been adapted for a movie) thereby changing the literary scene in Nigeria and inspiring hundreds of aspiring Nigerian and African writers around the world.

  • Tara Fela-Durotoyefrom a hobby/side-business to a full-fledged business empire, Tara Durotoye revolutionised make-up business in Nigeria and gave hundreds of young Nigerian women the chance to earn a living and become business owners of their own.
  • Oluchi Onweagba/Agbani Darego: as the first Nigerian winners of M-Net Face of Africa and Miss World respectively, Oluchi and Agbani made the fashion industry take note of Nigeria and changed the face of modelling in Nigeria paving the way for countless young Nigerian and African women to hit the international runway.
Genevieve Nnaji
  • Genevieve Nnajiarguably the most internationally-recognised Nigerian (and African) actress, Genevieve has continually raised the bar in the movie industry. In 2004, she became the face of international brand, Lux in Nigeria, a feat which was relatively new in the entertainment industry at the time. She has also been featured on CNN African Voices and was tagged ‘the Julia Roberts of Africa’ on the Oprah Winfrey show due to her wide appeal.
  • Funmi Iyanda: as host of the popular ‘New Dawn with Funmi’, Iyanda covered a range of issues and gained massive popularity with her down-to-earth and fresh approach to talk show hosting. She also earlier served as a sports journalist covering the 1999 Female Football World Cup, All Africa Games in Zimbabwe and also the 2000 and 2004 Olympics Games in Sydney and Athens respectively. In 2011, an episode ‘Lagos Stories’ of her news documentary ‘My Country: Nigeria’ which was aired on the BBC in commemoration of Nigeria’s 50th anniversary was nominated for Best News Documentary at the 2011 Monaco Television Festival. She was also recently named as one of Forbes 20 Youngest Power Women in Africa.
  • Captain Chinyere Kalu: as the first commercial pilot in Nigeria, Kalu by her own admission faced several uphill battles in the course of her career but remained steadfast through it all and today sits as the Rector and Chief Instructor at the Nigerian College of Aviation Technology. 
  •  Folorunsho Alakija: although known for her fashion label, Rose of Sharon, Alakija recently made it to the news for altogether different reasons – she emerged the Richest Black Woman in Africa with a net worth of about $600 million as at 2012, displacing American media tycoon Oprah Winfrey. Alakija is also actively involved in philanthropy empowering widows and orphans through her Rose of Sharon foundation.
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