SOAS University of London

SOAS President Graça Machel recognised as one of Africa’s most powerful women

31 March 2020
President of SOAS, Mrs Graça Machel
President of SOAS, Mrs Graça Machel

SOAS President Graça Machel has been named as one of the most powerful Pan-African women, according to a new list published by Forbes Africa.

The inaugural Africa’s 50 Most Powerful Women list identifies top female figures from business, politics, media, science, sports and public life across the continent, and was announced during the Forbes Leading Women Summit 2020 in Durban in South Africa this month.

Forbes Africa created an unranked list of 50 women who are challenging the status quo and ‘creating a trail on terrain where there was none’ - women who are are reshaping history, closing inequalities and pioneering new avenues of wealth creation and in turn, lifting others with them.

Graça is a renowned international advocate for women and children's rights and has been a social and political activist for many decades. She was born in Mozambique where she served as Minister of Education and Culture from 1975-1989. In 1994, she was appointed by the Secretary General of the United Nations as an independent expert to carry out an assessment of the impact of armed conflict on children. Her ground-breaking report, published in 1996, established a comprehensive global agenda for the protection of children’s rights in conflict situations.

She serves in different capacities for various organisations including the Africa Progress Panel and the UN Millennium Development Goals Advocates Panel and has received numerous awards for her work. She is Chair of the Leadership Council for the Campaign to End Paediatric HIV/AIDS, one of the founders of the Forum of African Women Educationalists, and served as Chancellor of the University of Cape Town until 2019.

With her late husband Nelson Mandela, she was a founding member of the Elders, a group of global leaders advocating good governance, human rights and development across the African continent.

As President of SOAS, Graça presides over graduation and other ceremonies, and she acts as an ambassador for the university across the world. Her term ends in July this year.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Also recognised in the top 50 was internationally acclaimed and award-winning novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, who holds an honorary doctorate from SOAS. Her work includes Purple Hibiscus, which won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, and Half of a Yellow Sun, which won the Orange Prize. Her 2013 novel Americanah won the US National Book Critics Circle Award, and was named one of The New York Times Top Ten Best Books of 2013.

Her books have challenged perceptions around issues such as identity and race, and her internationally renowned TED talk ‘We should all be feminists’ had a global impact on conversations about gender equality. Born in Enugu, Nigeria, Ms Adichie was also named one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World by TIME Magazine in 2015 and one of the World’s 50 Greatest Leaders by Fortune Magazine in 2017.