Posted by Africa.com Editorial Staff
African women have made inroads in the legal sector, where top positions are still largely dominated by men. We’re talking about powerful female lawyers who fight for justice in courtrooms across the continent, fiercely advocate for the rights of women and children, and through their work, saved the lives of women on the cusp of being violently executed.
In alphabetical order, Africa.com highlights some of the most influential African women in law.
Aisha Zumo Bade, Tanzania
A bachelor of Laws and Letters (LL.B) honors graduate from the University of Dar es Salaam, Aisha Bade started off as an intern in the chambers of a renowned land lawyer in Tanzania. She later went on to study in New Zealand and spent some time working as a legal officer there before returning to Tanzania to take a position in the country’s Lands Ministry. Bade went on to found Chipeta Bade and Associates, and later Bade Attorneys. She is currently a partner at Leo Attorneys in Dar es Salaam and chairs Tanzania’s Women Lawyers’ Association.
Beatrice Hamza-Bassey, Nigeria
Hamza-Bassey is hailed as the first Nigerian-trained woman lawyer to make partner at a major American law firm. A graduate from the University of Maiduguri in Borno State,Nigeria, she is currently based in New York with one of the most prestigious law firms in the United States, Hughes Hubbard & Reed LLP. Hamza-Bassey has received numerous awards in recognition of her work, including the “Most Outstanding Nigerian Lawyer in the Diaspora” by Empowered Newswire. She was also recently named as one of the top ten Africans in New York City by Forbes Africa magazine. Hamza-Bassey is the current chair of the Nigerian Lawyers Association’s Board of Directors.
Photo credit: hugheshubbard.com
Judge Fatoumata Dembélé Diarra, Mali
Photo credit: China Daily / Xinhau
Judge Diarra received a license in human rights from the University of Dakar, holds a master in legal sciences from Bamako’s national school of administration, as well as a diploma from Paris’ national legal school. A key member of the Malian Democratic Movement, Diarra was appointed as a Judge for the International Criminal Court (ICC) in March 2003. Previous positions include National Director of the Mali Justice Department, as well as President of the Criminal Chamber of Bamako Appeals Court. Judge Diarra has a long since been a leader in defending the rights of women and children, and she is the founder of the Pro Bono Center for women and children in Mali.
Unity Dow, Botswana
Photo credit: UN / Jean-Marc Ferré
As the first female judge appointed to the High Court in Botswana, Unity Dow is hailed as a trailblazer in the Southern African country. She spent more than a decade in that position, and received international acclaim during her ruling over Bushmen and their ancestral lands – described as one of the regions longest and most expensive trials. Dow grew up in Botswana’s capital, Gaborone before moving to neighbouring Swaziland to pursue further studies, then later enrolled at Edinburgh University in Scotland. Dow was a partner at Botswana’s first all-female law firm and is currently a partner in her own law firm. She is also currently serving her second term as Commissioner of the International Commission of Jurists, helping to implement the new Kenyan constitution. Dow has authored a number of books, including Far and Beyon’, a novel focusing on gender equality, and Saturday is for Funerals, a book highlighting the torment of HIV/AIDS in Botswana.
Hauwa Ibrahim, Nigeria
- Photo credit: European Parliament / Pietro Naj-Oleari
Hauwa Ibrahim is hailed as one of the top defenders of women’s rights in Nigeria. She is most known for her pro bono work defending people condemned under Islamic Sharia laws in northern Nigeria. Ibrahim is founder and senior partner at Aries Law Firm in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja. She received her Bachelor of Laws and Letters (LL.B) and a Master’s in International Law & Diplomacy from the University of Jos in Nigeria; a Bachelor of Law (BL) for legal practice from Nigeria Law School; and a Master’s of law degree in International studies at American University’s Washington College of Law. Ibrahim is also the recipient of three honorary doctorates and is currently a visiting lecturer at Harvard University.
Rebecca Alitwala Kadaga, Uganda
Photo credit: Edward Echwalu / echwaluphotography.wordpress.com
Kadaga made history as Uganda’s first women Speaker of Parliament. She was also the first female Ugandan lawyer to open chambers in Uganda in 1984. Former president of the Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA) in Uganda, Kadaga was recently elected as the Chairperson of the Common Wealth Women Parliamentarians (CWP). The daughter of a civil servant in the Ministry of Justice, Kadaga spent some time as a legal assistant before setting up Kadaga and Company Advocates. She later joined politics, taking up the position of MP.
Judge Sisi Khampepe, South Africa
Sisi Khampepe has been a Judge in South Africa’s Constitutional Court since 2009, one of only two females to have been appointed. A former member of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, she started her career as a legal advisor in the late 70s. Educated at the University of Zululand and Harvard Law school, Khampepe spent a decade in private practice, specializing in labour law. She later held the position of Deputy National Director of Public Prosecution.
Thuli Madonsela, South Africa
Photo credit: Die Burger
Advocate Thuli Madonsela is currently tasked with the challenging role of South Africa’s Public Protector, having been appointed by President Jacob Zuma. The woman often referred to as a “one-woman corruption crusader” and “SA’s iron lady” grew up in Soweto and once worked as an assistant teacher at a high school, later became part of the group who helped draft South Africa’s constitution after apartheid in 1994/95. Madonsela was named “Person of the Year” by Daily Maverick in 2011, for her work in “exposing maladministration, abuse of power and improper conduct in government.”
Myma Belo-Osagie, Nigeria
Dr. Myma Belo-Osagie is a University of Ghana graduate, as well as the recipient of two degrees from Harvard Law School. A specialist in Nigerian petroleum regulations and environmental law, Belo-Osagie is currently a Managing Partner at a leading Nigerian law firm located in Lagos, Udo Udoma & Belo-Osagie. There she heads the Telecommunications and Oil & Gas teams. Belo-Osagie played a key role in drafting the Nigerian Communications Act 2003 and is a member of the New York, Ghana and Nigeria Bars – as well as the American Bar Association.