Throughout her 77 years, Edna Anan Ismail has always been pitted against huge forces, but the Somalilander has nevertheless won more than her fair share of battles. She was Somalia’s first midwife, Somaliland’s first female foreign minister and, through her determination and the money she acquired from cashing in her World Health Organisation pension, she founded the country’s first-ever maternity hospital.Every year she picks a battle for a fairer world; 2014 was no different as she campaigned against gender-based violence and FGM.
Denis Mukwege, The doctor – Democratic Republic of Congo
When sexual violence is used as a weapon of war in eastern Congo, its aim is to destroy all hope, shame victims and tear apart communities. Dr Denis Mukwege’s Panzi Hospital, which has treated tens of thousands of women subjected to horrific sexual violence, cannot end the impunity that allows these brutal acts to continue. But with its fearless staff, led by Mukwege, the Bukavu hospital provides treatment in a region where it is desperately needed. This year, the European Parliament recognised this work by awarding Mukwege the Sakharov Prize.
Biram Dah Abeid, Malcolm X of anti-slavery – Mauritania
Biram Dah Abeid is a freedom fighter at the frontline of the struggle against modern day slavery and its vestiges in Mauritania. His homeland has the highest rates of slavery in the world and Dah Abeid, himself a descendent of slaves, is determined to finish the practice off for good. To this end, the winner of the UN Prize for Human Rights runs an organisation of popular struggle, IRA Mauritania (Initiative for the Resurgence of the Abolitionist Movement in Mauritania), and ran for president in elections held earlier this year.
Noëlla Musunka Coursaris, The model turned humanitarian, Democratic Republic of Congo
Noëlla Musunka Coursaris may be a professional model but her passion lies in promoting education, particularly that of girls, in her homeland of DRC. Founder of the Georges Malaika Foundation, which has built a free accredited school for over 180 girls in Kalebuka, Coursaris has used her status to provide for girls whose circumstances are not so different to her own when she was young. In 2014, she continued to develop her school, as well as speaking, advocating and fundraising for women affected by war in her home country at various international forums. She is also involved in the “Women Helping Women” initiative, which enhances access to clean water.
Pierre Claver Mbonimpa, The imprisoned prison reformer – Burundi
For nearly two decades, Pierre Claver Mbonimpa has been one of Burundi’s foremost defenders of human rights and, in particular, prisoners’ rights. This is dangerous work to be involved with, and this May he paid the cost when he was arrested on charges of endangering state security. With many believing the charges were politically motivated, protesters took to the streets en masse while several international organisations called for his release. In September, he was released provisionally on health grounds, but his struggle continues.
Leymah Gbowee, The peace warrior – Liberia
In 2003, after 14 years of conflict in Liberia, Leymah Gbowee led a group of women, united across religious and ethnic divides, to demand peace. In Monrovia, they protested, picketed and prayed, and eventually played a key role in the removal of Charles Taylor. Since then, she has continued to demonstrate that same determination and courage as head of Women Peace and Security Network Africa, promoting the role of women in leadership and peacebuilding.
Mo Ibrahim, The good governance guy – Sudan
The Sudanese billionaire may have made his money through the African telecommunications company Celtel, which he sold for $3.4 billion in 2005, but he has made his name through the Mo Ibrahim Foundation. Established to support good governance, the foundation publishes an annual Index of African Governance and awards a multi-million-dollar Prize for Achievement in African Leadership. He says candidly what others may only think.