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Your Herstory Heroine

To mark International Women’s Day 2023, we have asked Ireland Fellows to share with us the women and people who fully or partially identify as female who have inspired them throughout their life. Real or fictional, living or long gone, known to many or known only to a few – no matter how big or small, we wanted to hear about their inspirational stories and achievements.  

Lineo from Lesotho currently doing his MA in Public Advocacy and Activism at the University of Galway introduced us to Dr. Arikana Chihombori-Quao: 

Dr. Arikana Chihombori-Quao is a medical doctor from Zimbabwe who emigrated to the US in 1977. She is an activist, public speaker, educator, diplomat, founder of medical clinics, and entrepreneur. She is a former representative of the Diaspora Africa Forum towards the US who advocated for African unity by urging Africans and friends of Africa to take into consideration their cultural roots as an opportunity for investment and development.  From 2012 to 2016, Chihombori-Quao served as the Chair of the African Union - African Diaspora Health Initiative (AU-ADHI). She mobilised African health professionals in the diaspora to assist with Africa's continental healthcare crisis. Additionally, Dr. Arikana Chihombori-Quao is known for her bold and robust speech about the implications of the Berlin Conference that took place in Berlin in 1885. To this day, she lectures about the outcome of the divisions on the continent of Africa and sees these divisions as a cause of some of Africa’s problems that are still prevalent today, seeking to reunite African states and the African diaspora. 

Saymore from Zimbabwe doing his MA in Education at the Trinity College Dublin talked about RuPaul Andre Charles: 

RuPaul Andre Charles is an American drag queen, television personality, actor, musician, and model. The worldwide success of RuPaul's Drag Race has helped create a huge upswell of positivity for the queer community by increasing its visibility to a mainstream, non-LGBTQ+ audience. It attracted a larger audience and gave the LGBTQ community permission to explore their sexual and gender identity and expression in the public sphere. RuPaul’s rich history of challenging dominant norms and systems of oppression; building queer community; and cultivating experiences of queer joy in a hostile world helps queer people, especially those living in a non-supportive environment, to accept themselves.  

Thea from South Africa doing an MSc in Computer Science at the University College Dublin thought it is only appropriate she speaks about Mary Robinson: 

Mary Robinson is a lawyer, human rights activist, and the 7th President of Ireland. Her steadfast commitment to promoting human rights and social justice marked her tenure as the first Irish female president. Robinson worked to foster equality and inclusivity in Irish society, advocating for issues such as LGBT rights, women's rights, and the rights of marginalised communities. After leaving the office, Robinson continued to work as a human rights activist on the international stage as the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights from 1997 to 2002. She is known for her advocacy on issues such as climate change, gender equality, and the rights of indigenous people. 

What I find most inspiring about Mary Robinson is her unwavering commitment to justice and equality. Throughout her career, she has been a tireless advocate for marginalised communities and has used her platform to amplify the voices of those who are often not heard. Her work has profoundly impacted Irish society and beyond, and her legacy as a champion of human rights will continue to inspire generations to come. Mary Robinson serves as an excellent example of a woman who has made a significant impact on society by standing up for what she believes in and working tirelessly to promote equality and justice.  

As we celebrate International Women's Day, we must recognise and honour the achievements of women like Mary Robinson and commit ourselves to the ongoing struggle for gender equality and social justice. To follow in Mary Robinson's footsteps, we can start by educating ourselves about the issues concerning women and marginalised communities, and by actively listening to the voices of those who are often silenced. We can take action to promote equality and justice in our communities whether by volunteering, donating to organisations that support marginalised communities, or using our voices to advocate for change. Ultimately, Mary Robinson's legacy reminds us that we all have a role to play in creating a more just and equitable world. By working together and supporting one another, we can make a difference and create a better future for ourselves and future generations. 

Realeboha from Lesotho doing an MSc in Artificial Intelligence at the Dublin Business School introduced us to Nkhono Mantsopa: 

In Sesotho culture, Nkhono Mantsopa (or Prophetess Mantsopa) Anna Makhetha is one of the key figures in the long and successful reign of the first Basotho King (and founder), Morena Moshoeshoe I. She was born near present-day Maseru and was a renowned prophetess whose powers and visions enabled her to prophesy many battles that the Basotho nation would win. She had the ability to prophesy events as well, including the rinderpest pandemic that occurred after World War I. Unfortunately, the British annexing Basutoland (present-day Lesotho) brought changes, one of which meant that Nkhono Mantsopa could no longer be an advisor to Morena Moshoeshoe. She was baptised and given the name Anna. She moved to Mooderport (near Ladybrand in the Freestate province of South Africa) and joined Anglican missionaries and despite the resistance from the missionaries, she continued to use herbs and divination. She accepted that there was only one God, but she continued to criticise the missionaries' teachings for what she saw as being anti-Basotho. Many, many years have passed since her death in 1908 at the ripe age of 111, but the cave in which she used to pray and the freshwater spring in it still attracts people to this day. Some visit the cave for prayers and healing, some to collect the water, and others to pay homage to the legend that she is. She has a local municipality named after her, and her grave and cave have been declared by the Freestate Provincial Heritage Resources Authority as provincial heritage sites. 

Pov from Cambodia doing an MA in Education at the Mary Immaculate College in Limerick took a different route and decided to speak about his mother: 

My heroine is my mother. Not only because she gave birth to me and raised me, but because she has inspired me and many others. I hope her story inspires you, too.  

My mother lives in a rural village close to Angkor Wat, only 15 km from Siem Reap, Cambodia. Born in 1963, she experienced a bitter childhood surrounded by wars. The American air forces bombed her community in the early 1970s before the commencement of the Khmer Rouge regime that turned the whole country into the ‘killing fields’ until 1979. She lost her mum, several siblings, and her opportunity for schooling. Like many of her generation, my mother only attended school for several months. Despite her short schooling, she strongly believes in the power of education. 

Books were regarded as a luxury during the 1980s, so she used her hard-earned savings to buy a handwritten novel and learned how to read it by herself. She struggled with pronunciation, so she asked my father for help; together, they worked it out gradually. Then she read that same book to me out loud repeatedly until I learned how to read myself. In 1998, I became the first person from my district to pass the lower secondary school, and I had to move to the city for upper secondary. People thought that she was foolish for sacrificing hard-earned welfare for my education. She said that life is too hard for them because they didn’t have a chance for proper education and that she wants to give her child a chance to make a better life for himself.  

Time proved that she was right. Her four children achieved third-level education and today have highly regarded careers. As a result of her actions, more and more people supported their children in secondary education and beyond. Eventually, my mum and dad were awarded the outstanding role model award presented to them by the provincial governor in 2007. It is worth noting that feminist leadership is rooted deeply in Cambodian tradition. A Queen had ruled the Kingdom before the very first King even arrived in the first century. Today we can still feel the significance of feminism in our Khmer language; for example, ‘may’ is used as the prefix to convey the greater value of something or someone while ‘may’ alone means ‘boss’ or ‘mother’.  

My mother turns 60 this year, so please join me in wishing her good health and happiness! 

Be Your Own Heroine 

We also took International Women’s Day as an opportunity to celebrate our female Fellows and encouraged them to share their stories. The Ireland Fellows Programme is full of amazing, talented, brilliant, intelligent, powerful, and resourceful women. We would like to take this opportunity to introduce you to two of the Ireland Fellows who have decided to share their story, achievements, and goals with us – meet Calister from Tanzania and Mwandu from Zambia. 

Calister Apollonary Simba, MSc in Cybersecurity, Munster Technological University, Cork 

Calister Apollonary Simba is an IT and cybersecurity enthusiast and awareness champion in Tanzania. She co-founded Cyberjamii, an organisation aiming to reduce cybercrimes in Tanzania through the promotion of cybersecurity and support of secure ICT innovations. In April 2020, She founded CYBERDADA Tanzania, the first female digital initiative in Tanzania aimed at upskilling, promoting digital safety, and fostering passion and interest for technology and digital security in young girls in Tanzania from the age of 9 to 30 through in-person and virtual training and mentoring sessions. 

She works day and night to make sure Tanzania has a safe online space for young girls so that they don’t miss out on the benefits that virtual spaces provide. She has provided cybersecurity awareness campaigns on phishing, cyberbullying, and online safety for kids for different TV and radio stations such as Mlimani TV and TBC FM. She is also working on making sure that there is a platform offering a voice to young girls and women in technology and digital security where they can liberate themselves by showcasing skills and innovations without doubts and nay-sayers with the intent to establish a gender diverse economy in Tanzania.  

Calister has won both local and global awards through her volunteering activities and influencing other young women in her community. These include ITU Innovation Challenges Winner in September 2020 which was issued by the International Telecommunication Unit (ITU). In the same year, she was nominated as a Woman Hacker of the Year by Cyber in Africa/African Women in Security Network. In July 2021, she was selected as IFSEC Global Influencer in Security and Fire - One to Watch which was issued by IFSEC Global – Security and Fire News. She is also one of 100 Sheroes 2022/2021 in Tanzania.  

Calister is also currently working as an Information Systems Security Engineer at the Central Bank of Tanzania (BOT). During her spare time, she is a mentor to two amazing mentees at the Women in Cyber mentor Program prepared by International Telecommunication Unit (ITU).  

Her initiative CYBERDADA Tanzania has created a platform that offers a voice to young girls and women in technology and digital security to ask questions, showcase skills and innovations without fear, share opportunities, and learn various ways of defending themselves in this cyberspace. They have formed WhatsApp groups where they discuss various technology and security topics such as social engineering and data science. They also discuss how to be safe in the digital world including providing cyber safety tips as well as sharing various career opportunities that one can take to reach further. The initiative has mentored more than 100 young girls in primary and secondary schools who wanted to enroll in tech and cybersecurity programs at universities. One of the young girls has chosen to be enrolled in a computer science program after completing her secondary studies because she was being mentored and inspired by the ladies who were mentoring her. 

Mwandu Nakazwe Sakala, Zambia, LLM in International Migration and Refugee Law and Policy, University of Galway 

The best way to describe me is as an ambitious and hardworking woman destined for greatness. Growing up in Zambia, I was a child who constantly spoke my mind when I didn’t agree with how things were being done at school or at home. This usually got me in trouble with my elders as well as teachers and I realised at the early age of thirteen that I wanted to be a lawyer. I remember my father asking me in my final year of secondary school what I wanted to do afterward, and I told him I wanted to go to England to study law. He told me he would only consider it if I got really good results. Luckily, I got great results and found myself in England studying law. Schooling abroad from the age of eighteen taught me some valuable life lessons such as: a) in order for you to get good results in whatever you do you have to put in the work (hard work pays off); b) unfortunately there will always be people who will dislike you for one reason or the other hence be proud of who you are, of your race as well as where you come from; and c) being independent is a form of freedom that can never be taken away from you.

When I completed my law degree from Coventry University I knew without a doubt that I wanted to practice law in Zambia. I was not sure which area of law I wanted to specialise in until I decided to attend a court session where I saw Judge Prisca Nyambe (SC) in action. That was the moment when I decided that I was going to be an adjudicator. Soon after that I enrolled in ZIALE (Bar Course) and opted to do my practical with the Judiciary of Zambia to get a better understanding of what exactly it meant to be an adjudicator. I formally joined the Judiciary of Zambia in 2017 as a Resident Magistrate and what I find fulfilling about my job is being able to administer justice to those that need it the most without fear or favour. 

I am currently pursuing my postgraduate degree in Ireland and my goal is to be able to get a better understanding of the phenomena of international migration, human trafficking, and refugee law; engage with the developments in international criminal law as well as international human rights law, particularly how they can be used to protect the vulnerable around the Global South.  

My greatest achievement so far has been balancing my career and education with raising two beautiful children. I would like to tell girls as well as young women out there to never doubt how valuable you are. The days when you couldn’t have both a successful career, as well as a family, are behind us, however, if you choose to solely focus on either your career business or your family, that is also okay.