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Trail Blazers

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Over the years, women have been discouraged from venturing into male stereotyped jobs or careers, and oftentimes chocked out of the passion or even frowned at.

This trend has caused many women to withdraw into a regular career comfort zone, out of the fear of being perceived as different.  However, with the emergence of female trailblazers who have gone ahead to chart the course for others, other women are beginning to emerge from their hiding places like snails from their shells, sweeping a media frenzy across the globe. 

One of such exceptional women is Salma El Majidi, who has made news in the Arab World with her decision to take up a career in a male-dominated terrain.

El Majidi the first Arab and Sudanese woman to coach a men’s football team in the Arab world. As the story, El Majidi crosses filters into the ears of many, women across the world are encouraged that their counterparts across the MENA region are beginning to make waves around the world.

It is obvious that with other trailblazers from the region, such as; Captain Nevin Darwish who became the first Egyptian-Arab female to fly the Airbus 380, and Shadia Bseiso – first Arab woman to be signed into the World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) – women in MENA are gradually moving beyond the boundaries of stereotype to let the world know that Arab women have a better place in future.

Yes! things are beginning to turn out well for them and it is also an achievement to the overall gender equality drive to women and women supporters in the world.

El Majidi is the daughter of a retired policeman who fell in love with football when she was sixteen. She often watched her younger brother’s school team being coached and was thrilled by the coach’s instructions, his moves, and how he placed the marker cones at practice sessions.

After each training session, she made sure to engage in a discussion with the coach about the techniques he used to coach the boys – learning from him. The coach noticed the passion she had for the job and after several discussions with her, he went ahead to employ her to work with him.

Salma was zealous about her job, although a graduate of Accounts and Management Studies from Al Nasr Technical College, she made sure she convinced her parents and family to allow her fulfill her dreams.

Coming from a traditional family, it was a challenge for her to defend her decision and prove herself to her relatives, but as time went by, the result of her great talent began to show itself and members of her family soon realized that she was serious about her decision and was ready to make something out of it.

Salma is 27 years old and from a part of Arab where it is believed that a woman’s role is confined only to her home. And not only that, it is also obvious that this ideology has crept into most career fields including the female football teams. It is also important to point clearly that there is no legal ban on women’s football in Sudan, but a conservative society coupled with the Islamist leanings of the government have left it in the shadows, making football a distant dream for most of the women.

However, in the midst of all these, while the social beliefs have mostly discouraged women in Sudan from pursuing Football as a career, and while others are still struggling to break free from certain barriers in order to get to a common level, Salma who has been determined to succeed went around it to become a football coach for an all-male team.

She was recently acknowledged by FIFA as the first Arab and Sudanese woman to coach a men’s football team, prior to this recognition, in 2015, she was noted in BBC Arabic ‘s 100 inspirational women of the year.

She currently serves as the pioneer coach of the Al Nasr Omdurman football club in Sudan and holds the African “B” badge in coaching, which gives her opportunity to coach any first league team across the continent.

She hopes to coach an international football club someday.

In recent years, there have been records of elected young persons into prominent leadership positions in countries around the world, such as therecent ex-president of the United States, President, Barack Obama who ruled the country at age 42 and Emmanuel Macron, the current president of France, who was elected in May 2017.at the age of 40.
Youthful leadership which is the “in thing” in many political scenes across the globe, is gradually invading the political scene of Africa without putting out the women.
On the Trailblazer category for this week, we celebrate the young fresh flower in the political scene of Botswana who is no other person than Ms. BogoloKenewendo, the newly appointed Minister for Investment, Trade and Industry Ministry.
Gender inequality is evidently being worked on but there is still too much to be done. So we do not hesitate to celebrate unique stories like that of BogoloKenewendo, as a way of pushing for gender equality in the world.
While we celebrate the matriarchs who have gone ahead to confirm the statement that says “what a man can do a woman will do better”, we also commend our young and emerging diamonds who are on the scene, making way for the next generation. So that their stories can serve as a gear to motivate other women,that aresimilarly blazing the trail of leadership.
Bogolo is a woman in her very early 30’s who hails from Motopi, a little village in Botswana. She was raised in Botswana and she had her early education there.
She is an alumnus of the University of Botswana, where she graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Economics, after her Bachelor’s degree, she moved to Brighton, England to obtain an MSc in International Economics from the University of Sussex being a recipient of a prestigious Chevening Scholarship in 2012.
Passionate about her profession, she worked as an economic consultant at Econsult Botswana.
Bologo is a trailblazer, who is passionate about what she envisions, she stands as a driver of development in areas like poverty eradication, reducing inequalities and empowering women and youth. In the course of her career, she lived and worked as a trade economist at the ministry of trade and industry in Ghana.
Bogolo started to steal the world’s attention when she became the youngest member of parliament in Botswana in 2016 being appointed by the former president of the country, Ian Khama.
Her uniqueness makes her eligible for authentic positions and she is always the best candidate for the job, having handled several high-level positions and projects in Botswana. In September 2009 Bogolo was one of two Botswana youth delegates at the 64th Session of the United Nations General Assembly and was nominated to present a statement of African youth to the Secretary-General of the United Nations.
She has been privileged to partake of prestigious programmes including the Foreign and Commonwealth Office International Leaders Programme in 2016, A variation of the US President Obama’s YALI for Young Women Leaders in 2011.
Also in 2011, she was part of the young African women leaders’ forum which was hosted by Michelle Obama.
The forum inspired her to establish MolayaKgosi Trust, a women leadership and mentorship programme which aimed at mentoring and exposing young women to experienced and successful women in this country.
She was also part of the former president Ian Khama’s Private-Public Dialogue structure, the High-Level Consultative Council which is a structure aimed at addressing the challenges of the private sector in Botswana.
And the list is numerous.
Recently, she became the first youngest Minister ever appointed in Botswana’s cabinet, a position that gladdens the heart of many African who look forward to the replication of such development in other African states.
Still blazing the trail, Bogolo continues to shine the light on Youth Leadership, on the African continent.

Celebrating female trailblazers is recognizing and giving honor to women who overcame countless obstacles to become pioneers in their fields. Female trailblazers are women who paid their prices in the hard currency of labour and hard work, shame, loneliness, self-doubt, ridicule, insults and many more, but at the end, through continued effort, determination, diligence, and perseverance, they set the pace for others to follow.
All over the nations of the earth, these women are scattered in different cities, states, countries, and regions, with a burning desire to make remarkable contributions to their societies.
Speaking of countries, we will be considering Botswana’s first female High Court Judge Unity Dow, the rare gem in a manger.

Unity Dow was born on the 23rd of April 1959 in a little village not far from Gaborone, Botswana. Although her parents were not highly educated, her father was enthusiastic about giving his children the best education. He believed strongly in the great value of a good education and encouraged his children to aim for the top.

In 1997, when large diamond deposits were discovered in Botswana, the year with a strategic influence on Botswana’s economy, which opened up the future of the country in what looked like sounds of great opportunities flooding towards the country, Unity applied for Law studies, at the University of Botswana on completing her Law degree, she proceeded to Swaziland and later the University of Edinburgh, Scotland to further her education.

After obtaining her Law Degree, she worked as a lawyer in a human rights organization in little Mochudi her home village.

Unity was known for her struggles in fighting for the rights of children and women especially the cases of rape, girl-child marriage and ownership rights for women. She was in charge of petitioning the acceptance of mixed race children from foreign fathers to be considered citizens of Botswana.

In 1991, she co-founded the private Baobab Primary School in Gaborone which remains one of the best primary schools in Botswana.

She is also one of the founders of the first AIDS-specific NGO in Botswana “AIDS ACTION TRUST.”

She was elevated to the position of Botswana’s high court judge by the then president himself via a phone call requesting her leadership in the court.

Unity was shocked at the call and requested for some time to think about it. She was unable to come up with a quick decision seeing that the position of the high court judge comes with a lot of restrictions which are unfavourable to her as a writer and an activist.

However, following the intervention of her father, who after speaking with the president encouraged his daughter to grab such opportunity that calls for a service to her fatherland.

She accepted the offer with hopes of changing her career when her children begin to approach the ages of severe attention.

During the years of her service as a high court judge, she put her best into making the most of the period and leaving a mark for all to remember, and in 2009 she retired from her position as the judge, having served for 11 years.

She settled for her career in writing, which had always held a strong attraction to her, and before long she broke through in her new career. She has succeeded in publishing five books which had to deal with gender issues and her nation’s poverty, the struggle between Western and traditional values.

In 2002, she launched her second novel, “The Screaming of the Innocent”; the novel is a true life story that explains the very sensitive subject of ritual murders of young girls.

She also contributed to the book “Schicksal Afrika” (Destiny Africa) written by the former German President Horst Koehler in 2009.

In May 2010, Harvard Press published her latest book, “Saturday is for Funerals,” which describes the AIDS problem in Africa.

Unity has also been participating in several special UN missions to African countries like Rwanda and Sierra Leone.

In the month of February 2010, after retiring from the office of the high court judge, she established her Legal Firm called Dow & Associates in Botswana. Establishing Dow & Associates was a spectacular milestone in her growth and achievements, which will always stand in her memorial.

Unity continued to make waves and attained many successes both locally and internationally, including being the judge of the IICDRC (Interim Independent Constitutional Dispute Resolution Court) of Kenya, sworn into the position by the Kenyan President to administer the newly formed constitution in Kenya.

The various awards which she acquired are also numerous including; the French Medal of the Légiond’honneur de France by representatives of the French President Nicolas Sarkozy for her human rights activities.

Currently, she occupies the position of the Minister for Basic Education Botswana, having served for four years gone.

Unity Dow is blessed with three children and resides in Mochudi, South East Botswana.

Ibtihaj Muhammad is the first female Muslim-American athlete to earn a medal at the Olympics.

She was born in Maplewood, New Jersey, where she was raised by her African American Muslim parents, alongside four siblings. Her dad was a retired Newark, New Jersey police officer, and her mum an elementary school special education teacher. Ibtihaj’s parents were already blessed with four children before she was born.

Growing up, she had a special attraction for sports, but one thing stood as a limitation between her and her love for sports, which was her religious obligations that demands her modest appearance. Her religion allows for a woman to dress in a manner whereby most parts of the body are covered leaving out some functional areas for external engagements.

In accordance with her beliefs, she couldn’t participate in a number of sports that conflicted with her religious observance to dressing modestly.

Although she grew up in an athletic family she always felt out of place in some sports because she chose to dress more modestly than other girls.

Ibtihaj wanted to do more than she was already engaged in, but she was restricted to a large extent until a perfect solution was discovered; Fencing (a sport in which two competitors fight using ‘rapier-style’ swords, called the foil, winning points are made through the contact with an opponent)

Ibtihaj’s mother was instrumental in the search for the perfect sport for her daughter, one evening while driving home from work she observed a team of fencers in their long pants and hats as they practiced. Ibtihaj was 13 when they discovered fencing, and unlike other sports, fencing was an ideal opportunity to participate in sports because it allowed the use of her hijab and with this, she never felt displaced amongst her teammates.

Ibtihaj joined the fencing team and began to learn and practice the game at her Alma Mater, Columbia High School, where she graduated in 2003. She became the captain of the fencing team in her school for two years and led the team’s victory during the state championships twice.

She later joined the Peter Westbrook Foundation, a non-profit organization that introduces and teaches the sport of fencing (and life skills) to underprivileged inner-city youth in New York City. There, she met other kids from similar backgrounds and she became more zealous to pursue her decision.

In 2007 Ibtihaj graduated from the Duke University as a scholarship holder with a double major in international relations and African-American studies and a minor in Arabic.

While at Duke University, she played fencing with the school’s club and cleared All-America honors with a record of 49-8, just in her first year at the college.

At the mid-Atlantic/South Regional and 21st at the Junior Olympics, she moved to place second. The following year, she finished 11th for saber at the NCAA Championships and earned her second consecutive All-America honors.

This was just the beginning of her success record. Throughout her career, she earned numerous medals for both her team and for herself during all the events on the World Cup circuit.

In 2009, she won a national title after her new coach Akhi Spencer-El (2000U.S. Olympian) came on board.

In 2012, she was named Muslim Sportswoman of the year being the first woman to wear a hijab while competing for the United States in the Olympics. In 2014, she won the gold for her team representing the United States in Kazan, Russia.

During the Women’s Individual Sabre in the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Summer Olympics, Ibithaj won her first qualifying round but was defeated by French fencer Cécilia Berder in the second round.

Despite the loss, she continued to gain media attention as the first female Muslim-American athlete to win an Olympic medal when she took home the bronze in the team sabre event.

Ibithaj serves on the council for the U.S. Department of State’s Empowering Women and Girls through Sports Initiative, a platform that encourages girls across the globe to reach their full potential.

Her story is an inspiration to many women and young girls both in the Muslim society and the sporting sector who are restricted by their beliefs. She serves as a role model and a symbol of encouragement for other Muslim girls who are interested in sporting. Ibithaj’s story inspired the production of Barbie’s first hijab-wearing doll in November 2017.

The promotion of women leadership and general female public life can be said to be the key to unlocking transformation in economic development. This, in essence, stresses the need for gender balance is in all spheres of life.

Nepal appointed its first female president two years ago after the seven years leadership of Nepal’s first democratic president Ram Baran Yadav.

Recognizing a female trailblazer is commending the efforts of exceptional women who amidst all odds have defied stereotypes and created paths for others to follow. These women can be found in any part of the world and in all sphere of life.

Ranging from one profession to another, they make their mark through persistence and achieve outstanding success.

In this article, we will be looking at the story of Chan Yuen Ting the first woman to coach a men’s professional association football team to the championship of a nation’s top league.

This is very strange but true because a passionate lady refused to give up on her dreams.

Chan Yuen Ting was born on the 7 of October 1988, from her childhood days her heart was craving for football, her parent thought it was wise to let her explore her passion since she was only a child and they had thought that she would give it up when she grows into a woman.

Chan studied geography at the Chinese University of Hong Kong and graduated in 2010, she furthered her education with a master’s degree in sports science and health management.

She worked as an assistant manager at fellow Hong Kong Premier League clubs Pegasus FC and Southern District FC and with her skills, she led their under-18 team to three trophies. She also held coaching roles with the Hong Kong women’s national association football and futsal teams and played for a non-professional club team from Sha Tin.

Chan later joined the Eastern Sports Club and years after she was appointed as the manager of the professional Club during the Hong Kong Premier League, replacing her predecessor Yeung Ching Kwong.

This was a ground breaking achievement for Chan because she was the first female manager in the league.

During her time, the club won the 2015–16 seasons, losing only one of the fifteen games played since Chan took over.

The team’s victory reported Chan as the first woman to coach a men’s professional association football team to the championship of a nation’s top league. A month after Chan was appointed manager, the team won the 2015–16 Hong Kong Senior Challenge Shield, and that was just the beginning of her achievements.

In 2017, she became the first woman to coach a male football club in a top-flight continental competition when she managed a team against Guangzhou Evergrande in the AFC Champions League.

Chan holds the AFC “A” License and AFC “Futsal Level 2” License coaching certifications.

Growing up as a young girl, Asli Hassan Abade the first and only female pilot in the Somali air force, as well as the first female military pilot in Africa and in the Arab world, spent most of her childhood days watching airplanes take off and land at the Mogadishu airport.

Asli was born on the first of January 1958, in Mogadishu, Somalia. She lived with her parents Hawa Aden and Hassan Abade and nine siblings in a house close to the Mogadishu airport.

She grew up in a family with huge public service record most of which were high-positioned military officers, mostly before the civil war. With the unique dream of becoming a pilot, she was determined to pursue her passion until it became reality no matter what it might take.

Apart from her little fantasies drawn from watching planes at the Mogadishu airport, the military influence in her family created a deep affection of joining the force. Also, she had always desired to make an impact in her country.

Fortunately for her, the Somalia national military began embracing various reforms after the country gained independence in 1960, and with the assistance of the Soviets, so much was put into strengthening various arms of the military including the Somalia Air Force (SAF).

Following a coup in 1969, the country was declared a nationalist state. This move brought modernization into the military creating large demands at different levels and arms of the military.

In the SAF, there was a pressing need for more qualified and experienced pilots, so a large number of pilots were sent to train in the United States, the UK, the Soviet Union and Italy.

Asli soon joined the movement and was trained in Italy. This was a dream come true for her and shortly afterward, on the 9th of September 1976, she made her first flight. Asli then worked with the Air Force for almost 10 years and was efficiently promoted through the ranks.

After serving with the SAF, She went back to school and earned a Masters Degree in Social Work with the Asylees and another Masters Degree in Management.

Asli is married to an aircraft engineer who works with American Airlines, they live in Dallas Fort Worth metroplex, a metropolitan area in north Texas.

Currently, Asli works as an interpreter in different hospitals and schools but she engages more of her time in humanitarian services such as helping refugees from all parts of the world.