10 inspiring black British women, suggestions for BBC Radio 4 Woman’s Hour Power List

Image by MMagallan

BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour is to publish a Power List to rank the 100 most powerful women in the UK at the start of 2013. The list will answer – Which women have the biggest impact on our economy, society, politics and culture? Who has the ability to inspire change as a role model or a thinker? Does power boil down to having the money to make things happen? And has new technology changed what it is to be powerful? It will survey the achievements of British women across public life hoping to shine a light on the top female politicians, business women and leaders in their field – from areas as diverse as finance, education, health, engineering and the arts.

Woman’s Hour is asking us all to suggest the women who we think have the greatest influence and ability to change the way we live our lives in the UK today. The deadline for the Woman Hour’s Power List is Friday 30 November 2012 at 23.59pm. VOTE here or alternatively you can submit your suggestion via Twitter, using #whpowerlist.

I got together with Words of Colour’s executive director Joy Francis and creative programmes manager, Julie Tomlin, to put together a list of black British women that we think should make the list. As a list that will provoke debate about the choices women make, the obstacles they face and what it is to be powerful in the 21st century, we feel it is important that it be diverse and reflective all of British culture and society.


We’ve Got the Power 
Words by Julie Tomlin of Words of Colour

As we head towards the end of 2012 – and the deadline for Radio 4 Woman’s Hour Power List – it seems like a good time to reflect on the pressing issue of women and influence.

From the Independent’s Twitter 100 list, which provoked the question “Where are the women?” to the ongoing debate about women experts on TV and radio, there’s been no lack of discussion over the past 11 months about who has influence – and who gets to define it.

But while Broadcast and City University’s campaign to get more women experts on air is just one notable attempt at addressing imbalances in the representation of women, issues of race and class go largely ignored.

As the Daily Telegraph’s recently launched Wonder Women section showed, it’s not good enough to focus on promoting “women” and their interests when there is such a tacit acceptance in the mainstream media that white middle class women represent us all.

When Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour announced the launch of its Power List, there were a number of comments on Twitter about the need to ensure that it isn’t filled with the “usual suspects”. Check out #whpowerlist and you will see there’s been a push to ensure that scientists, engineers and midwives get the recognition they deserve.

How about ending 2012 with a list that celebrates women who are having an impact on “politics, society, culture and the economy” and who have the “ability to inspire change as a role model or a thinker” even if they are doing so far away from the gaze of the mainstream media?

Woman’s Hour is inviting listeners to suggest the women they think “have the greatest influence and ability to change the way we live our lives in the UK today” and a panel of judges will compile the Power List.

In the interest of ensuring that a wider range of women are recognised, below are 10 remarkable females who we feel should qualify for the Power List, drawn up with the help of blogger Minna Salami and our executive director Joy Francis. We know this is the tip of the iceberg so we would love to hear your suggestions.

1. Dr. Aileen Alleyne

Aileen is a highly respected psychodynamic psychotherapist and clinical supervisor in private practice. She received her doctorate in psychotherapy by Professional Studies from the University of Middlesex and Metanoia Institute, researching stress in the workplace. She is renowned for her work on slavery and cross-cultural work with various minority and marginalised groups, including gay men and lesbians.

2. Rani Bilkhu

Rani is the founder and director of Jeena International, an innovative and enterprising organisation that empowers women and young people to initiate personal and social change. Like many, Rani works away from the limelight, but during the unrest that erupted in London in the summer of 2011 she demonstrated that she had understanding and insight into what life was like for many women living in Britain today.

3. Margaret Busby OBE

On graduating from London University in the 1960s Margaret became the UK’s youngest and first Black woman publisher when she co-founded Allison & Busby Ltd, of which she was editorial director for 20 years. Among her authors were C.L.R. James, Buchi Emecheta, Sam Greenlee, Chester Himes, John Edgar Wideman, Rosa Guy, among many others. She has served as a judge for many literary prizes, including the Caine Prize for African writing, and is currently chair of the SI Leeds Literary Prize.

4. Aminatta Forna

Born in Glasgow, and raised in Sierra Leone and Britain, Aminatta is an award-winning author of two novels: The Memory of Love and Ancestor Stones, and a memoir The Devil that Danced on the Water. Named by Vanity Fair as one of Africa’s most promising new writers, her broadcast credits include the arts documentary Through African Eyes and The Lost Libraries of Timbuktu for the BBC and the documentary series Africa Unmasked for Channel 4.

5. Dreda Say Mitchell

Dreda is the author of five novels. Her first book Running Hot was awarded the Crime Writers Association’s John Creasey Dagger for the best debut crime novel in Britain in 2005. Her second novel Killer Tune was voted one of Elle’s top 10 reads in 2007, while her fifth book (Hit Girls) was voted a top 10 book in 2011 by Reviewing The Evidence. She was recently honoured as one of the 50 Remarkable Women in Britain by campaigning agency Lady Geek.

6. Naana Otoo-Oyortey MBE

Naana is the executive director of FORWARD, the Foundation for Women’s Health Research and Development. A leading campaigner against female genital mutilation, Naana has worked with government on policies and programmes relating to gender-based violence and sexual rights. Naana was a founding member of the UK-based Forum on Marriage and the Rights of Women and Girls, a network that helped place child marriage on the international global development agenda.

7. Hannah Pool

A British-Eritrean journalist and writer, Hannah writes with authority on issues of race, culture and politics as well as about fashion and beauty. Author of My Fathers’ Daughter, Pool has been a journalist at the Guardian for 14 years, seven of which she wrote the fashion column The New Black. She is also the associate editor of Arise magazine and a curator of talks and events, particularly on Africa and women’s right, for the Southbank Centre.

8. Indhu Rubasingham

Indhu is the new artistic director at the Tricycle Theatre. The Asian Women of Achievement Award 2012 winner is a highly regarded and talented director who has displayed her immense skills at theatres such as the National Theatre, Almeida and the Royal Court. Her acclaimed productions include Ruined, Red Velvet and Detaining Justice. She is only the third person to lead the Tricycle as an independent theatre and is one of the very few women of colour in this position.

9. Zadie Smith

This British novelist, essayist, short story writer and professor of fiction at New York University has inspired millions of readers since her literary debut White Teeth in 2000, which won the Guardian First Book Award. Zadie has done a great deal to challenge concepts of race, encouraging readers “to see that people of colour are not strange or exotic in themselves or to themselves”.

10. Verna Allette Wilkins

Verna is the founder of Tamarind Books, launched in 1987 with a mission to redress the balance of diversity in children’s publishing. After running it for 23 years, Tamarind became an imprint of Random House’s children’s books division. Verna serves as a consultant on the list and runs inclusive programmes in schools across the UK. She is the author of 50 Picture Books and eight biographies for young people. Her awards include The British Book Industry Awards, The Decibel Award for Multicultural Publishing and the EXCELLE Awards.