CHICAGO –When Wangari Maathai won the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize for her work in sustainable development, she became the first African woman, and the first environmentalist, to win the prize. To countless people around the world, Maathai became the new image of African womanhood and illuminated the possibilities that can arise when women are seated at the tables of power. With her sweeping autobiography, The Woman in Me: The Struggles of an African Woman to Discover Her Identity and Authority, Mama Sophia – author, woman, African and activist – looks to continue this course.
“My mother taught me that I am an eagle and not a chicken,” Mama Sophia begins. “My parents directly told me ‘The sky is your limit.’ But society and religion, at different times through different means, said to me, ‘Yes, the sky is your limit, but we have to define that ‘sky’ and that ‘limit’ for you.’ It became stressful and sometimes depressing trying to understand the sky as defined by them and actualize the limit as set by them.”
With elegant candor, Mama Sophia chronicles her childhood and her eventual summa cum laude graduation from the University of Nigeria, where she received the Indira Ghandi award for outstanding female graduate. But Mama Sophia was intent on not letting her accomplishment be a singular act.
“With my college education, I gained a voice and became empowered. I started to speak but felt like a lone voice,” says Mama Sophia. “At this time, I made a firm resolution to stand by my African sisters, mothers and daughters in their quest for justice, truth, peace and liberation.”
Activism led her to rural villages and prisons, initiating empowerment programs everywhere she traveled. She eventually moved to the U.S. to continue her studies and her commitment to the liberation of African women. Within five years, she earned two masters’ degrees, a Ph.D., and co-founded African Women in America, a human rights advocacy organization.
In The Woman in Me, Mama Sophia writes a personal memoir that details her fight for equality. She also includes the stories of other African women and their struggles. As women continue to be the least represented population economically and politically, Mama Sophia brings a crucial light to this too-often overlooked blight on the face of humanity.
“Our world is becoming a global village,” she notes. “It is our responsibility to care for or at least be concerned about one another, particularly the vulnerable and minority groups in our world village. However, I do not think world societies understand fully the critical situations and conditions that African women and children face. I do not claim that I understand fully myself. But I want to listen.”
About the Author
Ngozi Udoye, popularly known as NG or Mama Sophia, is an Igbo woman from Igbo-Ukwu, the archeological city of Eastern Nigeria. She refers to herself as the child of the world village. A graduate of Loyola University, Chicago, she received masters’ degrees in psychology and pastoral studies and a Ph.D. in educational psychology. A co-founder of African Women in America, she is currently the organization’s president. Mama Sophia is a consecrated celibate of the Cor Unum Community of the Women's Institute of the Heart of Jesus (IHJ), a canonical institute of lay men, women and priests. The Woman in Me is her first published book. Recently, she also released a music album titled, African Women & Liberation Story.