Former UNIFEM Representative remembered for her pioneering work for the rights of women and girls in Africa


A trailblazer for women’s rights in Africa and one of the pioneering representatives of UN Women’s predecessor organization, UNIFEM, UN Women remembers Jacqueline Ki-Zerbo, who passed away in December. Born in Mali, Ms. Ki-Zerbo attended high school and received her Bachelor’s degree in Senegal before working there and in Burkina Faso as an English teacher for several years. As the first African woman Director of the Teacher’s Training School for Girls in Burkina Faso, she was instrumental in pushing for legislation to allow pregnant girls to return and continue their studies. Prior to joining UNIFEM, she worked as the first National Coordinator for a joint Government, UNESCO and UNDP pilot project for equal access of women and girls to education.

With UNIFEM, Ms. Ki-Zerbo served as the first Director of UNIFEM in West and Central Africa, in the organization’s first field office in Dakar, Senegal. She was instrumental in spreading knowledge about fuel-saving cookstoves during the Sahel drought of the early and mid-1980s.

“The late Jacqueline Ki-Zerbo played a crucial role in the evolution of UNIFEM on the ground as well as in spearheading the entire mainstreaming of women in development approach that the Africa programme at UNIFEM led,” said Olubanke King-Akerele, former colleague of Ms. Ki-Zerbo’s at UNIFEM and former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Liberia.

“The first-ever effort to mainstream gender in development took place at the Chad UNDP Round table when Jacqueline participated on behalf of UNIFEM… [It incorporated] the gender dimension—a first!” said Ms. King-Akerele. “[She] deserves highest recognition from not only her African sisters but from the women movement world-wide.”

The recipient of many prizes and awards for her work, Ms. Ki-Zerbo will be remembered as a steadfast African leader and global proponent for gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls.