Cape Verde independence activist, women’s rights activist, and pharmacist Isaura Tavares Gomes was born on February 22, 1944, in Santiago, Praia, Sotavento Islands, Cabo Verde (Cape Verde), one of the smallest nations globally, comprising ten islands and five islets off the western coast of the African continent, near Senegal. Cape Verde is a former Portuguese colony which received independence in 1975. Isaura’s mother was María da Luz Tavares Gomes, an entrepreneur at the municipal market. Her father, João Lopes Gomes, left Cabo Verde for Caracas, Venezuela, in 1947 when Isaura was three and never returned to his family of six children.
Gomes graduated first in her class from Liceu Gil Eanes in 1963. While she wanted to study at the Universidade de Coimbra (UC) in Coimbra, Portugal—one of the oldest in Europe, dating back to the late 13th century—she was not granted a scholarship in the beginning, as it was awarded to the son of a Portuguese citizen with a lower academic average during the Portuguese colonial period. When Cabo Verde’s only stomatologist and a family friend, Dr. Aníbal Cohen Lopes da Silva, discovered this single omission, he immediately assisted her in obtaining a full scholarship to study pharmacy at the UC, thus receiving a Bachelor of Pharmacy degree in 1967. Two years afterward, in 1969, she completed additional studies at the Universidade do Porto in Porto, Portugal.
In 1970, Gomes left Portugal and returned to Cabo Verde, where she led the secret activities of the African Party for the Independence of Cabo Verde in São Vicente. She boldly took to the streets there, handing out pro-revolution leaflets. In 1974, she was elected national deputy on the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cabo Verde in the first direct elections in the country as it received its independence. She traveled to the capital city, Praia, to sign the Republic of Cabo Verde independence proclamation.
Beginning in 1975, after Cabo Verde’s independence, Gomes became the first and only female deputy of the ruling political party and remained in that post until 1981, assisting with empowering women and their rights within the party. In addition, she was one of the founders of the National Women’s Organization of Cabo Verde which lobbied for legislation including the national abortion law and measures to improve the status of women.
Owning and operating a clinical laboratory and pharmacy in 1989, Gomes was also the president of the Association of Women Entrepreneurs of Cabo Verde from 1997 to 2003. In 2004, she was named mayor of São Vicente, the country’s first female in that post. That same year, she implemented a night shelter, Centro de Acolhemento Nocturno (CAN), to assist with an effort to minimize the street children problem and to curtail the stigma that accompanied their condition. In that role, she encouraged restaurants and hotels to provide warm, nutritious meals for children.
Becoming a member of the Movement for Democracy in 2005, Gomes was once again reelected as mayor in 2008 and remained in that post until resigning for health reasons in 2011. A recipient of a variety of awards, in 2012, Gomes received “Mérito e Excelência” for the Mindel Award for Excellence in recognition of her community and national service. In 2019, Isaura Tavares Gomes was honored at the Morna Jazz World Music Festival in Mindelo for contributions to the island of São Vicente.