Causes to Celebrate – 100 Unseen Powerful Women Awards and Farewell to One World Action

31 Oct

– Laura Ouseley, Campaigns Coordinator, One World Action

The One Hundred Unseen Powerful Women campaign by One World Action culminated on 27th October with an awards ceremony at the King’s Fund, London. We were joined by over 200 supporters, campaigners, colleagues, and many of the women from the One Hundred Unseen Powerful Women list. The evening paid tribute to the many remarkable examples of women’s leadership.

The comedian Neil Mullarkey, one of One World Action’s patrons, hosted the presentation, and was joined by Channel 4 News presenter Jon Snow, former MP Barbara Follett and theatre producer Philip Headley in celebrating the achievements of the 100 women and One World Action.

International NGOs and social networks nominated a long list of women from 40 different countries, including Iran, Somalia, Nepal and Peru. In September a panel of judges including Laura Fox, Barbara Follett, Renana Jhabvala and Rebecca Tinsley narrowed the list of 100 women down to eight winners, who were honoured last Thursday.

The winners and runner-ups in each of the four categories represent a wide range of activities and come from all corners of the globe. Together with One World Action’s Director Hannah Davies, panel member Barbara Follett presented the awards.

In the category of Public Service, the winner was Dr Hawa Abdi – a gynaecologist in Somalia who provides shelter, relief and medical care for women and children escaping the conflict. The runner-up in this category was Marceline Kongolo-Bicé – an anti-rape campaigner in Eastern Congo who has provided training, economic opportunities and care to victims of sexual violence.

In the category of Business and Entrepreneur, the winner was Meenu Vadera – an entrepreneur in Delhi who founded and runs the city’s first women-only taxi service. The runner-up was Adelaide Foute Tega – a market trader in Douala, Cameroon who has improved the economic conditions of other women traders by challenging harassment and discrimination in the market. In Adelaide’s own words, ‘After 2 years of training and coaching, women traders are a force to reckon with in the Sandaga market, the largest food market inCentral Africa. Women traders have asserted themselves and are gradually improving the business environment in the market for themselves and generations to come’.

In the category of Human Rights, the winner was Maryam Bibi – a women’s rights campaigner in the tribal areas of Pakistan who provides training and medical care to hundreds of women in the face of prejudice and threats of violence. The runner-up was Fanny Chirisa – a political activist in Zimbabwe who campaigns to change the political culture and end political violence and intolerance by promoting equity and accountability among public officials.

In the final category, Arts and Media, the winner was Mary Luz Avendaño – a campaigning journalist in Medellin, Colombia who has uncovered links between police officers and criminal gangs. We were privileged to have Mary Luz at the event to collect her award in person. The runner-up was Durgabai Vyam – an innovative Dalit artist who uses her unique visual style to challenge caste discrimination in India. You can see some of Durgabai’s work here.

Some of the 100 Unseen Powerful Women who attended the event. Photo: Laura Wetherall

We were also pleased to showcase a great comedian Lara A King. Always keen to promote women who work in fields dominated by men – in this case comedy – this year’s winner of the Funny Women Awards did an excellent job keeping the mood of the event one of celebration!

Jon Snow rushed in just in time to tell us about what has made One World Action different over the last 22 years and why he has been such a committed supporter of the organisation. Sadly, One World Action is closing this month but it was great that Sue Turrell, Director of Womankind Worldwide – the organisation taking forward much of One World Action’s legacy and active projects, especially in Africa – was there to tell us more about the organisation.

As Jon Snow said, it is great that One World Action can go out with a bang, and its approach and legacy will go so much further.

Thank you to everyone who attended the event and who has supported the One Hundred Unseen Powerful Women campaign. All of us at One World Action hope that the campaign can continue in 2012. As I am sure you will agree there are thousands more Unseen Powerful Women around the world who are doing outstanding and courageous things to improve the lives of others, and these women deserve to be recognised for their work.


You can see more photos from the event here.

Powerful Women Taking Control

31 Oct

– Hannah Davies, Director, One World Action

The 100 (unseen) powerful women in the list are fantastically inspiring each in their own way. They represent a huge range of activity and commitment – from a health campaigner in East London to a solar power project in Kenya. But do they have anything in common? Is there any unifying wider point? About the role of women? About social change?

The idea for the list came from reading an article about the upcoming list of powerful women that gets published every year by the Forbes magazine. While it’s great that they recognise women’s leadership it’s always a certain kind of woman and a certain kind of leadership: privileging the already privileged and recognising only certain kinds of power and influence.

More recently I have been reading another book that has an interesting take on how ordinary (or unseen) individuals can be powerful and affect change. In his book The Leaderless Revolution, Carne Ross stresses the simple idea of agency. In the face of an almost overwhelming barrage of global problems (terrorism, climate change, financial meltdown and so on), he emphasises how individuals taking control of their lives through individual or collective action is one way – possibly the only way – to overcome the challenges we face.

I think it’s particularly important for women to recognise their own agency – to not always look to be led by a charismatic leader (usually a man). That understanding of our own individual power is a fundamental part of empowerment: recognising this in each other is hopefully one of the benefits of the list.

Standing up for Blind Women’s Rights in El Salvador

3 Oct


We spoke to Rubidia Cornejo – President of the Association of Blind Women in El Salvador (AMUCES) and named in One World Action’s list of One Hundred Unseen Powerful Women who Change the World – about the work of AMUCES and the obstacles faced by blind women living in El Salvador.


What does AMUCES do?


We help blind women in El Salvador exercise and demand their rights.

Blind women in El Salvador have specific needs. The biggest problem for people living with disabilities in El Salvador – especially in rural areas – is unemployment and a lack of resources. So these are the women that AMUCES tries to target. Many of the blind women we work with may have been taken out of school and have no way of earning an income. These women first need to have their confidence built up, and then need training so that they are able to organise themselves.

Giving blind women the opportunity to earn a salary is a priority for AMUCES – without it the women cannot take control of their lives.

How long has AMUCES been running?

We are quite young but are growing all the time – AMUCES has been running since 2006. I was always keen to focus on blind women and we took a lot of inspiration at the time from strong women’s organisations in El Salvador such as Las Melidas and Las Dignas.

Providing an income for blind women - Xpress Massage was set up by AMUCES at El Salvador's international airport

Which women have inspired you?

Internationally I have always found Hillary Clinton an inspiration, but here in El Salvador Eileen Giron has always been an inspiration to me because of her great leadership. I think it is important that women, including women with disabilities, have others around them who they can look up to.

How long have you been working for the rights of blind people?

I became a member of ASCES in 1989 but before that I was involved in other organisations. I was always interested in the subject of blind people’s rights and have been involved in associations and organisations since I was at university. When I considered the situation of blind people in El Salvador it was obvious that massive changes needed to take place – and still do!

What are you most proud of since being with AMUCES?

In just a few years we have become recognised within El Salvador and Latin America and have managed to include the opinion of blind women in national debates.

How can people learn more or help with the work you do?

XPress Massage

People can find out more by going to the website for the Association of Blind People in El Salvador (ASCES) – our sister organisation. AMUCES doesn’t have a website yet.

There are still huge amounts of work to be done in El Salvador to ensure blind people – in particular blind women – enjoy their rights as equal citizens. The main problem we face is getting funding for our advocacy work. This is increasingly difficult because international cooperation is being pulled out of Central America all the time. Being classed as ‘middle-income’ countries has not helped.

Other than getting funding, what is the biggest obstacle you face?

The biggest practical obstacle is delinquency. I live a long way from the office outside of the capital San Salvador and rely on public transport to get into work everyday. But because of crime and gangs extorting bus drivers, buses are often robbed, frequently cancelled, and always stop early in the evening. Delinquency is increasing in El Salvador and it can be very dangerous to make long journeys alone late at night, especially for blind woman.

Are you working with blind women? What are the biggest obstacles where you live and work? Tell us by leaving a comment below.

The power of older women

27 Sep

A number of the women nominated for our list of powerful unseen women are past the age of formal retirement and yet they are still making an impact. Older women are often “unseen”. As has been remarked by many actresses’, once you get past a certain age, the parts dry up whereas men can go on being the distinguished love interest well into their 60s. Professor Maire Messenger Davies (@mairemd)  offers some thoughts about why older women are powerful.

“I’ve always been fascinated by the processes of human development – watching a baby grow, learn and become a capable child, then an independent adult. But development doesn’t stop there. Ageing is another very visible process. As we get older, yes, we slow down, our skin gets wrinkled, our hair goes grey, our joints creak. But, just as in childhood, we never stop learning. The older we are, the more experience we have accumulated, and this is a valuable resource for others. There’s a folk saying from Eastern Europe: ‘When an old person dies, it’s like a library burning down.’ The idea of the old person as a library is a lovely one, I think – but, even when the library is ‘burnt down’, its contents need not be totally lost. The elderly can hand on their knowledge and experience, by talking, writing, being listened to and just generally being noticed.

I recently watched a BBC4 documentary in which the young, passionate designers who’d created the 1951 Festival of Britain were interviewed. Many, interestingly, were women. We saw them as young people in photographs, and then as older women – a fascinating contrast. These older women’s faces, though lined and aged, were as lively and watchable as ever and their clothes showed as much individual flair as when they were young, indeed more, thanks to current flamboyant trends in fashion. And the things they said, about how it felt to be part of this great, progressive, creative moment, were things we all needed to be reminded of.

Most of us can’t be interviewed on broadcast television – though there’s lots of scope for amateur filming nowadays – but in our own families and communities, such women exist. Older women still have something to offer us; they value our company, they reward attention, they can bring out good qualities in those caring for them. Middle and old age are part of life’s continuum.

That lively toddler, energetic child, stroppy teenager, vibrant young adult are all still there inside the older woman if we’re prepared to notice it. And age adds experience to all this – and hopefully wisdom – though I like to think that those of us in our 60s and 70s can still be silly when silliness is called for, and long may this be the case.”

100 Women List Now Published!

6 Sep

One Hundred Women: The Unseen Powerful Women Who Change The World

I feel privileged to have spent the last few months working on this campaign – reading about so many inspirational women around the world who are making a positive impact on their own lives and their communities.

The full list is now published and you can see it by visiting our campaign page:

Please feel free to share your thoughts about the women by leaving a comment. I hope you enjoy reading about them as much as I have!

100 Unseen Powerful Women Who Change The World

Made in Dagenham on point: Rights. Not privileges.

16 Aug

– Laura Ouseley, Campaigns Coordinator, One World Action

On Saturday night I finally sat down and watched Made in Dagenham. The film tells the story of the 187 women machinists from Ford’s Dagenham plant who, in 1968, bravely stood up and went onto the picket line to demand equal pay. At the time, it was the last thing anyone expected them to do. There aren’t enough feminist films around and this is a great one. At the end of the film I was struck by how this success story for women’s rights so closely reflects One World Action’s work over the last 22 years.

As the film shows, strong women’s leadership is essential for generating positive change for women. Celebrating and supporting women’s leadership in all its forms is something that One World Action has been doing for years, and getting to know so many inspirational women has led to our latest campaign to find One Hundred Unseen Powerful Women who Change the World. In the film, the role of the unseen powerful woman falls to Rita O’Grady (Sally Hawkins), who is stirred into action to lead the other women workers.

The film was interesting in it showed how the women’s striking had an impact on their relationships with men and the challenge it made to traditional gender roles.. Breaking a gender stereotype was – and continues to be – one of the biggest obstacles to women’s political participation in every country of the world. Whilst women stood by their husbands when they were on strike, women going on strike was seen as somehow laughable and outside what was within the accepted boundaries of behaviour, particularly if men’s jobs were affected. Perhaps my favourite part of the film is when Rita is arguing with her husband Eddie about going out on strike. As Rita put is ‘you’re right actually. You don’t knock us about, you don’t drink, you don’t gamble, you do join in with the family. That’s-as-it-should-be! Try and understand that. Please. What you’re talkin’ about now, what I’ve been fightin’ for, the last few weeks. Same thing. Rights. Not privileges’.

One World Action has always been a proudly political organisation. It has supported low-paid garment workers and trade unions across the world for many years. Women home workers in India are now better represented and better paid since joining SEWA – a trade union movement of informal women workers supported by One World Action. SEWA believe that women’s human rights will not be achieved without economic empowerment and self reliance. The movement began in 1971 when a handful of women came together to protest against their unfair treatment by local merchants and it currently has over one million members.

But sometimes strong women’s leadership or trade union membership is not enough. Women still need men and women in positions of power who support women’s rights. Getting more women into positions of power was what One World Action’s last campaign was all about: the More Women More Power campaign called for more women in parliament – and asked women already in power to use their voices to amplify the voices of women who are fighting to be heard. In the late 1960s it was Secretary of State Barbara Castle’s (Miranda Richardson) support for the women’s demands for equal pay that secured their success.

Seeing women stand up for their rights in this film was inspirational, but let’s not forget that in the UK the full-time gender wage gap is still 15.5%. What’s more, women are paid less but they often have to work harder as well. There is no doubt that more men are doing their share of childcare and housework, but it can safely be said that these tasks remain firmly in the area of ‘women’s work’.

Despite the Equal Pay Act being passed in 1970, 41 years later women are still fighting for equal pay. In fact, there are currently 45,000 women in the UK taking equal pay claims to court!

I am not convinced that women being politically active has been fully accepted in the UK, so it gives me hope when I hear that 200 people signed up in the first 24 hours to attend the Feminist Summer Camp that took place last weekend. What’s more, UK Feminista is setting up a new activist group so that even more people can stand up and demand a more equal world – just like the 187 machinists from Dagenham.



Focus on Sri Lanka

2 Aug

Hannah Davies, Director, One World Action.

Emerging from a decade-long brutal civil war, the human rights record in Sri Lanka has been under the spotlight over the last few months. Women human rights activists in Sri Lanka have played an important role in lobbying, both for women’s rights as well as for a more robust rights culture where all people are respected – regardless of ethnicity, gender or caste.

We’re highlighting here three inspiring Sri Lankan women who have, in their different ways, been fighting for human rights.

Challenging traditional roles and values in the wake of conflict

Shereen Xavier is the Executive Director of Home for Human Rights. She comes from Jaffna, Sri Lanka`s most conservative city, and returned there in 2007 two years before the defeat of the Tamil Tigers. Her father was a civil rights lawyer and she continues his work at Home for Human Rights where she campaigns for Tamil rights and provides free legal advice.

While conflict between the Sri Lankan state and the Tamil Tigers cost thousands of lives, as is often the case during war, it also opened up a space for women to challenge strict cultural roles that had been imposed on them.

According to Sherine Xavier, women often had to take a lead role as many men were killed, imprisoned, or forced into fighting.  Women therefore took on double burden: running a family and taking decisions. Most women had to adjust the second role. But, in part because of women’s rights activists, the rest of society began to give women more space: in many homes women now make decisions including about health and education of family members which used to be the role of men.

In addition to changes for women, the conflict also challenged the caste structure. Many of the Tamil rebels came from lower castes so high-caste Tamils were forced to rethink caste divisions as part of the broader struggle.

More information:

Rethinking women’s rights from the developing country perspective

Kumari Jayawardena is a leading feminist figure and academic inSri Lanka.

Jayawardena is the author of several books, including Feminism and Nationalism in the Third World, a book that is widely used in Women’s Studies courses around the world.

In the book she describes women’s rights movements in Asia and the Middle East from the 19th century to the 1980s, focusing on Egypt, Turkey, Iran, India, Sri Lanka, China, Indonesia, Vietnam, Japan, Koreaand the Philippines.  She argues that it is not a foreign ideology that is imposed on developing countries but that each has its own distinct character in Asia and the Middle East that links women’s struggle for equal rights with broader movements for political and civil rights.

She currently teaches in the Masters Programme in Women’s Studies at the Colombo University and is a Senior Fellow of the university’s Graduate Studies Institute.

Jayawardena’s books and articles have been translated into Sinhala and Tamil. She plays an active role in women’s research organizations and civil rights movements inSri Lanka, and is presently the Secretary of the Social Scientists’ Association, a group of concerned scholars working on ethnic, gender, caste and other issues

More information

Campaigning for civil rights

Another rights activist inSri Lanka is Suriya Wickramasinghe, Secretary of the Civil Rights Movement. Among other campaigns she played an active role in advocating for the abolition of the death penalty.

The Civil Rights Movement of Sri Lanka was among the first organizations to suggest that agreement on human rights protection and monitoring should be an essential component of peace settlements and should pave the way for agreement on other issues:

“It has always been the firm conviction of the Civil Rights Movement (CRM) that the proper securing of human rights throughoutSri Lanka, both in law and as a practical reality, must be an integral part of any political settlement of the conflict.”

The feminist side of finance

26 Jul

Laura Ouseley speaks to One World Action’s Finance Manager Gareth Richards about why finance plays such an important role in One World Action’s work to empower women and girls.

So what does One World Action do in the area of finance?

We help grassroots organisations in Africa, Asia and Latin America, to set up financial systems and procedures so that they can more easily manage international grants and other income. This is particularly important for the newer organisations we work with, who are often just establishing themselves. Part of this means ensuring they have a suitable ledger, or working with them to set one up if necessary. We often mentor them for the first few months of a project, including working with them on financial reporting to funders, advising on recruitment of financial staff, and working with operational staff to ensure they are able to use financial information effectively to assist them in planning and implementing projects (in other words empowering women and doing the work that we want to support!).

Could you give an example of building financial capacity?

One World Action helps partners to build their financial management capacity in a number of ways, we either visit them, get another partner to mentor them, or get a consultant to mentor them. Our work with FEMUCADI (who promote and protect the rights of disabled women in Nicaragua) was very successful in this area. In 2008 FEMUCADI were reliant on another organization to manage their finances and this was holding them back so in 2008 we organised a consultant to help them develop an accounting manual, systems and budgets so that their staff could independently manage and plan their projects. This contributed to their becoming a much stronger and more influential organization.

What does this work have to do with women’s empowerment?

At the end of the day helping organisations to better manage their finances means that they can spend more time doing the work that really makes a difference to women’s lives – whether that’s lobbying their government, helping women to deal with violence and abuse, or giving women the skills and confidence to seek their own income with which to support their families. Training women in financial management also helps challenge gender stereotypes as in many places accounting is still very male dominated. What’s more, robust financial procedures can play an important role in the countries One World Action works in – challenging corruption and supporting organisations to become more accountable and transparent.

Is it difficult to get funding for this type of work?

Yes. Although we don’t apply specifically for funding for this work it very much forms part of the means to the end – which is women’s empowerment. Finance training is often included in our projects but we would love to do more work on this.

Are all international charities doing this type of work?

Not all of them. We focus a lot on capacity building at One World Action; building the skills of women so that they are empowered and can continue fighting for women’s rights. Women’s financial independence is one of our aims and financial skills are part of this. I think that whilst providing women with services is great, small grassroots organisations need to learn how to become sustainable – so that when assistance comes to an end they can continue to do the work and to grow on their own.


To make a donation today in support of One World Action’s work promoting women’s leadership in developing countries- text LEAD02 followed by £2, £5 or £10 to 70070


Caroline Lucas MP – My nomination for One Hundred Women

22 Jul

I’d like to nominate Jess Wood from Allsorts as a woman who is changing the world. Allsorts works with young people under 26 who are unsure about the sexual orientation and /or gender identity. It helps empower and give young people a voice.

Jess founded Allsorts and is currently its Director. She first introduced me to the work they do in Brighton and Hove, which includes one to one advice, team building and, above all, creating spaces for young people to be themselves and explore their feelings. Jess started the project because of a lack of any services meeting the needs of lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans youth in the city. She drives Allsorts forward and makes a real difference to the lives of those involved – many of whom are vulnerable, alienated or marginalised.

Jess and the work she does make it a little easier for all young people to come to a clearer and more positive understanding of their sexuality, not just here in Brighton – which has one of the most vibrant LGBT communities in the world – but in every country across the globe. Jess is an example of the many powerful women who, unseen, are building a better world and I applaud her and those like her.

Caroline Lucas is MP for Brighton Pavilion and Leader of the Green Party for England and Wales. She is a passionate campaigner on the environment, social justice, peace and human rights and is a Women’s Rights Champion for One World Action.

To find out more about One World Action’s One Hundred Unseen Powerful Women Campaign and to nominate please go to:

Female Footballers in Iran – Subversive Politics

14 Jul

– Healah Riazi, Volunteer, One World Action

Women’s presence within the sporting arena has unfortunately been a rare sighting both in their participation and in their assumed lack of interest. Traditionally considered a sphere socially reserved for men, male athletes and fans dominate the screens and stadiums placing women’s sport in a sub-standard category, often stereotypically characterised for its incompetency.

With the Women’s World Cup Finals now among us, a faint yet uplifting buzz can be sensed in the creeping appreciation and recognition of the value of women’s football. Women’s increased participation in such a renowned sport not only highlights the skills and passions of women away from conventional moulds, but it encourages and promotes an environment where men and women can engage in the same activities without exclusion and eventually, in equality.

One country that has particularly shaken up attitudes and sparked discussions of the associations made between women and sport, is Iran.

Women’s rights in Iran have long been a source of political contention within the Islamic regime of the country. Considered the symbolic upholders of national identity and traditionalist values, the position of women has always been charged with a religious and nationalist ideology, susceptible to change given the political context.

Despite the restrictive conditions that make for a difficult environment for women’s expression, a prolific women’s movement flourishes in Iran. Challenging existing political structures as well as working within the conservative Islamic framework to exercise these, women have created new spaces that allow for alternative forms of expression. The recent controversies around FIFA’s banning of the Iranian women’s team from the Olympics due to their religious yet legally required headwear have further highlighted the tensions between politically motivated interpretations of religion and women’s access to rights and privileges. These are the conditions Iranian women footballers are faced with constantly.

Women’s football in Iran not only challenges stifling stereotypes outside the country but it is a practice that speaks volumes in its demonstration of women’s abilities away from traditional duties and roles, offering an understated and subversive platform for women to assert their political presence in Iran.

One World Action are calling for nominations of women who you think have influenced and had a prominent impact on how women are perceived in sports. Whether they are sportswomen, campaigners or photographers, we want to hear about them!

You can nominate women by email to,  by post to One World Action, Bradley’s Close, 74-77 White Lion St, London N1 9PF, or by leaving a comment to this post. Please provide a short paragraph letting us know how your nominated woman has demonstrated strong leadership, and how they have created positive social change in the world.

To see the women nominated so far for our list of One Hundred Unseen Powerful Women who Change the World please visit: