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: 

87, and still campaigning

11 Jul

– Rosamund Urwin, Evening Standard Journalist

TOO often, awards celebrate youth. “Top 30 under 30”, “the ones to watch”, “stars of the future”: if you’re collecting your pension, you don’t get a look in. This is especially true for women, who seem to be almost edited out of public life when wrinkles start to appear.

So when I was told about the “unseen powerful women who change the world” campaign, I knew immediately who I wished to nominate: 87-year-old Ena Abrahams. I first read about Mrs Abrahams earlier this year in the Waltham Forest Guardian, a local newspaper in East London. She was named as the leader of a campaign to save the under-threat Connaught Day Hospital, a centre within Whipps Cross Hospital which specialises in caring for the elderly.

Mrs Abrahams receives treatment at the Connaught every fortnight and is one of its great advocates, fighting to stop its closure because “older patients are treated with dignity there” and because “it takes a holistic approach”. Since she started her campaign, the bosses of the hospital trust have said they are considering expanding the Connaught’s services, as an alternative to closing it.

Mrs Abrahams calls herself “a self-appointed emissary of the elderly” and is speaking up because she wants her generation to have a voice: “There are patients here who don’t know how to defend themselves, they have an inbuilt fear of authority.” That certainly does not apply to Mrs Abrahams, for whom campaigning seems to come naturally. As part of the patients’ panel at Whipps Cross, she has successfully lobbied for the Paediatric Accident & Emergency to be open 24 hours a day. Before she retired, the former headmistress was also very active in the teachers’ union.

Ena Abrahams outside the Connaught Day Hospital. Photo: Joe Curtis, Wanstead and Woodford Guardian

Having taught thousands of school pupils, Mrs Abrahams decided to teach the teachers how to teach, as a tutor at Goldsmiths, a London university. She remains passionate about the power of education and believes we should never stop learning: in her late Seventies she studied for a masters in sociology. “I got a distinction and I was 40 years older than the next oldest student,” she recalls.

Mrs Abrahams is also a mine of historical information. She can remember the Wall Street Crash and the depression of the 1930s. She describes growing up in a Shoreditch slum; there was no running water in her family’s flat, so her mother had to traipse down three floors to collect it.

Ena Abrahams is not the type of person who is usually described as powerful. Although politically-active, she is not a politician. But she is a reminder of what can be achieved – at any age – if you possess an indefatigable spirit.

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


5 Jul

‘We know that for most of the time
We are invisible to you

But we will no longer be the unseen
We are taking shape
We are gaining colour
We are standing straight in front of you
We are slowly becoming un-missable
We are holding hands
You can join us
But you must begin to see
That we are no longer invisible.’

Extract from a poem on ‘invisible’ women in the South African trade union movement.

At a crucial juncture for women’s rights, here is our agenda for change

4 Jul

– Emily Esplen, Women’s Rights Coordinator, One World Action

Now is a moment ripe with possibility for making strides forwards on women’s rights. Just last week, the Executive Director of the first ever United Nations women’s agency, Michelle Bachelet, announced UN Women’s strategic plan. For One World Action, it felt like a huge milestone to see women’s leadership and participation as UN Women’s first priority – an issue we have been campaigning on for several decades. This year, the power of women’s participation was most vividly demonstrated to me by the pivotal role women have played in protesting for democracy and freedom in the Middle East and North Africa. Throughout the region, women have stood alongside men and demanded change. Another particularly poignant example of the key role of women leaders in mobilising social change came last year with the release of Aung San Suu Kyi, Burma’s courageous pro-democracy leader.

Yet alongside these inspiring examples, I sense an aching disappointment among many feminists – particularly those of us engaged with or situated within the development industry – at the gap between aspirations for social transformation and the limited and fragile gains that women have made towards equality and freedom. We have seen the transformation that comes when women know their rights and entitlements and are able to make demands and put pressure on the state to deliver these. Yet, increasingly, narrow and instrumental economic and security agendas seem to be trumping more positive agendas based on human rights and well-being. We know that in order to transform the unequal position of women we must build collective power, particularly at the grassroots, so that women themselves define and drive their own change. Yet we have watched as donor resources have shifted away from supporting women’s organising towards interventions which show more readily “measurable” returns in the short-term.

The future is perhaps more precarious still, with the fascinating rise of new emerging donors – China, India, Brazil, Russia, South Africa – whose aid is focused primarily on south-south economic cooperation rather than poverty reduction or human rights. What will the consequences be for advancing a positive women’s rights-based development agenda in the longer-term? Another group of new donors – the New Member States of the European Union – are also channelling their aid in support not of rights or even poverty reduction, but political interests and regional stability. At this time of shifting global dynamics, the presence of strong feminist movements surely becomes all the more critical to pressure governments in emerging donor countries to invest in the kinds of interventions that can truly transform the lives of women and girls.

At this crucial juncture for women’s rights, it seems time to ask some difficult questions. How can we close the yawning gap between abstract legal rights and frameworks and women’s access to a justice system that treats them fairly and equally? In a world marked by the resurgence of fundamentalisms and persistent attacks on sexual and reproductive rights, what will it take to realise one of the most basic yet contested of rights – women’s right to control what happens to their own bodies? How can we make women’s work safe, fairly paid and valued when the race-to-the-bottom in labour standards and wages continues unabated and when un- and under- employment grows in the aftermath of the financial crisis? With decision-making still dominated by men the world over, what will it take to get women’s voices heard and taken seriously?

Our agenda for changeConstruction workers and members of the Self Employed Women's Assocation, India

It is in this context – marked by huge opportunity but also a darkening political environment for women’s rights – that One World Action believes a feminist approach to development is more important than ever. This is why we work in partnership with women’s rights organisations around the world to empower women so that their voices are heard, their rights are observed and their choices respected. In Zambia, for example, we are supporting the national Women’s Lobby to run Girls’ Leadership Clubs in schools to build girls’ confidence and leadership skills. Our groundbreaking project in India is linking high street companies such as Next, Monsoon and Gap to buy directly from women embroiderers who work at home – as a result 1,000 women are now being paid on time and have seen their wages double. In Malawi, we are supporting the first ever platform for women living with HIV to challenge cultural norms, sensitise communities, and make women aware of their human rights and confident in claiming them. And in Tanzania, we are working with the Women’s Legal Aid Centre to strengthen women’s legal literacy through an innovative radio programme.

Strengthening women’s voice, agency, leadership and decision-making power – none of these are quick or easy to achieve. Yet we focus on these changes because we believe they are fundamental cornerstones of achieving gender equality and catalysing positive social change. Only when women are supported to act as agents of change – as leaders and decision-makers rather than as victims in need of rescuing by development agencies – is it possible to truly transform the position of women in their societies and create a fairer world.

One World Action has launched a new campaign to find One Hundred Unseen Powerful Women who change the worldFor more information and to nominate your unseen powerful women please go to:  

We will be awarding prizes to the top ten women within several categories. To donate to the campaign fund, which will also support One World Action’s work to empower women leaders around the world, please visit the following page:  

Or text POWA00 followed by £2, £5 or £10 to 70070

Why we need an alternative list

23 Jun

– Hannah Davies, Director, One World Action

I have always loved lists. And although lists can be criticised for being superficial they can also be a useful way to synthesise and structure our thoughts. So I have to confess that I will always read with interest the lists in glossy magazines of the 10 most, or 40 best or the 100 richest, most powerful or influential, arguing about who’s included and who’s left out.

But one of the drawbacks of these kinds of lists is that they very often draw attention to what we already know. When it comes to lists of women, we often see women defined as powerful because of their husband or father: who they are rather than what they do.But there are all kinds of interesting, powerful, important, clever, talented women who are powerful because of their actions and choices who will never make it onto any list because their impact is unseen.

Women are powerful and take decisions every day. In all sorts of unrecognised ways they are educators and role models. Their work often keeps homes running as well as families and communities fed. It’s an often quoted statistic from the Food and Agriculture Organization that women produce between 60 and 80 percent of the food in most developing countries and are responsible for half of the world’s food production.

Not only is so much of women’s work unrecognised or under-valued, there are also lots of barriers to women being able to fulfil their potential – particularly in public life: at One World Action we work with women to overcome some of them: violence against women politicians, cultural attitudes that limit economic opportunities for women home workers, and on a very basic level lack of sexual and reproductive choice that leads, for example, to forced marriage. So for many women, to go public and take on a leadership role – however small – often involves additional risks.

It’s through working with powerful women dealing with these challenges every day, without the benefits of a high-profile husband or father and lots of media attention that I came up with the idea for a list of 100 powerful – but unseen – women. We have many examples from our work at One World Action and I’m sure there are way more than 100 out there. So we will be looking for nominations from all over the world and from all areas of life: teachers, artists, migrants, health-care workers, farmers.

To get the ball rolling here are two powerful women that I’d like to nominate. They are definitely not invisible within their own communities but they’re still “unseen” in the wider world.

For more information and to nominate women please go to:

Luz Melon is a friend and an inspiration. She’s now a Counsellor at the Argentinean mission to the UN in New York but came to diplomacy late after working as a teacher in inner-city Buenos Aries. One of the things I admire about Luz is her capacity for hard work. But where I think she’s really shown leadership is championing human rights in the United Nations. She played a lead role in the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and has been a brilliant advocate for disabled people. Most recently she took on the more economically powerful UN member states to push for a convention on the rights of elder people. And she’s been a consistent advocate for sexual and reproductive rights.It’s sometimes difficult for diplomats from developing countries to really promote rights – particularly around gender and sexuality – because there’s sometimes a perception that human rights are a western construct. Luz won’t have any of this, and would argue that, growing up under an oppressive dictatorship in Argentina, there is a very specific and indigenous human rights culture in Latin America. Throughout her life she has also made brave personal decisions and has had the courage to challenge stereotypes.

Mary Taylor* is definitely a powerful woman. Mary had very little formal education and, when I knew here, she was already a pensioner. She’s not always the easiest person to deal with and she’s made a fair few enemies but she will always stand up for what she believes is right and is not afraid to take risks. She’s a long-term resident of council estate in South East London and when I was her neighbour for a few years she would be the person who knew exactly what was going on. She’d be the first to take on the local council if she thought that tenants’ interests were being taken for granted or that there were changes being introduced that would make life worse for the people who actually lived in the flats. She also took personal risks. While so many of us would “tut” and turn away when we saw people leaving litter or drawing graffiti in the estate, she would never be afraid of standing up to them and pointing out bad behaviour.There were people on the estate that didn’t like Mary and didn’t always share her views of how things should work but her energy and her commitment came from a very strong idea about her environment and why community mattered.

* Not her real name