Tag Archives: women’s rights

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.


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.

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.



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 hdavies@oneworldaction.org,  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: https://oneworldaction.wordpress.com/100-unseen-powerful-women/ 

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: https://oneworldaction.wordpress.com/100-unseen-powerful-women/

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: https://oneworldaction.wordpress.com/100-unseen-powerful-women/  

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: http://www.justgiving.com/OneHundredWomen  

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