Women leading the way in economic empowerment in agriculture

Credit: Andy Hall 

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To mark International Women’s Day 2016, Oxfam’s Knowledge Hub on Women's Economic Empowerment (WEE) in Agriculture organised the 2016 Oxfam WEE Leadership Awards to recognise the staff members of partner and community organisations, as well as Oxfam, who have shown exceptional championship of women’s economic empowerment.

Today Winnie Byanyima, Oxfam International Executive Director, has announced the seven winners of this award and commended them for their work promoting economic opportunity for women (such as new, more lucrative roles in markets and decent work) along with the social and political changes women require to claim their economic rights and improve their wellbeing. Winnie highlighted the importance of their efforts to change economic systems by challenging the thinking, practices, roles and policies that systematically discriminate against women.


Here’s a list of the winners with an overview of their achievements:


Partner and community organisations


Kona Sarah Kollie, Founder and Executive Director of the Young Liberian Women’s Organisation for Improvement

Konnah is recognised for her work in mobilising rural teenage mothers in Liberia to engage in the production and marketing of cassava. She negotiated land from her village and secured ten acres. The group processes the cassava into Gari (a local food) for sale to supermarkets. Konnah also supports the women in developing new skills for non-farm-based, income-generating activities, such as sewing, and links them to garment markets. Konnah has been a change agent in her own life and the life of 400 other women who now benefit from better access to land, skills and market opportunities.


Ume Laila Azhar, CEO of Homenet Pakistan

Ume Laila is recognised for her work to formalise home-based women worker groups across the country, and raise their collective voice for the recognition of informal women workers. At the same time, Umeis a driving force behind the writing of policies for women home-based workers at national and provincial levels. Recently, her advocacy work has resulted in the finalization of draft national and provincial policies for home based workers and in the approval of a domestic workers policy in the Punjab Province of Pakistan that safeguards women workers rights for equitable wages, paid leave, social protection cover, abuse at work and child labour. It is estimated that this work will protect more than one million women in the province. Moreover, with the adoption of home- based worker polices, 12 million home based workers would be protected.


Magdalena Fueres, President of the Women’s Central Committee of the Union of Indigenous and Peasant Organisations in Cotacachi, Ecuador

Magdalena, an indigenous Kichwa leader, is recognised for her work in establishing the Women’s Central Committee (WCC), which consists of 31 women’s groups and approximately 400 women. The WCC promotes the rights of women within the family, community, the Union and the district. With the women from WCC, Magdalena established a Mercado Campesino, a market that enables women small-scale farmers to sell their organic products directly to consumers, and created new economic opportunities for Kichwa women through income generating activities that are complementary to agriculture, such as handicrafts and tourism. Under her leadership, the WCC has also facilitated access to health, community banks, and a training centre for women. She also engages in important advocacy work, such as influencing the writing of the 2008 Constitution and proposed changes in the law related to land ownership.


Mariam Nana, President of the Parboilers Women’s Union of Bagré, Burkina Faso

Mariam has been awarded a Posthumous WEE Leadership Award for her exceptional championship of WEE during her lifetime. With Mariam’s leadership, women in Bagré organised into 18 groups with more than 450 members who are engaged in rice processing (parboiling). Mariam was charismatic and visionary. As president of the Union of Bagré, Mariam had the vision to invest in production and modern facilities, and forged relationships with key industry players. Her union was the only union that successfully established a supply contract with producers. Through the national Parboilers Union, Mariam played an important role in defending the position of women parboilers throughout Burkina Faso. Sadly, she died in a car accident after attending a meeting to negotiate the market with the national security (SONAGES). This award is a tribute to her life.


Oxfam staff

Jomkwan Kwanyuen, Gender Justice Programme Officer, Oxfam in Thailand

Jomkwan is recognised for her work in directly supporting women’s occupational groups and the formation of women-led enterprises, convening WEE Forums that promote women’s business opportunities and access to resources, and facilitating the Global Impactors’ Network, a network of young urban professionals who volunteer to mentor women from the remoteSouth in their business endeavours.

Seble Teweldbirhan, Media and Communications Officer, Oxfam in Ethiopia

Seble is recognised for her work in developing innovative ways of raising the profile of women smallholder farmers in the media via the Female Food Heroes Award and through the use of art and music to reach urban audiences.


Jocelyn Villanueva, Asia Regional Change Lead – Women’s Economic Empowerment

Jocelyn is recognised for her work in leading the development of a cross-affiliate Asia Community of Practice on WEE that drives learning and inspires staff and partners throughout the region, pioneering thinking on WEE in post disaster recovery context in Asia, and for her successful influencing of donors, governments and the private sector to increase investment on WEE.


We received nominations for 38 inspiring individuals from across 25 countries.  Though we were not able to give awards to all individuals, we would like to give special recognition to all nominees for their commitment and dedication to advancing women’s economic rights. See list of nominees and reasons for which they were nominated.


The Awards Committee that selected the winners consisted of some members of the Knowledge Hub’s Governance Committee.


For more information on these awards, contact Claudia Canepa, Knowledge Hub Coordinator, at ccanepa@oxfam.org.uk, or visit WEE Leadership Awards.

This blog was also posted on Oxfam's International Women's Day website.

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