Women's Rights

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Two wheels good: The bikes bringing Malawi’s girls to school

For some young people, the road to education can be long and arduous – quite literally. In Balaka District, southern Malawi, where many schoolgirls live up to 25km from the classroom, getting there used to be a struggle. There were no buses or cars to transport them to school – they had to walk.

The two-hour journeys on foot were exhausting. Many of the students couldn’t concentrate when they eventually arrived at school; others simply stayed at home despite being desperate to learn. Some would eventually drop out altogether.

It was a vicious cycle – one that Oxfam decided to tackle by distributing bikes to schoolgirls in the region. Esnat*, one of 30 students to receive a bicycle, used to make a five-hour roundtrip to school on foot. “The journey was hard,” says the 15-year-old pupil, who lives 25km from her school. “I would be tired and used to doze off in class.

Left: Esnat* with her Oxfam bike. Photo: Corinna Kern. Right: Zainab* was always late for school. Photo: Corinna Kern

“I would sleep when I got home, I didn’t study as I was too tried. My body and legs would ache; sometimes I would skip lessons. I was underperforming in my lessons because I was either absent or not concentrating.”

Since getting a bike, Esnat* no longer feels as tired and can study properly: “I am excited about my bike; I will be able to complete my education. Now it takes less than one hour to get to school. I start lessons with my friends so I feel equal to them.

“I want to be a nurse. I have had that passion ever since I was younger. I want to help the sick and my community because we don’t have many nurses. I want to earn money to help my family.”

Another schoolgirl who benefitted from Oxfam’s bike project is 14-year-old Alice*, who also wants to be a nurse. Describing her old commute to school as a “bad experience”, she says: “I would go to school on Monday but then on a Tuesday I would be absent as I was so sick and tired. I would miss one day a week and go in four days. I forced myself to go. I was arriving at school so tired. I couldn’t concentrate as had I no time to rest. I tried to work hard but I was just so tired.

Left: Girls from Chembera secondary school, Chembera village, Balaka District, with their bicycles. Photo: Corinna Kern. Right: Alice* used to get sick regularly. Photo: Corinna Kern

“We got the bikes two weeks ago. I felt excited and hoped that I would do better in class. Now I travel the same distance but I am not as tired. I still leave at 6am but now I get to school at 6.30am. I am hopeful that I will finish my education and get a good job.”

Before she got her bike, Zainab* – who lives 18km from school – was always late for class and often missed out on exams. “I was so tired, I would spend lots of time stopping on the way to rest my legs so I would be late for school,” says Zainab* (15). “I would miss out on exams and there was no way to make up classes. If you missed a lesson that lesson would be gone. Now I don’t miss any lessons.”

*Names changed

International Women's Day

Now more than a century old, International Women’s Day is as important as ever before. After all, it’s not just the one day of the year that we celebrate the social, cultural, economic and political achievements of women; it’s also a time to reflect on their ongoing struggle for gender equality.

On this International Women’s Day, we would like to introduce you to some of the awe-inspiring women we are proud to stand with and support through our work:

Top-Left: Jennifer with her mentor Tsungai Shonhai. Photo: Abbie Trayler-Smith/Oxfam. Top-Right: Women’s group leader Kausar Rajput. Photo: Irina Werning/Oxfam. Bottom: Ghozlan is a Syrian refugee living in Za’atari Camp. Photo: Alixandra Buck/Oxfam

In Zimbabwe, Tsungai Shonhai works with young people living with and affected by HIV. The 64-year-old mentor works with the Oxfam Ireland-supported Bethany Project, which promotes the wellbeing of these vulnerable young people through support groups, HIV testing and counselling. Tsungai’s job isn’t easy, but her efforts are greatly appreciated by Jennifer.

The 15 year old, who was born HIV-positive, used to isolate herself from her community in case anyone found out about her condition. But her life has been transformed by the project and the work of women like Tsungai. “The support groups gave me courage, confidence and hope to manage my condition,” she says. “I am now confident, my self-esteem boosted, I now participate in the school netball team.”

Kausar Rajput is a women's group leader in Sindh province, Pakistan. Kausar (50), who also chairs the local health committee, helps women access small loans to start businesses in their homes. She does all of this as part of an Oxfam project called Raising Her Voice, which aims to help women in Pakistan overcome the barriers that keep them in poverty.

“I was a councillor before coming to this project and I was a housewife,” said Kausar. “My husband died, that was years ago and I have brought up my children by myself. By the grace of God I don't face problems now – I go out and solve other problems for other people.”

Ghozlan is one of around 45 Syrian women involved in Oxfam’s Greenhouse project in Za’atari refugee camp in Jordan. Many refugees in Jordan can’t find work and rely on limited aid. Finding work is even more challenging for these women who are encouraged to work in the home. When they do go out to work, they face harassment, rumours and discrimination. 

In response, Oxfam opened four greenhouses in Za’atari camp last year, and encouraged women to get involved. Ghozlan was one of those who joined the project, and quickly learned new horticultural skills. She is even making a little money from the produce she sells in local communities. For Ghozlan, however, it is the support from her new friends that is invaluable. “I met some women here,” she said. “When we talk together about our concerns we feel some relief.”


Rehema Mayuya is a change maker. Photo: BMF Production

Rehema Mayuya, from Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, lived with a violent husband until she became involved with the We Can campaign, which is part-funded by Oxfam Ireland. 

The campaign’s aim is to end violence against women, challenging the attitudes and behaviours that facilitate it. Rehema is now a change maker, someone who speaks out against domestic violence to make her community safer.
“I’m a totally different person now,” says Rehema. As a woman, I need to stand strong, fight for my rights and protect the rights of women who are subjected to violence.”

The protection project bringing hope to the DRC

Without peace, there can be no prosperity. In parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), conflict puts the safety of workers at risk. With insecurity stifling industry and the ability of communities to thrive, one Oxfam project is aimed at those whose lives and livelihoods are under threat.

Left: Henriette Namasale M’Makala, President of the Kashusha Women’s Forum. Photo: Ramon Sanchez Orense/Oxfam. Right: Children play with an old wheel in South Kivu, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where Oxfam is working with co-operatives and protection committees to ensure people can safely earn a living in conflict areas. Photo: Ramon Sanchez Orense/Oxfam

Kabare and Kalehe are two areas of South Kivu where the project – which combines livelihoods with the protection of residents – has been implemented. Furaha M’Maroyi, a widowed mother of four, has already seen the benefits. She does not own a farm, but she is a grower and member of the Kashusha Farming Co-operative, which is involved in the project.

Furaha explained that in the past, when the harvest was destroyed by gangs, she never asked the authorities for help. “Ever since I have lived alone with my children, we have lived in fear of the authorities,” she said. “We have been afraid of soldiers and their leader.”

However, the project recently got the growers and the authorities in the same room. “I sat down before a commanding officer; a person I thought was untouchable,” said 43-year-old Furaha. “We greeted each other and spoke together with familiarity. That day, I felt that a relationship had been forged. We put our conflicts to one side and shook hands, like friends.”

Furaha has gained confidence from that meeting. She has saved some money, which paid for a goat. “If my family became ill tomorrow, I could sell it and pay for the health care services without having to borrow money from my neighbours,” she said. “Since this project came into existence, I have discovered new courage.”

Elsewhere, Henriette Namasale M’Makala , who is president of project partner, the Kashusha Women’s Forum, would like to see violence against women become a thing of the past in the DRC.

“There is so much violence oppressing us, including the fact that we don't have access to a space for discussion, where we can speak out loudly and strongly in the presence of men,” she said. “The society we live in sometimes tends to hold us down in a lowly position, even though it is us, the women, who look after the children and do all the housework.”

Henriette (47) said she is proud of being part of a project which gives women the space to talk openly and honestly about the problems they face. She added that the members can discuss issues such as rape and know they will be heard. Even more importantly, they will not be judged.

Being president of the forum has changed Henriette too. "If I have a problem, I am prepared to go and defend myself before and with men,” she said. “We live near a military camp and that no longer affects me, because my family and I sleep at night.”


Give an unexpected gift this Christmas

Christmas songs playing in shops, lights strewn between buildings on city streets, shopping windows decorated with evergreen trees and holly, rosy cheeks on passers-by. The Christmas season has officially begun.

This also means crowded shops, long queues, and heavy bags. Ba-humbug!

Instead of enduring the crowds, waiting in queues and braving the cold, consider nestling up to a warm cup of tea with your internet browser opened to Oxfam Unwrapped.

Oxfam Unwrapped offers 17 unique and unexpected gifts ranging from €5/£5 to €1,000/£926. Whether it’s a cooking stove or a clutch of chicks, each gift funds Oxfam’s work around the world. Don’t worry… a clutch of chicks won’t arrive on your doorstep. Your gift donation goes toward poor families and communities that need it most.

Leave the soap and lotion gift baskets at the shops. Instead, purchase our soap stocking filler for a family member. Money raised from your donation supports humanitarian work from our Saving Lives fund. It provides people like Binta and her daughter Fati in Niger with hygiene training to keep them from illness and deadly diseases.

Want to get something sweet for a friend? Instead of picking up the predictable box of chocolates, make a donation to our Livelihoods fund by buying a honeybees gift card. This purchase helps fund the communities who depend on animals for their livelihoods. It empowers people like Augustina in Ghana. Through an Oxfam-supported beekeeping project, she was able to earn additional income to pay her children’s school fees.

When drought struck Somaliland, Faria moved with her children to Karasharka Camp where Oxfam provided safe water. This Christmas, give something better than a bottle of wine or bubbly to your colleague. Consider making a donation to our Water for All fund by purchasing safe water for a family gift card. This gift provides poor communities with safe access to water through pumps, tanks, taps and purification systems.

Your unexpected gift card from the Unwrapped campaign provides the tools, training and resources to support and empower communities. While bringing a smile to your loved one’s face, you will also be building brighter, happier futures. Happy shopping!

Stories of hope for International Women's Day

To mark International Women's Day 2017, we're celebrating some of the inspirational women we have the privilege of working with around the world.


Pictured top left, Maitre says “I’m very proud because I am a strong woman. I am a girl doing a man’s job and I am capable and able.”

Maitre Marie Nadeige (36) from Haiti is one of 100 women trained by Oxfam in construction. These women have joined the workforce and are now helping to improve infrastructure and repair roads in their areas. Since the earthquake in Haiti in 2010, Oxfam has been working with partners to help people rebuild their lives and make their communities less vulnerable to disaster. 


Pictured top right, Ayinkamiye Josepha works on the Tuzamurane Co-operative – an Oxfam partner-run pineapple farm in the Kirehe District in east Rwanda. Before the co-operative, women were growing and selling pineapples on a much smaller scale for a low price and were trapped in poverty. Now the women working as part of the co-operative grow pineapple crops on both their own land and the co-operative’s and these are sold to be juiced or dried in the in-house processing plant. The profits from sales are invested back into the business and shared between the members. Oxfam has also helped connect the women with banks so that they can access funds to pay for health insurance and school fees.


Pictured bottom left, Emam Mahdi Saleh (36) is a business woman and mother of five from Jalawla in Iraq. Her salon was damaged during the ISIS occupation of the town but she’s now back in business after receiving a loan from Oxfam for repairs. Oxfam has been helping other business owners like Emam to get back on their feet through small loans and paid work to help rebuild the town. 


Pictured bottom right, Natalia says “Everything started with an idea and a very small investment from a small saving. Oxfam supported with branding and restoration of the facilities. It is important to work together…”

Natalia Partskhaladze (41) is the founder of the Kona Co-operative in a village in Georgia’s Kaspi Municipality in Russia. The co-operative produces black and herbal teas and was set up in 2015 as part of a nationwide project led by Oxfam that has facilitated the formation of 48 co-operatives in 13 municipalities, employing around 10,000 people. Natalia’s co-operative employs five women and buys materials from other co-operatives to supplement locally sourced herbs and flowers.

Video: A story of hope from Iraq

Zahia and her family were forced to flee their home when ISIS came to their village. When ISIS were gone Zahia returned to her house and with a little help from Oxfam, regained hope of creating a home and an independent life.

This is her story.

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