This post was co-authored by Victoria Marzilli and Anna Kramer.
By now we’ve probably all heard 2012 being called a new “year of the woman.” From a record number of females elected into the US Congress, to the young Pakistani education activist who was TIME’s runner-up for Person of the Year (with Hillary Clinton and Marissa Mayer making the shortlist), the girls are seriously representing this year. But, even with all the focus on these extraordinary women, we feel like there’s still something missing.
You see, working at Oxfam, we have the incredible opportunity to hear stories of people who beat the odds every day. But what we’ve learned is that those odds are, more often than not, stacked against women. So in the spirit of reflection, we’ve chosen five more women–who you probably have never heard of–who are inspiring us to keep up the fight for social justice and keep changing the world for the better.
1. The spokeswoman
Photo: Jacob Silberberg/Oxfam America
Nigeria’s Susan Godwin is a farmer, public speaker, feminist, entrepreneur, and human rights activist all rolled into one. As a voice for greater investment in rural women farmers, she’s shared her story with audiences all over the world this year, whether at events organized by US volunteers, the World Food Prize Conference in Iowa, or Oxfam’s ongoing global discussion about the Future of Agriculture. To hear Susan tell her story in her own words, watch the video of Oxfam America’s recent “Talks at Google” event focused on ending hunger.
2. The first responder
Photo: Rene Figueroa/Oxfam America
In El Salvador, Doris Escobar coordinates a core group of dedicated volunteers–more than half of them women–who are experts at emergency water, sanitation, and hygiene promotion. Thanks to training supported by Oxfam, Escobar’s volunteers made a difference when an extraordinary storm struck El Salvador late last year. More recently, the group has been training new members from 150 communities. “It has been a lot of work,” said Escobar, “but we are teaching that women are capable of doing everything that men can. I tell many women, ‘We don’t have to follow behind a man. We can walk in front of one.’” Read the full story here.
3. The smart gardener
Photo: Percy Ramirez/Oxfam America
Luz Sinarahua, 26, leads a group of women and mothers in rural Chirikyacu, Peru, who work together to maintain a community garden that’s far from ordinary. Sinarahua and her fellow women are participants in an Oxfam pilot project that helps indigenous women reclaim their ancestors’ traditional crops while increasing their incomes and combating the effects of climate change. “We are 18 really active women,” saind Sinarahua of her fellow growers. “We are unified, and we coordinate our work.” Read the full story here.
4. The rural innovator
Photo: Sokunthea Chor/Oxfam America
Chheng Cheeung, a rice farmer from Cambodia’s Pursat province, was one of the first farmers in her village to try the System of Rice Intensification, an innovative method that can grow more rice using less water and fewer resources. Though her neighbors laughed at her at first, Chheng proved them wrong when her stronger crops not only survived a flood: they flourished. She was able to double her income from her rice crop–money that she invested in her daughter’s education–and now serves as a model for innovation throughout her community. Read the rest of her story here.
5. The female food hero
Oxfam’s Female Food Hero contest is raising the profile of women in places like Tanzania and Ethiopia—where women grow, cook, and produce most of their countries’ food, but are rarely publicly recognized for their accomplishments. Sister Martha Waziri, this year’s winner of the contest in Tanzania, reclaimed a barren, unwanted patch of land and turned it into a source of food and income, and then motivated others in her community to do the same. “Sister Martha is not an agro-science expert,” wrote Oxfam’s Mwanahamisi Salimu earlier this year. “But this extraordinary woman from an ordinary rural community has made a substantial contribution to conserve her environment and made a remarkable difference in the lives of her fellow villagers.” Read the rest of her story here.
We want to hear from you: What other unsung women heroes changed the world in 2012? Tell us by leaving a comment below.