Women front 

and center

Women’s empowerment lies at the heart of our work

We believe in a world with free, fair and inclusive societies that offer equal rights and opportunities to all people.  

Women are the driving force behind social change. Their voices and views are indispensable catalysts for development. This is why so many of our activities focus on women and girls realizing their full potential. 

We believe empowering women will improve living conditions for entire communities, eradicate poverty and propel economic development. 

When women can earn a decent wage and have the opportunity to become independent entrepreneurs, we see businesses and markets grow. When women have equal decision making power and participate in political processes, they are able to make decisions that positively affect their lives and the future of their countries. 

From improving women’s working conditions on flower and coffee farms to strengthening women-led businesses and encouraging their ascent to positions of power, wherever we work and whatever we do, the role of women is always one of our core concerns. 
The personal risks and concerted opposition many of these courageous women have faced and overcome make their inspiring stories worth sharing. 

“We challenge the cultural and social barriers that stop women from reaching their full potential.” 
Doreen Khoury, Program Manager Hivos

Today’s ideas, tomorrow’s innovations

In the Middle East and North Africa, developing women’s full potential is what our work is about; their quest for individual growth and economic independence is what drives our support. 

In response to the challenges arising from the Arab uprisings, we started the Coworking for Sustainable Employment program. It aims to get more young people in the Maghreb region - especially women - to see entrepreneurship as a realistic career opportunity. We believe independent young women will become a critical force for positive social change in their societies. 

While many women in the region are interested in starting their own business, they are less likely than men to take the leap and do so. That is why we launched Mubadirat, Arabic for “women entrepreneurs.” This media project encourages women to believe in their ideas and have confidence in their capabilities. We offer them tools to improve their self-confidence and turn these ideas of today into the innovations of tomorrow. 

Meet Rania Rafie from Egypt. 

Rania Rafie

In 2017, Mubadirat produced a series of videos featuring the inspiring stories of accomplished young women from diverse backgrounds and industries. We are proud to give a podium to these new catalysts of women's empowerment in the Maghreb region. Meet Rania Rafie from Egypt. 

"I have to be the change that I want to see in my generation"

Linda Sibanyoni, Zimbabwean politician 

While starting a business is not easy for women in the Middle East and North Africa, there are more challenges that prevent them from fully participating in society; challenges similar to the ones women in Southern Africa are facing.  

In both regions, women experience serious obstacles that limit their chances to acquire the training and experience needed to seek leadership positions in civic organizations, political parties and public institutions. This limits women’s ability to put their needs, ideas and priorities on the political agenda. The lack of an enabling environment, reinforced by negative stereotypes in the media, makes it even more difficult for aspiring women leaders. 

Our Women Empowered for Leadership program changes that. We motivate women to take part in decision-making processes that affect their lives: as a member of parliament or school board, as a mayor or union leader. We provide the relevant skills, knowledge and tools these women need to create social and political change.

From Lebanon to Zimbabwe, powerful women are deciding it is time to let their voices be heard. Get to know some of them!

Invest in women, it pays!

Workers in the lowest paid and least healthy jobs are often women. They work in unsafe workplaces, face sexual harassment and are denied basic rights such as maternity leave. 

Our Women@Work Campaign improves the working conditions of women in the flower industry in East and Southern Africa. But we can’t do this alone. All parties in the value chain share a responsibility. That is why we cooperate with policy makers and regulators, retailers and consumers in Europe, and why we act as an industry watchdog. 

Improving women’s labor rights is not only beneficial to women. Women invest a substantial part of their income in the health and education of their families, thereby contributing to a more sustainable and productive society. 

Small change, big deal

Small change, big deal is the campaign slogan Women@Work uses to engage Dutch consumers. The message: “A fair price for the flowers you buy makes a big difference in the wages of the women picking them.” 

"Women can make or break the coffee sector"

Carol Gribnau, Director Green Society at Hivos 

From flower farms in Ethiopia to coffee farms in Colombia, women are an important part of the workforce. Improving their working conditions and promoting their rights lies at the heart of many of our programs. 

More than half of the food produced in Latin America comes from smallholder farmers, many of whom still live in poverty. In coffee and cocoa landscapes, some of the main challenges they face in improving their livelihoods are not only climate change and age disparity, but also gender discrimination.

Through our SAFE Platform we aim to make coffee and cocoa landscapes more people-centered and inclusive of women. Even though over a third of the farmers we work with are women, they are low paid and poorly represented. Fortunately, that is changing. An initial result of our work is that many cooperatives and worker’s associations are for the first time promoting women to positions of authority.

Listen to SAFE's latest podcast on gender equity:


Empower Women, Energize the World!

"If we walk together, we can do it." 
Sushila Dhakel, Nepalese entrepreneur

1.2 billion people have no access to electricity and over 2.7 billion people still use traditional biomass for cooking, leading to approximately 4.3 million deaths a year from indoor air pollution. Those most affected are women in rural areas. But women can play a crucial role in increasing energy access, especially in remote areas. Hosted by Hivos, ENERGIA works towards ensuring that rural women and men have equal access to renewable energy sources. 

We have discovered that as household energy managers, women are in a unique position to familiarize their communities with and deliver clean energy products. By selling, maintaining and financing modern off-grid electrification solutions and clean cooking technologies and fuels, women entrepreneurs become active change agents both locally and in the wider energy sector. 

Over the past four years, ENERGIA’s Women's Economic Empowerment Program has engaged over 4,000 women entrepreneurs. These women now run profitable businesses, employ more than 5,000 people and have sold almost 600,000 energy products, reaching more than 2.6 million rural customers. 

We believe providing access to energy not only alleviates poverty and propels economic development, but is part of the essential right to human development.

Our inspiration comes from the women we work with. Niru Shrestha is one of them. She lives in a small village in Nepal where cultural barriers hinder women from earning a living on their own. 

The earthquake that struck her country in 2015, hitting the poorest hardest, further exacerbated inequalities between women and men. Niru showed how barriers can be overcome when values drive the change. After 13 years in the cookstove business, building on-site mud stoves, she joined ENERGIA’s training for female entrepreneurs and changed the course of her life. 

Niru set up shop and started selling improved biomass cookstoves. Currently, she is a role model in her community, engaging over 100 women as local sales agents.

The back story 

This short animation explains the aims of our Women Empowered for Leadership program. 

Coworking for Sustainable Employment invites you to watch more videos of inspiring women on Mubadirat

ENERGIA has launched the Faces of Energy website, the first-ever interactive data visualization on gender equality and social inclusion within sustainable energy efforts globally. 

Visit the SAFE Platform to watch a documentary on women coffee farmers and listen to more podcasts. 

Part of our Women@Work Campaign is the Living Wage Lab, a place where a wide array of stakeholders come together to find innovative ways to realize decent wages in the agri-food sector.