INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S MONTH: Ramon Magsaysay Awardees who #EmbraceEquity

Mar 06, 2023
10 min read

March 8 is International Women’s Day, a global celebration of the remarkable achievements of women in all fields. This year’s theme, #EmbraceEquity, focuses on the many efforts being done to create a more inclusive world.

We at the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation have honored transformative leaders whose work have contributed to the social, economic, cultural and political advancement of women. Needless to say, gender equality is not solely the work of women; there are countless allies who stand by the women of the world in our march towards a more just, inclusive and equal world.


1975 Ramon Magsaysay Awardee | South Korea

LEE was Korea's first female lawyer who founded the country's first legal aid center. She fought for women's rights all through her career and has broken many glass ceilings for women in Korea and Asia.


Lee Tai-young encouraging Korean women to practice their rights

When World War II ended, LEE decided to pursue law. In 1946, she became the first woman ever to attend Seoul National University and earned her degree three years later. In 1952, she became the first woman to ever pass the National Judicial Examination, making her the first Korean lawyer in history. In 1957, after the end of the Korean War, Lee opened a law practice in Seoul focused on poor and illiterate women, a population that she had noticed was heavily underserved by the legal community. The Women’s Legal Counseling Center became the first organization in South Korea to specifically focus on providing important legal services to this demographic.

According to LEE, "No society can or will prosper without the cooperation of women." We could not agree more with her.


1993 Ramon Magsaysay Awardee | India

India’s rural women are handicapped both by poverty and physical isolation as well as by their subordinate position as females in the social order. There is a wide gap between medical services available to urbanites and those in rural areas especially in the state of Maharashtra.

Dr. BANOO COYAJI worked on bridging this gap. In 1944 she embarked upon her medical career at Pune’s King Edward Memorial Hospital (KEM), a privately funded maternity hospital of some forty beds. As its director and chief medical officer, COYAJI guided KEM’s growth into a full-service hospital of some 550 beds and as a center for teaching and medical research. COYAJI launched the Vadu Rural Health Project in 1977. In cooperation with the state government, she trained a team of community health guides to bring critical public health education and first aid to villagers.

COYAJI worked with women’s groups and ran programs on sanitation, hygiene, and nutrition to fellow villagers and promoted acceptance of family planning.


1994 Ramon Magsaysay Awardee | Afghanistan

SIMA SAMAR, an Afghan medical doctor, discerned that as a female in a conservative Muslim society she was doubly “second class.” She strove to prove her own worth and embraced the reforming winds that released Muslim women from the veil.

With other women, she established a hospital for women for Afghan refugees in Pakistan. Later, she founded the Shuhada Clinic, a small, fifteen-bed hospital, where she and her staff deliver babies, perform surgery, operate a laboratory, and treat some 250 outpatients a day. SAMAR also founded the Ariana School, the community’s first school for girls. She recruited educated refugee women to teach hundreds of girls through grades one to eight; older women attend literacy classes and learn useful money-making skills.

Celebrated for her extensive work to provide protection and safety, health care, shelter, education, self-reliance and support for Afghan refugee children, girls and women, SAMAR established the non-profit Gawharshad Institute of Higher Education (GSIHE) which initially offers training in the fields of political science, political sociology, economic planning, leadership and administration in education and opportunities for women, poor and marginalized students through tuition subsidies and scholarships.


2008 Ramon Magsaysay Awardee | Philippines

Established in December 1986 as a social development foundation by a group of 15 rural development practitioners, CARD MRI is committed to empower socially- and economically- challenged women and families to eventually transform them into responsible citizens for their community and the environment. CARD MRI enables its women members to gain control and ownership of financial and social development institutions.

In 2015, CARD MRI came up with the 5-8-40 Strategy. This means that in five years, CARD MRI hopes to provide microfinance and social development services to eight million clients and ensure 40 million individuals. From its humble beginnings, CARD MRI has evolved to fourteen development institutions on microfinance and financial services, microinsurance, and marketing, livelihood, health, environmental, agricultural, educational and other community development programs.


2011 Ramon Magsaysay Awardee | Indonesia

A pesantren, the oldest type of school in Indonesia, Nurul Haramain, was established in 1996 by a young, progressive Muslim cleric named HASANAIN JUAINI. Starting with fifty girls, he evolved a learner-centered program aimed at developing each student’s full potential. HASANAIN’s school offers a government-accredited five-year secondary education program. It is the first in Lombok, Indonesia to achieve 100 percent computer-based learning, where students are provided with personal computers and teaching assistants, even at night. Students are exposed to diverse learning opportunities, encouraged to think critically, and motivated to pursue higher studies.


Hasanain Juaini receiving the Ramon Magsaysay Award in August 31, 2011. With him is RMAF Chairperson Dr. Cynthia Bautista (right).

In 2011, JUAINI received Asia’s premier prize and highest honor, the Ramon Magsaysay Award “for his holistic, community-based approach to pesantren education in Indonesia, creatively promoting values of gender equality, religious harmony, environmental preservation, individual achievement, and civic engagement among young students and their communities.”


2013 Ramon Magsaysay Awardee | Nepal

The Human Trafficking Institute estimates that in 2016 alone, 4.7 million women and girls were victims of sex trafficking. In Nepal, it is one of the most difficult issues that affects thousands of women, adolescent girls and children.

SHAKTI SAMUKHA, established in 1996, addresses this issue head on. Founded and being run by women who are victims of human trafficking, the group has established different programs and organizations such as Child Protection Committees—community-based committees that conduct training for groups including the police, and used such media as street theater in their campaign against trafficking and domestic violence.

The organization, recognized as the world’s first anti-trafficking NGO created and run by trafficking survivors themselves, received the Ramon Magsaysay Award for “transforming their lives in service to other human trafficking survivors, for their passionate dedication towards rooting out a pernicious social evil in Nepal, and for the radiant example they have shown the world in reclaiming the human dignity that is the birthright of all abused women and children everywhere.”


2015 Ramon Magsaysay Awardee | Laos

KOMMALY CHANTHAVONG lived through all her country’s tragedies. Through these turbulent changes, one thing remained constant for KOMMALY—her love for silk weaving, which she learned from her mother when she was only five years old; in fact, fleeing her village in 1961 all she took with her were heirloom pieces of woven silk handed down from her grandmothers. In Vientiane, seeing war-displaced, rural women in desperate need of work, she used her meager savings to buy looms, and in 1976 started in her home a weaving group of ten women, whom she called the “Phontong Weavers.”


Kommaly providing training to villagers on raising silk worms

Her original group grew to become Phontong Handicraft Cooperative—a network of Lao artisans now spanning thirty-five villages and connecting over 450 artisans. This has since become Mulberries Organic Silk Farm, dedicated to the revival of Lao silk production. Since its establishment, the farm has trained over a thousand farmers and weavers and has created over three thousand jobs.

The soft-spoken KOMMALY says of her decades-long work, “Our goal is to strengthen the position of women by giving them a dependable income and thus improve the chances of their children.”