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7 Ramon Magsaysay Awardees Empowering Women One at a Time

Jun 01, 2023
10 min read

The Ramon Magsaysay Awardees and Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, the United Nations (UN) designed the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), a collection of 17 interlinked objectives designed to serve as a "shared blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet now and into the future.” But even before the UN formulated the SDGs, the Ramon Magsaysay Awardees, recipients of Asia’s premier prize and highest honor, have been working on these pressing issues of human, environmental, and global development.

In this new series, we will list down some notable Ramon Magsaysay Awardees who have addressed and continue to work on humanity’s collective goals.

Sustainable Development Goal 5:
Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls

According to the UN, achieving gender equality as a basic human right has been pushed back on a global scale due to the increase in gender-based violence, job loss for women, and the burden on care work. The outbreak of COVID-19 in 2020 further added a delay in the implementation of SDG 5.

SDG 5 talks about gender equality. It aims to end discrimination against women and girls everywhere, with nine target actions including ending all forms of violence; assurance of full participation in leadership and decision-making; universal access to reproductive health and rights, among others.

Despite the challenges of implementing SDG 5 on track, the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation has been highlighting this major issue since the first Ramon Magsaysay Awards in 1958. Many recipients of Asia’s premier prize and highest honor have risen up to the occasion and have addressed gender equality gaps in their respective societies. In this fifth installment of our 17-part series, we feature 7 Magsaysay laureates who have been working on addressing SDG 5. Here are a few of them:

NILAWAN PINTONG served her country in different political and civic roles such as Chief of the Official Publications Section in the Public Relations Department, Chief of the Foreign Press Section, and Founder and President of the PEN Center of Thailand Division of Foreign Affairs. Working with the press, NILAWAN developed a passion for journalism which led to her co-founding the Satree Sarn Magazine, the first female publication in her country which empowered women to play an active role in civic and community affairs. It became the most widely read women's magazine in Thailand.

Due to her interest in women’s affairs, she was elected as a Chairman of the Executive Committee of the National Council of Women of Thailand where she initiated a pilot effort, the Trok Project, for the development of self-help activities in depressed areas of Thailand. NILAWAN also created the Ounakorn Center which provides free office services for struggling organizations of students, writers, and women.

Her efforts toward the development of women's rights in Thailand earned her the title Steel Lotus Bloom. She received the Ramon Magsaysay Award in 1961, making her the first Thai recipient of Asia’s premier prize and highest honor.

As a child, FUSAYE ICHIKAWA learned that women in Japan are second-class citizens. This eventually gave direction and meaning to FUSAYE ICHIKAWA’s life and career. Her various work experiences as a school teacher, news reporter, stockbroker’s clerk, and labor union worker exposed her to women’s affairs—a rising issue during the second decade of the 20th century in Japan—and labor union problems.

In 1918, ICHIKAWA involved herself at a national level when she co-founded the Shinfujin Kyokai (New Women's Association) which aims to promote the welfare of working women by obtaining equal opportunities in higher education, family life, and political rights enjoyed by men. In 1945, she became president of the New Japan Women's League where she led a successful campaign against licensed prostitution and played a key role in founding the Fair and Clean Elections Association.

When she became a politician in 1953, ICHIKAWA concentrated on election practices, domestic relations, prostitution, and other practices degrading to women. Hence, she assisted women's organizations in their lobbying activities. ICHIKAWA is one of the most outstanding women in 20th-century Japan.

LEE TAI-YOUNG is a woman of many firsts: Korea's first female lawyer, first female judge, and the founder of the country's first legal aid center. She has fought for women's rights throughout her career.

While Korea had been traditionally a patriarchal society, the end of World War II improved the conditions of women. However, Dr. LEE had realized that women had no effective access to the law because they had no money for legal fees, and seldom understood what rights they had. As the only woman lawyer in Korea, therefore, she began to offer her services free to women who sought her out. This experience led to the establishment of the Legal Aid Center for Family Relations in 1956 where “the poor and ignorant receive aid without fee."

The Center stands to date and has served a total of 1,735,082 cases of counseling since its inception.

WU QING was fortunate to have been born into a family that made no distinction between males and females in terms of duties, rights, opportunities, and privileges. Her mother would often tell her, “You are a human being first, then a woman.” Those words served as her first powerful lesson in gender equality and as a guide many years later in her crusade to help the women of China secure their rightful place in society.

She studied for a year in the United States at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1982 where she first encountered a course on women’s issues and found an interest in active political life. She discovered “that there were more similarities than differences. Women are usually second-class citizens in their own countries, whether they like it or not.” WU brought this realization back with her in China and used it as an anchor to promote and advance gender awareness and women's self-improvement both as an educator and a politician.

In 2001, WU QING received Asia’s premier prize and highest honor for "her path-breaking advocacy on behalf of women and the rule of law in the People's Republic of China."

While most microfinance institutions (MFIs) may have often neglected the ability of women to contribute to economic growth, the CENTER FOR AGRICULTURE AND RURAL DEVELOPMENT MUTUALLY REINFORCING INSTITUTIONS (CARD MRI) rather saw this as an opportunity to encourage women and empower them to be involved. Established in 1986 to financially help women, especially the “nanays” (mothers), in the Philippines, CARD MRI believes that “the earning power of women in the current generation influences the allocation of food, health, and educational resources to female children, ensuring the welfare of the next generation.”

This initiative then pushed CARD MRI to also establish various “mutually reinforcing institutions” so that their members can enjoy insurance, health coverage, and other benefits that could further help the Filipino family.

By making sure that women have access to financial services, CARD MRI definitely contributed to ensuring a better future for the Filipino children.

Sometimes, the support that you need comes from the people you least expect to be. Just like how men can also fight for women’s rights as HASANAIN JUAINI did.

HASANAIN, born into a family of teachers, built a school for girls—Nurul Haramain Putri Narmada—as opposed to a tradition that reserves education for boys. The school is owned by the community and teaches both religious and secular subjects for a diverse learning experience. HASANAIN also went beyond formal schooling by incorporating community development—tackling social issues such as environmental conservation and economic empowerment—as part of the school’s education system to help improve people’s lives.

Believing that “God does not make rules that would differentiate between men and women,” his vision is to promote gender equality and empower women to take an active part in various community projects and activities because “educating women is a huge asset to the community and a capital for the prosperity and welfare of a nation.”

HASANAIN received Asia’s premier prize and highest honor in 2011 for introducing social innovation in education and promoting gender equality, environmental preservation, and civic engagement.

In 1996, a group of fifteen Nepali women became victims of human trafficking. Instead of being traumatized by this experience, they formed SHAKTI SAMUHA, or Power Group, the world’s first anti-trafficking NGO, to “convert (their) tears into power.”

SHAKTI SAMUHA has been working to ensure the promotion of justice for those victims of human trafficking, to inform and empower women and children at risk of being victimized, and to develop protocols for the repatriation of trafficked victims at a policy level. In 2013, they 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.”