Announcing the Final Winners of Challenging Norms, Powering Economies

Arlington, VA -- Ashoka, Open Society Foundations and UN Women are very pleased to announce the four women’s organizations from Africa that have won the grand prize of the Challenging Norms, Powering Economies initiative in recognition of their work to challenge gender norms and achieve women’s economic empowerment. The winners will travel to New York City from Ghana, Kenya and South Africa for a celebratory event at UN Women on 6 December 2018, where they will present their experiences and solutions and participate in a roundtable discussion followed by a reception.

The winning initiatives were evaluated by an expert panel of judges and chosen for their powerful solutions that support women’s economic rights and power, especially in sectors where they face discrimination, and strengthen women’s voice and agency in the decisions and policies that shape their wellbeing, resilience, and livelihoods. 

Women and girls in Africa and the Middle East, as they do worldwide, continue to face negative cultural and social norms that block their full economic and social participation. Women’s labour force participation is 26 percent less than men’s globally.  Women are systematically paid less than men for work of equal value across all regions, countries and sectors.  Laws in 104 countries bar women from working in certain jobs, in sectors such as mining, manufacturing, construction, energy, agriculture, water and transportation. Women spend more than two and half times as many hours on unpaid care and domestic work than men, which means that women have much less time for paid work, education, and leisure. Violence against women at home and work increases gender inequalities, stymies women’s voice and agency, and signifies high costs to women in lost earnings and wellbeing.

In early 2018, Ashoka, Open Society Foundations, and UN Women began a search for innovative and promising women and women’s organizations working to challenge pervasive gender norms and barriers. In May, 12 organizations were selected from a pool of 155 organizations nominated from the Middle East and Africa that were challenging negative social and cultural norms and advancing women’s economic empowerment in their countries. Each of the 12 winners received $24,500, a trip to Johannesburg, South Africa for a collaborative exchange workshop, and an invitation to submit a refined proposal. Four final prizes of $125,000 have now been awarded, bringing to nearly $800,000 the total amount of prize money invested to support this powerful work across the two regions.

The four winners are:

  • Esenam Nyador is the founder Miss Taxi Ghana, which is closing the gender gap in Ghana’s male-dominated transport sector by training women in technical, mechanical, and leadership skills, sensitizing male drivers to gender issues, and showing taxi companies the advantages of women drivers in improving customer service and safety.
  • Myrtle Witbooi, domestic worker by trade, from South Africa is the president of the International Domestic Workers' Federation (IDWF) that has united domestic workers, trade unions and civil society organizations across 54 countries to build an international coalition, creating visibility for domestic workers and recognizing their important contributions to the economy.
  • Naomi Mwaura founded Flone Initiative to end the culture of silence that contributes to gender-based violence in the matatu transport sector in Kenya, improving the visibility and safety of women in this male-dominated sector and providing an evidence-based toolkit that helps sector leaders to improve quality of service delivery to women commuters and encourage women to seek transport jobs.
  • Regina Honu from Ghana founded the Soronko Academy to create both supply and demand for highly skilled female talent in the ICT industry, providing women and girls with role models and the tools to move from consumers to creators of technology, convincing families and communities that coding offers real jobs and tangible benefits, and launching a radio program in local languages to promote the careers for women and girls in ICT.

The Women Challenging Norms to Power Economies event will be held on 6 December 2018 at 6:30pm at UN Women, 220 East 42nd Street, 19th Floor, New York, NY.  Please RSVP by December 3rd at

Media contact: Brooke Havlik, Open Society Foundations, New York, [email protected]