Winnie Byanyima is a Ugandan aeronautical engineer, politician, and the Executive Director of Oxfam International. Byanyima is a leader on women’s rights, democratic governance, and peacebuilding. In November 2019, she took up the position of the executive director of UNAIDS, a position she was appointed to in August 2019, by the United Nations Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres.
In addition, Winnie was named among Forbes 50 Africa’s Most Powerful Women in 2020. She co-founded the 60-member Global Gender and Climate Alliance.
Winnie Byanyima Background
Winnie was born on 13th January 1959 in Mbarara District in the Western Region of Uganda. Her parents are late Boniface Byanyima (a one-time national chairman of the Democratic Party in Uganda) and late Gertrude Byanyima (a former school teacher who passed away in November 2008). Byanyima has five siblings: Edith, Anthony, Martha, Abraham, and Olivia.
Byanyima married Kizza Besigye on 7th July 1999 at Nsambya, Kampala. Kizza Besigye is the former Chairman of the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) political party in Uganda. They have a son named Anselm.
Winnie was a member of FDC before she became a Ugandan diplomat in 2004. Hence, she reduced her participation in partisan Ugandan politics.
Winnie started her academic pursuit at Mount Saint Mary’s College Namagunga in Mukono District. Afterward, she proceeded to the University of Manchester where she obtained a Bachelor’s degree in Aeronautical Engineer.
Interestingly, she is the first female Ugandan to become an Aeronautical Engineer. In addition, Byanyima holds a Master’s degree in mechanical engineering specializing in energy conservation from Cranfield University.
Winnie Byanyima Career
She began her career at Uganda Airlines where she worked as a flight engineer. She later joined the armed rebellion when Yoweri Museveni started the 1981-1986 Ugandan Bush War. Meanwhile, Museveni and Byanyima were raised together as children at the Byanyima household. Byanyima’s family played a key role in Museveni’s education. This goes a long way to explain why they eventually worked together during the Bush War.
Also, Byanyima’s husband, Kizza Besigye was equally part of the squad. The trio were combatants in the National Resistance Army (NRA) during that war. After the NRA won the war, Byanyima then served as Uganda’s ambassador to France from 1989 until 1994.
Thereafter, she returned home and became active in Ugandan politics. Winnie served as a member of the Constituent Assembly that drafted the 1995 Ugandan Constitution.
Afterward, she served for two-term as a member of parliament. She represented Mbarara Municipality from 1994 until 2004. Winnie was later appointed as the Directorate of Women, Gender, and Development at the headquarters of the African Union in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Following that was another appointment as the director of the Gender Team in the Bureau for Development Policy at UNDP in November 2006.
More About Winnie Byanyima Career
In January 2013, Byanyima replaced Jeremy Hobbs as the next executive director of Oxfam International. The appointment which was a five-year directorship began on 1st May 2013. In December 2017, she announced that she had accepted an offer from Oxfam’s Board of Supervisors to serve as Oxfam International’s executive director for another five years.
In January 2015, Winnie chaired the World Economic Forum in Davos. Under her leadership, she was able to press for action to narrow the gap between rich and poor. It was reported that the share of the world’s wealth owned by the richest 1 percent of the world population had increased to almost 50 percent in 2014.
In November 2016, United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon Winnie appointed Winnie to the High-Level Panel on Access to Medicines. It was co-chaired by Ruth Dreifuss, former President of Switzerland, and Festus Mogae, former President of Botswana.
Winnie Byanyima has served on several global boards and commissions including Building Foundation and the International Centre for Research on Women.
Her Remarkable Works
Byanyima led Uganda’s first parliamentary women’s caucus where she championed ground-breaking gender equality provisions in the 1995 post-conflict constitution.
Not only that, but she also founded a civil society organisation Forum for Women in Democracy (FOWODE). In addition, Winnie is a signatory to Uganda’s 1985 peace agreement and has helped to support women’s participation in peace processes in Rwanda, South Africa, Sudan, and Burundi among others.
She co-founded a 60-member Global Gender and Climate Alliance of civil society, bilateral and multilateral organisations. Also, she chaired a UN-wide task force on gender aspects of the Millennium Development Goals and on climate change.
Winnie Byanyima Quotes
“Without women’s equal access to positions of decision-making power and a clear process to get there, gender equality, global security, and peace will never be realized.”
“I don’t think it’s helpful to go dismantling the past, but you can refuse to honor aspects of it that you don’t believe in anymore.”
“Tax abuse is a scourge on our global community, but especially for Africa.”
“Conflict and callous politics drive famine.”
“High corruption and the influence of big business and the wealthy elite keeps the poorest Nigerians trapped in poverty and cut off from the benefits of economic growth and basic services. Some people-searching for the means to survive-became vulnerable to groups like Boko Haram.”
“Ending extreme poverty is possible.”
“My own life values were shaped in great part by my mother, who instigated women’s clubs in my village. Women were able to organize and stand together. What inspired me most about their work was the power it gave them to assert their rights and the rights of their daughters, be it education or property inheritance.”
“Global growth and development that is strong, sustainable, and inclusive require the challenges of inequality to be met head-on.”
“Having an economy that works for the 99% is achievable.”
“Economic inequality is a corrosive force that undermines economic growth.”
Business Lessons From The Life Of Winnie Byanyima
1. Stand For What You Believe In
Winnie believes in gender equality and has developed several initiatives for women to thrive. Don’t allow anyone to stop you from starting a business you believe in. There is always room for you in the market.
2. Be Exceptional
Oxfam International offered Winnie another five years as executive director. This shows how exceptional she was in her first five years. Whatever you choose to do, do it with all your might.
In business, hard work and excellence are key. Stand tall among your competitors as that is one way to stay afloat in business.
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