Irene Banda is a young woman living in Zambia. Some years ago, she noticed that many of the cotton farmers in her country were struggling to survive because they could not compete with cotton farmers from wealthy countries who benefited from subsidies provided by their rich governments.
Irene decided to take action and began working with small communities to try to improve the situation. However, she soon discovered a number of obstacles. As a young urban woman, Irene found she had very little credibility with the older male farmers. It was only by making it clear that she was there to learn from them, and work with them, that she was able to build a relationship of mutual trust and respect.
With this strong foundation for her work, Irene has travelled to every province of Zambia to talk about the impact of trade agreements and encourage communities to stand up for their rights. Her aim is to raise awareness among farmers of their basic human rights, particularly their right to be heard, which has been advanced through the formation of cooperatives, unions and other representative bodies.
Irene has used creative ways to communicate with others, including workshops, community concerts and even hosting her own radio show! Her persistence and determination led to the collection of 1.4 million signatures in Zambia for the ‘Big Noise’ petition and secured an opportunity for cotton farmers from a local community to participate in a price negotiation meeting with multinational companies. She has also directly lobbied the Zambian Ministry of Trade.
Irene now works with the Organisational Development and Community Management Trust in Zambia and has been a leading activist on trade issues within her country and internationally. In 2006 she visited Australia at the invitation of Make Poverty History to speak at the Make Poverty History concert and the ‘Creating a Fairer World’ forum.
Irene is now working as the Coordinator of the Oxfam International Youth Partnerships program (OIYP).