Announcing the 2020 Her Abilities Award Winners!

Three exceptional winners from Turkey, Nigeria and New Zealand – all under the age of 40 – have scooped the 2020 Her Abilities Award which honours excellence among women with disabilities.

Gamze Elibol, Bernice Oyeleke and Dr. Robbie Francis Watene were chosen by an illustrious, independent all-women jury who judged 124 nominees from 48 countries. The Laureates were congratulated by the First Lady of Austria, and an online global audience of influencers, as part of the Zero Project Conference on 12th February 2021. 

Winner in Arts, Culture & sports: Gamze Elibol

Gamze Elibol is a trailblazing theatre director from Turkey whose impact goes way beyond the plays and musicals she has created. 

She has staged over 500 plays and written eight musicals to raise awareness on topics including violence against women and breast cancer. In 2002, she created the Art, Culture and Education Center for People with Disabilities (TEKSEM).

The jury congratulated Gamze saying: “She shows that experiencing a barrier can make you a fighter to tear down that barrier and trailblaze the way for other women with disabilities.”

Meet Gamze and learn more about her: 

Winner in Health & Education: Bernice Oyeleke

Bernice Oyeleke is a passionate educational leader, NGO founder and author promoting Deaf education in Nigeria.

She is founder of the non-profit organisation, “Luminous Deaf Scholastic Initiative” (LUDESI) and National Treasurer of the Deaf Teachers Association of Nigeria (DTAN), as well as Chairwoman of the Planning Committee of National Literary Competition for Deaf Students. 

The jury congratulated Bernice saying: “She shows the success of deaf teachers and through telling the stories of other people with disabilities she paves the way to inclusion.”

Meet Bernice and learn more about her:

Winner in Rights: Dr. Robbie Francis Watene

Dr. Robbie Francis Watene is a leading disability rights activist from Aotearoa New Zealand.

Robbie is co-founder and director of The Lucy Foundation (TLF), an international social enterprise which promotes inclusion, access and diversity within the global coffee industry. Robbie is also New Zealand’s senior researcher monitoring the implementation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities in her country.

The jury congratulated Robbie saying: “She is an amazing role model and a super smart businesswoman who is using her knowledge to educate and encourage others in a unique way.”
Meet Robbie and learn more about her:

Congratulations from First Lady of Austria

The three Laureates received special congratulations from the First Lady of Austria, Doris Schmidauer, who said:

“All around the world, women with disabilities face barriers others don’t have to. 
“Yet there are many women with disabilities in Austria and around the globe achieving brilliance in their work and lives. 
“Thank you, Light for the World, for bringing to our attention the very worthy winners of the Her Abilities Award series and their major achievements. 
“From the classroom, to the theatre stage, to the UN corridors of power and the coffee business...you are changing the world. My deepest respect and congratulations!”

Watch her full video statement below.

Celebrating excellence

Her Abilities honours excellence among women with disabilities in three categories: Arts, Culture and Sport; Rights and Health and Education.

The prestigious jury who judges the Award includes UK Paralympic champion Susannah Rodgers; celebrated German writer and poetry slammer Ninia LaGrande; Judy Heumann, President Obama's first Special Advisor for International Disability Rights; Ghanaian software engineer, Farida Bedwei; Japanese CEO and accessibility advocate, Yurika Oda; US Empowerment Through Integration CEO Sara Minkara; the Austrian Disability Council’s Heidemarie Egger; US Disability Rights Lawyer Haben Girma; and Austria’s "Und du so?" campaign founder, Greta Spatz.

By highlighting the achievements of women with disabilities, the Her Abilities Award aims to celebrate success; break down barriers in public perception; and build a strong network of women committed to the further pursuit of excellence and equality.

The Award was launched in 2018 by Light for the World along with Right Livelihood Award winner and Ethiopian disability rights lawyer Yetnebersh Nigussie.

Last year’s winners were Nguyen Thi Van, Maysoon Zayid and Dr. Liisa Kauppinen.

Find out more about the award: