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Winnie Byanyima
Stories of inspiration from Smart Girl Stories across the globe. Winnie Byanyima: Ugandan Aeronautical Engineer, Human Rights Activist & Diplomat

Winnie Byanyima: Ugandan Aeronautical Engineer, Human Rights Activist & Diplomat

Winnie Byanyima is a Ugandan aeronautical engineer, feminist, and diplomat. She’s a leader in women’s rights, democratic governance, and peacebuilding. She is also one of our Smart Girls, as she has overcome obstacles, achieved goals, and become a role model for young women everywhere.

Early Life

Winifred Byanyima was born on 13th January 1959 in Mbarara District, Uganda. Her dad was the chairman of a political party in Uganda, while her mother was a school teacher.

After Winnie completed her high school education, she went on to pursue a Bachelor’s Degree from the University of Manchester, England. It is known that the reason she went to study abroad was that she encountered multiple sexual assault attempts at Makerere University. This was during the brutal regime of Id Amin Dada. After graduating from the University of Manchester, she became the first Ugandan woman to become an aeronautical engineer. She later received a Master’s Degree in mechanical engineering from Cranfield University, England.

In 1999, Winnie got married to Kizza Besigye in Kampala. They have been blessed with one son, Anselm. Besigye is actively involved in Ugandan politics.

Work In The Government

After finishing her studies, Winnie worked as a flight engineer at Ugandan Airlines. She soon left her job after Yoweri Museveni (current Ugandan President) started the 1981-1986 Ugandan Bush War. The Ugandan Bush War was a war fought in Uganda by the Ugandan government against a number of rebel groups. Winnie joined the rebellion since Museveni, and she grew up in the same household and was fighting for the liberation of Uganda from the rebel groups.

Winnie together with her later-to-be husband, Besigye fought in the war as combatants but later fell out with Museveni because of his repressive undemocratic rule. In 1989 after the war ended, Winnie served as Uganda’s ambassador to France for five years before returning home and becoming an active participant in politics.

From 1995-2004 Winnie served in the Ugandan government. She was a member of the assembly that drafted the 1995 Ugandan constitution and served two consecutive terms as a member of parliament before she drifted from politics to become the Director of Women, Gender, and Development of the African Union, a position that made her an inspiration to young women in Uganda.

The Fight Against Poverty & The HIV/AIDS Pandemic

Winnie then went on to become the Executive Director of Oxfam from 2013-2019. In 2015 she co-chaired the World Economic Forum, where she used the forum to advocate for the reduction of the gap between the rich and the poor by increasing economic incentives for the poor.

Currently, Winnie is the Executive of UNAIDS, a program used to advocate for accelerated, comprehensive, and coordinated worldwide action against the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

Winnie has used her position to champion women’s rights and strengthen measures to eradicate HIV/AIDS in Africa.

In her journey to the top, Winnie has inspired countless young women to never give up on their aspirations and continue striving towards their goals. It is without a doubt that she will continue to be an inspiration for many years to come.

Learn about more inspiring girls on our Smart Girls page, or follow our Instagram page for more stories like this!

Hannah

Hannah

Founder, Smart Girl, Survivor, Champion of womens rights and kids rights

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