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Changemakers: Leslie Hannay seeks to give women land ownership

“Changemakers” is our series exploring how young people, connected and globally aware, are working to change the world. If you know a young person (think “Millennial” or “Gen Y”) committed to change, global health and the fight against poverty, please send the person’s name, short bio and contact info to Jake Ellison at

By Lisa Stiffler, special correspondent

Leslie Hannay, 33, is a fellow at Landesa Center for Women’s Land Rights in Seattle.  

In many developing countries, when a woman’s husband dies, she loses not only her spouse but also the land under her feet, land that might have been her only source of income and sustenance for her family.

Leslie Hannay wants to help change that.

As a fellow at Seattle’s Landesa Center for Women’s Land Rights, Hannay is working with women’s groups, policy makers and foreign governments to change laws to ensure that women own the land on which they farm and live.

Hannay is working on a project in northern Uganda in partnership with a small, local women’s empowerment organization that’s assisting women who have been affected by the area’s recent conflicts and in need of land rights. The work focuses on identifying the barriers to land ownership, which can include cultural hurdles. The solutions include making sure that women are a part of the dialog that shapes land policies.

“When women have secure access to land, they are better off and their societies are better off,” Hannay said. “It’s an important step to ending cycles of global poverty.”

Q: Why is “global health and the fight against poverty” an important issue for you?

“What motivated me to go to law school in the first place is a belief that we have a fundamental right to live in dignity. We have a responsibility to each other to work to end the cycle of poverty.

“(When) people don’t have access to the land, the cycle of poverty continues unabated…. When women have access to land, society benefits and women benefit and inequality within societies is addressed.”

Q: What personal experience inspired you? What idea is driving your commitment?

While traveling in Liberia during law school, Hannay says she was amazed to see the country rebuilding itself from the ashes of a civil war. But women, she noticed, were not being included as part of the solution.

“Women were being left out, and rural poor were being shoved aside. They really had no voice… Speaking out for the most vulnerable is something we have to do.”

Q: Do you think your generation is more attuned to global issues such as global health and the fight against poverty?

People have a better sense of geography and what’s happening in the world than before, Hannay says.

Q: Do you think your generation will make a difference?

“We’re working on it right now. I’m one of two fellows at the center. We’re both working everyday to address these problems.”

We have a better understanding of the problems, says Hannay, and there’s new technology to help solve them, but “there’s so much work to be done.”

Q: How did you land a job in this field?

While attending Columbia Law School, Hannay traveled to Liberia, and her studies focused on human rights as well as development and “extractive” industries such as mining, logging and oil. In September, she began a two-year fellowship with Landesa that’s available to Columbia Law School graduates.

Q: If you were to advise someone on how to get a job in this field, what would you tell them?

“Work steadily toward what they really want to do, pursue what they’re passionate about. It’s a sustaining force. If you go towards what you want, you’ll find a way to make it happen.”


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Humanosphere will sometimes post articles from authors from around the globe. Although these folks are not regular contributors, we hope you enjoy this change of pace.