Tabassum Adnan is a widely known women’s rights activist from the Swat Valley in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan, once a stronghold of both the Taliban and its affiliates, who is fiercely committed to seeking justice for women. She has been instrumental in transforming community mechanisms of conflict mediation to promote justice for women and people of all backgrounds. In 2013, Tabassum established Khwendo Jirga, the first women’s jirga (council) in Pakistan to provide women with timely justice and the opportunity to contribute to the peace and stability of their communities. Khwendo Jirga has resolved over 2,000 cases of violence and Tabassum’s model as the first woman in Pakistan to serve on a dispute resolution council has encouraged other women to join such councils. The dispute resolution councils create an easily understood and efficient mechanism for resolving conflicts that would otherwise subject women to long waits and a complicated system, a situation which often exposes them to more violence. She also works on a broad portfolio of issues that impact justice for women, including human trafficking, quality education, gender-based violence, inheritance, sexual violence survivor health, and much more. Her work bridges the gap between traditional and state institutions. Tabassum has collaborated with local authorities to open a women’s police station in Swat and will chair a separate dispute resolution council there. She has received international recognition for her work, including as a recipient of the U.S. Department of State’s International Women of Courage Award in 2015.
USIP received nominations of women peacebuilders from over 30 countries. The finalists were selected by USIP’s Women Building Peace Council, an 18-member group of experts and leaders in the fields of gender and peacebuilding, for their exemplary commitment and leadership as peacebuilding practitioners and their key roles in ending and preventing violent conflict. Collectively, they represent eight countries and an intergenerational group of peacebuilders.
Josephine Ekiru, peace coordinator with the Northern Rangelands Trust (NRT), has pioneered an innovative approach to peacebuilding using environmental conservation as an entry point. She grew up as a member of the pastoralist Turkana community in Northern Kenya. Violent clashes and decades-long vendettas between tribal communities were the norm, exacerbated by poverty, climate change, and weak governance. Josephine witnessed people killing each other and the wildlife she loved. These experiences shaped her goal to help those driving violence become allies in peace. A life-threatening ambush at gunpoint by suspected poachers propelled her commitment and career as a peacebuilder. Josephine’s years of effort cultivating trust and fostering connections came to fruition in 2011 when her tribe came together with the Borana tribe to form the Nakuprat-Gotu Conservancy, a community-based conservation initiative. Due to her pivotal role in the conservancy’s creation, she was elected its first chairperson. In 2014, she joined the NRT, an umbrella organization for community conservancies, to establish their peace program that now serves NRT’s 39 member conservancies and represents more than 320,000 indigenous peoples living in nearly 4.5 million hectares in Northern and Eastern Kenya. She uses multiple avenues and personal resources to reach youth and women, mentoring them to take leadership positions.
Teresita Gaviria is a civil society leader recognized for being the voice of victims of forced disappearance in Colombia. Teresita’s experience of the devastation wrought by Colombia’s 50-year war was brought painfully home in 1998 with the forced disappearance of her teenage son, whose body is still missing. In 1999, Teresita founded the Madres de la Candelaria Caminos de Esperanza (Madres de la Candelaria), an organization that searches for forcibly disappeared persons and supports their relatives, particularly the victims’ mothers. Madres de la Candelaria has collected information on over 1,000 forced disappearances and undertaken numerous activities drawing public attention to human rights abuses and the role of reconciliation in peacebuilding. The families of the disappeared face many hardships and dangers when they try to raise awareness of these cases. Teresita works collaboratively with other victims’ families, civil society networks, community institutions, and universities to support different mechanisms of transitional justice and peacebuilding. She has successfully advocated for inclusion of forced disappearances in the Colombian penal code. Her decisive commitment to victims’ rights led to her testifying at the 2016 peace negotiations between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. She has also led reconciliation efforts with armed groups. Teresita is the recipient of several awards and recognitions, including the Colombian National Peace Award and theSilver Shield of Antioquia.
Waldistrudis Hurtado is an Afro-Colombian activist and leader who, for more than 25 years, has been committed to advancing the rights of women and their intersectional and intercultural diversity in a country long plagued by violent conflict. She is the co-founder and director of Colectivo de Mujeres Trenzadas Somos Más (“Braided We Are More”), a national and international women’s collective. An active member of the National Movement of Afro-Colombian Women and related regional coalitions, she is also a member of the U.N. Women Civil Society Advisory Group for Latin America and the Caribbean, the U.N. Development Program Regional Civil Society Advisory Committee for Latin America and the Caribbean, and the U.N. Population Fund’s Spotlight Program initiative for the elimination of gender violence and femicide. She is also a lecturer on Afro-mobilization and public policy at the Afro-Latin American Studies Institute of Harvard University. Her leadership abilities and critical work on behalf of women make her an inspiration in her region as a peacebuilder and defender and champion of gender equality for all women. Waldistrudis walks with different actors in the construction of sustainable peace paths, from her ancestral practices and knowledge of self-care and protection to her constant mobilization of Afro-descendant, indigenous, and rural women to exercise their rights.
Tatiana Mukanire is a leading global advocate for survivors of wartime atrocities. She grew up in Kavumu, a rural town in Eastern DRC, where brutal sexual violence and torture are used by armed groups as weapons of war against civilians. After experiencing the harrowing trauma of sexual violence firsthand and losing loved ones to violence, Tatiana began her personal healing process and dedicated her life to supporting other survivors. Tatiana is a founding member and national coordinator for the National Movement of Survivors of Sexual Violence in the DRC. In this role, she raises awareness about sexual violence, advocates for survivors, and demands justice and reparations for them. She has built a network of over 4,000 sexual violence survivors in five of the ten provinces in the DRC. Her work links the dignity of a job and income generation to achieving self-sufficiency and empowerment. Tatiana’s leadership has propelled her to the frontlines of advocacy, at grassroots demonstrations, in meetings with politicians, and as an internationally respected voice for survivors speaking before the U.N. Human Rights Council and NATO’s Brussels headquarters. While she advocates at the national and international levels, Tatiana is often seen working in the fields of her hometown with survivors or providing them with chickens and eggs for income-generating activities. Her dedication to holistic healing, including through the healing power of music, is apparent in every facet of her life.
Esther Omam is a well-known leader in Cameroon promoting peace in the face of ongoing humanitarian crises. Born into the Douala slums of western Cameroon and forced to drop out of school and entered into marriage at a young age, Esther has accomplished much in her peacebuilding career. Esther is the founder and executive director of Reach Out Cameroon (ROC), a woman- and youth-focused NGO established in 1996 and working across the Southwest and Northwest regions of Cameroon. In 2018, Esther formed the Southwest-Northwest Women’s Task Force (SNWOT), a coalition of over 150 women leaders who came together for peace talks in response to resurging conflict between the two Anglophone regions of Cameroon. She has facilitated intercommunity and intercultural dialogues among women, youth, and local leaders for decades and is creating new opportunities for young women through her vice presidency of the South West Women for Peace and Development Network and through the Voices of Community Women. Esther has testified before the United Nations Security Council on the humanitarian crisis in Cameroon and is an active member of numerous women’s civil society organizations at different levels, including the National Platform for Civil Societies in Cameroon, Women Mediators Across the Commonwealth, the U.N. Women’s Civil Society Advisory Group , and the International Civil Society Action Network. She is the recipient of numerous national and international peace awards and was recognized by the Canadian High Commission for her work on the promotion and protection of human rights, peacebuilding, and mediation in Cameroon. She played a key front-line role in organizing the first ever National Women’s Peace Convention in Cameroon, an event that brought together over 1200 women from across the country in July 2021, demanding an end to violence and calling for peace.
Like many South Sudanese women, Nyachangkuoth Tai was born outside of South Sudan due to the violent conflict in her homeland. The violence in South Sudan has drastically impacted communities and disproportionately impacted women and girls, a situation that has motivated Nyachangkuoth to become an integral part of the solution and dedicate her work to the cause of peace. As a committed leader, peace activist and practitioner, she has relentlessly fought to protect women and girls from sexual- and gender-based violence and advocates for effective policy implementation that includes women’s voices at the local and national levels. Nyachangkuoth is the co-founder and executive director of the Mother Care Organization and head of gender programs at the Assistance Mission for Africa (AMA). She has helped to build the capacity of all AMA staff to integrate gender concerns from a programmatic perspective through training, guidance, and one-on-one support to ensure that AMA’s work treats gender as a cross-cutting issue in all its response activities. Alongside various training and policy work, she leads a working group of 120 women survivors, has successfully advocated for the inclusion of women in traditional courts, and led the Yirol Peace Conference where she created space for women to voice their demands. In September 2020, Nyachangkuoth briefed the U.N. Security Council on behalf of South Sudanese civil society. She is an Oxfam Born to Lead campaign steering committee member, a Young African Leader Initiative alumna, and a former volunteer member of the U.S. Institute of Peace Youth Advisory Council (2019).
Jayne Waithitu’s participatory approach to peacebuilding in her home country of Kenya was informed by her earlier experience in Rwanda. In particular, she was inspired by the Rwandan post-genocide peacebuilding program, Ndi umunyarwanda (“I am Rwandan”), aimed at creating a national identity founded on trust and dignity that fostered harmony and healing. Jayne recognized that sustaining peace in Kenya was also fraught with challenges — and local peacebuilders, especially women, have an important role to play. After Kenya’s 2008 post-election violence, Jayne poured her passion into peacebuilding in Kenya using several approaches like discussions on buses, operationalizing the standard operating procedures for prevention of and response to sexual and gender-based violence and going further to train police officers from selected police stations through a multisector approach. In 2018, Jayne founded the Peace Warriors Organization (PWO), a peacebuilding nongovernmental organization of over 150 community-based women throughout all 47 of Kenya’s counties. Under her leadership and guidance as executive director, PWO has expanded to train women to assess how tensions build and how to mitigate them before they escalate further. Currently an international mediation coach for Interaction Management Associates, Jayne recruits and trains local and international mediators. She is a member-mentor of Global Give Back Circle, an organization that aims to empower young men and women from Africa in high-conflict areas through a long-distance mentoring program. A member of Rotary Peace Foundation in Kenya, Jayne was selected as a 2021 Rotary Peace fellow. Jayne has also actively contributed to the U.N. system-wide community engagements dialogues with local peacebuilders online since 2018.
Rani Yan Yan is an indigenous peoples’ human rights defender and women’s rights activist from the conflict-prone Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) region of Bangladesh. She is also the advisor to the Chakma Circle Chief and the ceremonial queen (Rani) of the Chakma people and the Chakma Circle. Indigenous people have long suffered violence and exploitation in this region, resulting in the deaths of tens of thousands. Despite a peace accord signed in 1997, the military maintains a strong presence in the region and indigenous communities have limited access to their land and basic needs. Rape of indigenous women by people outside of indigenous communities is common in the CHT, where perpetrators are treated with impunity. In this context, Rani Yan Yan has sought to secure the protection and rights of indigenous women and to support their leadership in society. Despite threats and attacks against her life, Rani Yan Yan collaborates with local, national, and international civil society organizations and other key actors to promote peace and justice in CHT. Of particular concern to her is the meaningful participation of indigenous peoples in the planning, reform, and implementation of legislation, national policies, and development actions that impact them, including those related to the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals and climate change actions. Her belief in democratic processes is reflected in her inclusive and equity-driven approach to strengthen sustainable peace and equality.