The U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP) is honored to announce María Eugenia Mosquera Riascos of Colombia as the recipient of the Institute’s 2022 Women Building Peace Award.

María Eugenia Mosquera Riascos

Meet María, the 2022 Women Building Peace Award Recipient

2022 Finalists

This year, USIP received nominations from over 25 countries. The 2022 finalists were selected by USIP’s Women Building Peace Council for their extraordinary commitment, leadership, peacebuilding practice and impact while working in some of the most difficult and dangerous conditions imaginable. USIP is proud to honor these women as finalists for the 2022 award.

Women Building Peace Award finalist portraits on map

Roma Al-Damasi (Yemen)

Roma Al-Damasi is a peace activist and the founder and president of the Khadija Foundation for Development (KFD) and the all-inclusive center for persons with disabilities in southwestern Yemen. She is also one of the few women on the conflict resolution committees in her region. Al-Damasi has transformed the lives of women, minorities and people with disabilities through her advocacy, humanitarian and peacebuilding work.

Al-Damasi has created a pool of dedicated peace advocates in southwestern Yemen. She has trained advocates at 45 civil society organizations, including 80 women, on peace strategies and conflict resolution and led the creation of 15 women-led associations in villages that advocate for women’s and minorities’ rights. As a result, over 500 community volunteers have been trained to address negative social attitudes and disputes related to girls’ education, early marriage, domestic violence and discrimination against minorities. Al-Damasi’s efforts have encouraged conservative parents to enroll their daughters in school. Al-Damasi contributed to the Women’s Rights Matrix and Peace Building Program, which trained 63 women activists in the Al-Dhalea governorate and helped them form a women’s network to replicate the peace training.

Al-Damasi has earned respect from both men and women through her consideration for local culture, adoption of transparency and impartiality, and effective linking of peacebuilding to service provision and collective action. She successfully mediated a long-running dispute between two villages over access to water, convincing them to reconcile and agree to share the water resources. Afterward, she helped the local communities construct a water reservoir with funding from KFD. To sustain the peace and ensure water sustainability, Al-Damasi mobilized local businesses and philanthropists to fund a community water maintenance committee. International NGOs who implement projects in her region often seek her assistance to resolve community conflict over project locations and beneficiary selection.

Despite the dire situation in Yemen, Al-Damasi has managed to keep KFD in operation to provide health care, education and training services to over 600 persons with disabilities every month, as well as humanitarian support to internally displaced persons. As a founding member of the Yemen Civil Alliance for Peace, she has brought together organizations from the north and south of the country to promote peaceful co-existence. Al-Damasi also serves as chair of the Yemen Civil Society Network, as a member of the Arab Union for peace activities, and as chair of the Yemen Women’s Union. 

Eunice Otuko Apio (Uganda)

Eunice Otuko Apio is the founder of Facilitation for Peace and Development (FAPAD), a grassroots peacebuilding NGO founded in 2004 in northern Uganda, where the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) launched its 35-year legacy of brutal terrorist attacks. Apio began her peacebuilding work during the peak of the LRA war in 2001, regularly travelling across a region riddled with land mines and LRA ambushes. Her initial efforts focused on mobilizing parents whose children had been abducted by the LRA, coordinating efforts to advocate for an end to the conflict, prevent abduction and the use of child soldiers, and secure the unconditional release of all children abducted by the LRA. As a schoolgirl, Apio had narrowly escaped LRA abduction.

Apio recognizes that local violence, particularly sexual violence against women, is an early warning sign of conflict and affects the broader context of peacebuilding. She has worked tirelessly to diminish the power of rape as a weapon of war by challenging the stigmatization of women survivors of sexual violence in conflict and their children. Apio has included survivors of sexual violence linked to cattle raiding conflicts in Uganda in major studies on resilience at the University of Birmingham, where she was a post-doctoral fellow, and she has accompanied these survivors as they become advocates in their own communities. Through Apio’s leadership, FAPAD has provided direct legal aid and psychosocial support to 16,835 disadvantaged persons and pursued over 15,000 cases regarding land rights for women and the marginalized, domestic violence, child abuse, and other human rights abuses across the Lango subregion of Uganda. 

Apio’s advocacy on behalf of children born of war and their mothers in Uganda and elsewhere has inspired international and national action. Her testimony to the U.N. Security Council in 2015 on the plight of children born to young girls raped and forced into “marriage” with LRA soldiers paved the way for inclusion of the Children Born Of War (CBOW) research consortium in two Women, Peace and Security resolutions. Since then, Apio has found new ways to advocate for CBOW in other conflicts, including meeting with the Pope in Rome.

Apio has worked on a documentary film featuring the voices of survivors and wrote the 2018 novel “Zura Maids,” in which she reimagines the experiences of human trafficking survivors in an African context. The novel won the inaugural Ugandan Janzi Award for outstanding book in November 2021.

Gloria Laker (Uganda)

Gloria Laker is the founder and director of the Peace Journalism Foundation (PJF) of Uganda-East Africa. She is also a peace media trainer and journalist. Her commitment to journalism as a means to reduce tensions and promote peace are based on her direct experiences with the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) conflict in northern Uganda — first as a displaced girl and later as a reporter covering the conflict. 

Laker founded PJF Uganda-East Africa in 2011 to teach journalists from conflict zones how to reduce contentious rhetoric and focus on the efforts of peacebuilding. Laker has trained over 800 print and broadcast journalists in Uganda, Kenya, Morocco, South Africa, South Sudan, Turkey and Zimbabwe. Because of her influence, newsrooms throughout Uganda are developing in-house guidelines on peace and community development reporting, including problem-solving approaches to conflict and giving a voice to all sides of a dispute.

Laker’s peacebuilding work includes two demographic groups critical to sustainable peace in Uganda and elsewhere: youth and refugees. Uganda has the second youngest population in the world, with high rates of youth unemployment and a large majority of youth directly engaged in or affected by violence. Laker has trained youth journalists in the principles of peace journalism and published their stories about successful peacebuilding projects. 

Uganda also hosts a large refugee population. Refugee communities often lack a voice to advocate for their needs and counter misinformation. To address this need, Laker founded the Uganda Refugee and Migration Media Network and its affiliated first project Refugee Online News — both of which are produced for and by refugees. It offers a counternarrative to the negative, victimizing reporting often seen in other writing about refugees. The network recently reported on the impacts of COVID-19 and the Ugandan lockdown on refugee communities. 

Laker is now actively seeking to replicate the success of PJF Uganda-East Africa in Rwanda, South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo. For her peace-focused coverage of the LRA conflict, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni awarded Laker and a few of her colleagues a Golden Jubilee Medal in 2019 and she has been nominated for a BBC Outlook Inspiration Award.

Muna Luqman (Yemen)

Muna Luqman is the founder and chairperson of Food4Humanity and co-founder of the Women’s Solidarity Network in Yemen. Luqman bridges the siloes of the humanitarian, peace and development nexus to address multiple crises of conflict and climate change and meet community needs. As a result of her community mobilization, formal and informal networks of peace exist now within Yemen communities that did not exist previously. Luqman has encountered many threats, including detention, in her efforts to protect and relocate human rights defenders and peacebuilders.

Luqman uses a humanitarian lens in her peacebuilding work that is perceived as less threatening to authorities. Her efforts have convinced authorities to grant permission to work, created awareness at the ministry levels, and developed better relationships with offices in Sana’a, Taiz and other governorates. Under Luqman’s leadership, Food4Humanity’s initiatives have reached 70,000 families across six governorates in Yemen. Her work conducting local mediation over water projects and other natural resources has impacted 120,000 beneficiaries and helped to enroll girls in school. 

Luqman has negotiated on behalf of children trapped in an orphanage caught in the crossfire between rebels and the military. She conducted shuttle diplomacy between the armed actors and achieved first the provision of food and water for the children and later their secure evacuation to a safe area. Her mediation efforts resulted in the opening of a humanitarian corridor to facilitate access to humanitarian aid. 

Luqman has trained youth to become peace ambassadors — promoting the values of human rights, social justice, diversity, gender equality and global citizenship — and has supported youth in creating their own small business ventures, inoculating them from susceptibility to recruitment into extremist organizations. 

She is a longtime advocate for the inclusion of women in the Yemeni peace process. In 2020, Luqman led a series of capacity-development sessions attended by Yemeni women leaders across different geographical areas and representing a diversity of positions in the armed conflict in Yemen. These sessions led to increased collaboration and consultation among women’s organizations and a new opportunity to influence the peace and security process in Yemen. 

Luqman has participated on high-level panels with the International Organization for Migration, U.N. ECOSOC, the Stockholm International Water Institute, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute and has briefed the U.N. Security Council. She also participated in the multistakeholder production of the Feminist Roadmap for Yemen, for which she collected important data on cease-fires, security arrangements and the Taiz humanitarian corridors. Currently, Luqman works on security sector reform and governance with Geneva Centre for Security Sector Governance in Yemen.

Hindrin Muhammad (Syria)

Hindrin Muhammad is a peacebuilder in Northeast Syria who empowers women and youth that have been traumatized by war. Muhammad is a trainer, mentor, advisor, coordinator and leader. She has experienced traumatic personal loss due to the war and has had opportunities to leave, yet she remains deeply committed to her peacebuilding work. Operating in on-going conflict means constantly managing security risks, and she works to ensure others’ physical and emotional safety. 

Hindrin’s determination stems from her conviction in the transformative power of inclusive peacebuilding which begins at the grassroots. She works to heal trauma by bringing people together in constructive action, reviving their hope in the possibility of a country free of violence where everyone is assured their full rights, expresses their identity, and can reach their human potential.

Since 2011, Muhammad has implemented numerous initiatives in a high-risk environment where relationships of trust between key stakeholders have collapsed. She brings together women with male community leaders to address critical issues such as preventing violent extremism and strengthening social cohesion. As a result of her success, Muhammad is highly respected as a peacebuilder.

For over a decade, Muhammad has worked to establish eight women peace circles that bring diverse Syrian women together to heal from trauma and find their voice in a conservative society affected by violence. Trained in advocacy, dialogue facilitation and mentoring skills, each of the circles has worked with hundreds of women. In recent focused dialogue sessions with the peace circles, women discussed the sensitive topic of family connections to extremist organizations. The success of this effort has resulted in requests from other communities who also seek the creation of safe spaces for dialogue.

In a polarized and dangerous public sphere, Muhammad has managed to maintain professional neutrality as a peacebuilder. Her leadership trademark is bringing people together and bridging communication between diverse individuals and groups. This is evident in the civil society networks that Muhammad has helped to create and sustain, such as the peace circles network.‏ The circles are now better able to promote the active participation of women across all sectors of Syrian society and elevate women to leadership positions within their communities.

In 2021, Muhammad was elected and received the highest number of votes among approximately 100 civil society organizations to advocate for a stronger orientation toward building peace and for greater inclusion of rights for women and all marginalized communities.‏

María Eugenia Mosquera Riascos

María Eugenia Mosquera Riascos is the legal representative of Comunidades Construyendo Paz en Colombia (CONPAZCOL), a grassroots network of 140 victims organizations in 14 departments across Colombia where violent conflict continues. As a peacebuilder and human rights defender, Mosquera Riascos has worked for over 30 years with women, Afro-Colombian, indigenous and small-scale farming communities that have been the victims of social and armed conflict in Colombia.

Mosquera Riascos builds peace initiatives within the frameworks of nonviolent action, human rights and international humanitarian law. Under her leadership, CONPAZCOL has implemented concrete initiatives toward justice and accountability for victims and their families.

Mosquera Riascos’ peacebuilding work includes her participation as the female victim's voice in the Colombian peace negotiations in Havana, the creation of humanitarian spaces in urban and rural Colombia, the elaboration of reports for the Truth Commission and Special Jurisdiction for Peace, and the organization of public acts of recognition for events dealing with the past. Mosquera Riascos has also ensured searches for disappeared persons, secured collective land titles for Afro-Colombian communities in Valle de Cauca and organized events bringing together victims and aggressors toward reconciliation.

Despite being the target of attacks, Mosquera Riascos remains at the frontlines defending the rights of the most vulnerable communities. Her efforts have strengthened the leadership of Afro-Colombian and indigenous women and youth as they contribute to social, political and cultural processes impacting their lives. She is a fearless defender of women’s and ethnic rights — travelling regionally, nationally and internationally to advocate for those excluded from decision-making. She has earned the respect of others due to her courage and strong commitment to peace.