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.

Meet Josephine, the 2021 Women Building Peace Award Recipient

Tabassum Adnan (Pakistan)

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.

Josephine Ekiru (Kenya)

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 (Colombia)

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 the Silver Shield of Antioquia.

Waldistrudis Hurtado (Colombia)

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 (Democratic Republic of the Congo)

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 (Cameroon)

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.

Nyachangkouth Tai (South Sudan)

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 W. Waithitu (Kenya)

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 (Bangladesh)

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.


Meet Rita, the Inaugural Women’s Building Peace Award Recipient

Rita’s tireless efforts have resulted in measurable steps toward peace in South Sudan.

Meet the 10 finalists for the 2020 Women Building Peace Award

Ángela Maria Escobar (Colombia)

Ángela Maria Escobar is a peacebuilder and human rights defender in Colombia whose leadership has been instrumental in bringing the issue of sexual violence to the forefront of a national peace process. As a member of the Gender Commission for the 2016 Colombian peace agreement, Ángela Maria led participatory processes to develop proposals that were presented to the conflict parties in Havana, Cuba. These essential contributions made the Colombian peace agreement the first in the world to recognize and incorporate sexual violence as an autonomous crime that is not subject to amnesty or pardon. Her courage has inspired many others. In the work she has done and continues to pursue, she has made a tremendous difference for women, not only in Colombia but around the world.

Asia Jamil (Pakistan)

Asia Jamil is a Pakistani human rights defender, feminist activist and founding member of the nonprofit Professional Development Organization whose dedication to peacebuilding is remarkable. Working in the Newly Merged Districts of Pakistan is one of the most challenging locations in her country. Asia has been able to develop strong, meaningful relationships with both local government officials and local law enforcement, a very impressive achievement. Asia’s accomplishments show how successful she is at working across diverse audiences and finding creative ways to build peace and catalyze conversations on difficult topics. Despite receiving threats from the Taliban in the region, she fearlessly continues her work on nonviolence.

Beata Mukarubuga (Rwanda)

Beata Mukarubuga is an exemplary leader among peacebuilders whose work is distinguished by an intense commitment to innovative and inclusive approaches to pursuing peace. All the more remarkable for having lived through the horrific violence of the 1994 Rwandan Genocide against Tutsi, Beata truly embodies all the qualities of a peacebuilder—from her dedication to forgiveness, helping others reconcile, providing holistic counseling services and giving back to her community. Her ability to forgive and model forgiveness for other survivors has had an extraordinarily powerful impact on reconciliation in a country divided by victims and perpetrators of the genocide.

Irene M. Santiago (The Philippines)

Irene Morada Santiago is a negotiator, implementer, teacher, trainer, organizer and thought leader, adept at effective engagements in both formal and informal peace processes. Her extraordinary record of accomplishment has impacted conflict dynamics locally and nationally in the Philippines as well as internationally. During a career in peace and development spanning over 40 years, she has worked on all levels from grassroots to global. A trailblazer, Irene has the distinction of being one of the only women in the world today who has been both a member of a peace negotiating panel and chair of the body implementing a major peace agreement.

Believing that local action enables people to participate more effectively, she has developed a model for building local capacities for peace. This model, called “Peace 911”, aims to address the insurgency instead of targeting the insurgent by building the “pillars of positive peace”. This local peacebuilding model has now been adopted nationwide to address protracted social conflict. As an influential thought leader, Irene identifies the strategic roles women play in peace processes as being “AT the table, ON the table, and TURNING the tables.”

Julienne Lusenge (Democratic Republic of the Congo)

Julienne Lusenge is a leader, peacebuilder and human rights activist from the Democratic Republic of Congo who has been contributing consistently and uncompromisingly to the Women, Peace and Security agenda in Africa for over 40 years. Julienne’s ability to engage all levels of society in an especially stratified environment is outstanding, as is her deep knowledge of the issues facing the DRC. Julienne’s work has been key to getting women into office throughout the DRC, as well as empowering female artisanal miners which is a critical issue in the conflict in the DRC. Through her work, women and girls in the DRC can more easily perceive a future of peace, stability and improved livelihoods for themselves, thereby reducing their vulnerability to the chronic conflict and extreme poverty surrounding them. The reach of her work, stature of her persona and breadth of the issues upon which she works makes her unique among Congolese activists.

Odette Habonimana (Burundi)

Odette Habonimana is a committed champion for peace in Burundi. Odette has dedicated her life to helping marginalized groups in her community, utilizing innovative approaches in ensuring that no one is left behind. Her remarkable achievements reflect how she has skillfully used the opportunities afforded to her to promote peacebuilding work in Burundi. Odette’s vision for empowering women and youth and her commitment to that vision are strong and clear, and through her work she is making an exceptional contribution to resolving conflicts and fostering peace in Burundi.

Rita Martin Lopidia (South Sudan)

Rita Martin Lopidia is a passionate and dynamic civil society leader recognized for being the driving force behind the inclusion of women in the South Sudan peace process. Despite threats to her life, Rita has shown an exceptional capacity to convene a diverse group of actors from across traditional lines of division. She is a leader among activists and civil society at the community level, as well as among national and international actors. Her tireless and thoughtful efforts for peace have resulted in measurable steps toward peace in her homeland.

Rosa Emilia Salamanca González (Colombia)

Rosa Emilia Salamanca González is one of the women leaders among peacebuilders who has been working steadfastly to build peace in Colombia for nearly 30 years. Rosa Emilia’s quiet leadership is heightened by her keen intuition. With her intersectional approach and understanding of war and identity, she knows what spaces need her support and experience. Her involvement in the Women's National Summit yielded important results and no doubt shaped the final agreement that Colombia so proudly hosts. The 18 women of the Women´s National Summit involvement in the 2016 peace process, between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—People's Army (FARC-EP) was crucial to realizing one of the most inclusive peace agreements to date globally. And Rosa Emilia’s was one of them.

Tabassum Adnan (Pakistan)

Tabassum Adnan is a committed, longtime advocate for justice, accountability, and peace in Pakistan. She is notable for her inspiring personal story and the breadth of her peacebuilding experience mobilizing women within her community, men and civil society and state entities to help address issues related to violence against women and girls. Tabassum’s use of the jirga to administer justice at the local level is an innovative idea and resonates within Pashtun culture. She established the first women’s jirga in Pakistan to provide women in the country with justice, accountability, and peace. Moreover, she was the first woman to attend a male jirga, a traditional assembly of leaders that make decisions by consensus. Tabassum has earned the respect of the most influential male powerbrokers in her community, a remarkable testament to her leadership and impact.

Victoria Nyanjura (Uganda)

Victoria Nyanjura is a skilled peacebuilder and a leading voice in Uganda representing the experiences of women survivors of sexual violence during conflict and advocating on their behalf. Victoria's courageous recounting of her eight years as a captive and her path to freedom, healing, and justice is an inspiration for peacebuilders worldwide. She possesses an exceptional ability to communicate persuasively, to impact policy makers and to use her strength and initiative to create a better future for other women. She is an exemplary practitioner, showcasing the dedication and multi-pronged approaches it takes to address the issue of violence against women and children. Victoria demonstrates how someone who has experienced great personal trauma can exhibit extraordinary resilience and affect social change.