Compiled by Margaret Pfeifle, Communications Intern
The U.S. Department of State International Women of Courage Award (IWOC) recognizes women from all over the world who have shown exceptional courage, strength, and leadership in bringing about positive change in their communities, often at great personal risk and sacrifice. Since the award’s inception in 2007, more than 170 women from more than 80 different countries have been honored.
Throughout March and April 2022, Global Ties Network members across the United States virtually hosted awardees on an International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) implemented in partnership with Meridian International Center. Continue reading to learn more about this year’s honorees, their inspiring stories, and the virtual IVLP programs organized by Global Ties Network members.
Global Ties Arizona
– Editor’s note: this piece has been edited and republished with permission from Global Ties Arizona. It originally appeared online April 26, 2022.
Global Ties Arizona was thrilled to host two of the 2022 International Women of Courage Awardees in April: Doina Gherman of Moldova and Carmen Gheorghe of Romania. Now in its 16th year, this prestigious award recognizes women from around the world who have demonstrated exceptional courage, strength, and leadership in advocating for peace, justice, human rights, gender equity/equality, and the empowerment of women.
Doina Gherman has been an advocate for promoting women’s inclusion and the protection of survivors of domestic and gender-based violence throughout her career in the Moldovan Parliament, since 2019. Carmen Gheorghe has served as the President of E-Romnja, an NGO that promotes Roma women’s rights, since 2013.
Both women virtually visited Phoenix, Arizona from April 4 through April 14, and met with female leaders of the Arizona community including City of Phoenix Councilwoman Yassamin Ansari; Arizona State Senator Raquel Terán; Jessica Yanow, President & CEO of Arizona Alliance for Community Health Centers; Lydia Guzman, Director for Advocacy & Civic Engagement at Chicanos Por La Causa; and Debbie Nez Manuel, Co-founder and the Executive Director of the Morning Star Leaders Initiative, to discuss various issues that women and minority communities face.
On April 14, Global Ties Arizona hosted a virtual speaking engagement, which featured both awardees, called “Resistance: Why Are Women’s Rights Still a Struggle?” The event was moderated by Sally Kitch, Ph.D., Author and University and Regent’s Professor of women’s studies at Arizona State University.
When asked why women’s rights are still a struggle, Carmen responded: “When it comes to women, there are so many layers and intersectional backgrounds. Feminism is [considered] a bad word, racism is a denied word… and then, of course, homophobia or other forms of hatred are justified through some [lenses]. As long as we continue to have negative portraits of women, and especially women that [come from] an ethnic background or racialized background, I think we will continue to struggle.”
Doina responded to the question by stating an example from the Moldovan political arena. She cited the criticism and media attacks that current President Maia Sandu faced during her campaign for not having a family, particularly not having children, which critics used to say that she was not prepared or equipped to lead a country. Doina shared how that underscores the continued struggles of women, and how, conversely, she herself had experienced criticism for having three children and being a politician, with critics voicing to her that “your place is near your children, and not in politics.” She also mentioned women are fearful for their personal security, as most attacks during political campaigns are targeted at women.
The full speaking engagement can be viewed on the Global Ties Arizona’s YouTube Channel.
Global Ties KC
– Courtney Brooks, Executive Director
At the center of a functional democracy is a rule of law, which ensures political rights, mechanisms of accountability, and political equity for all citizens; however, it is the human touch — dedicated, caring individuals who dedicate their lives to caring for victims and pursuing justice at all costs — that morphs a legal structure to a system with heart. For 16 years, the International Women of Courage program has honored women who demonstrate exceptional courage, strength, and leadership, often at great personal risk and sacrifice.
One of this year’s awardees was Simone Sibilio do Nascimento, recognized for her lifetime of service as a prosecutor in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil combatting organized crime and protecting victims. Simone is one of Brazil’s most prominent prosecutors and a former civil police delegate and captain of the military police. She has served as a prosecutor for 18 years with Rio de Janeiro State’s Public Ministry, combating organized crime and public corruption, militias, and drug trafficking. In 2019, she received the Attorney General’s Medal of Honor, the organization’s highest commendation.
The part of Simone’s identity that does not show up in a biography, which we at Global Ties KC believe makes her the most extraordinary, is that Simone is dedicated to the rule of law for the humblest of reasons. She devotes herself, seven days a week, to finding justice and closure for victims of crimes. As a prosecutor, she works with jury trials and manages a caseload of hundreds of trials a year. Most days, she works until late at night or often into the next morning. For victims who find it too hard to sit through a court proceeding, she makes herself personally available to walk through the verdict, going above and beyond to explain procedure and outcomes.
Simone’s time in Kansas City, Missouri (KCMO) with Global Ties KC included meetings and conversations with KCMO Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker, KCMO Police Board Commissioner Cathy Dean, United States Circuit Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals Duane Benton, and Nicole Fisher, founder and owner of Fisher Law LLC. It was both incredibly humbling and inspiring to facilitate these meetings. In the true fashion of International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) exchanges, conversations went two ways, with U.S. participants learning just as much as they shared. Simone’s passion for justice radiated in every conversation and through her lifelong commitment to prosecution. Her goal is to serve until she is mandated to retire at the age of 75. She is nowhere near done making a difference in Brazil, and we are thrilled to see the impact she continues to make.
We are constantly amazed by the passion and dedication of law enforcement and legal system officials. For leaders like Simone, dedication means seven-day work weeks, and trials that last into the middle of the night. On behalf of Global Ties KC, thank you to the leaders around the world who work tirelessly to make our cities safer, fight corruption, and protect victims. Thank you to the women who are courageous in paving the way in their industries, breaking barriers, and creating opportunities for future female leaders.
– Karen Baumgaertner, Interim Professional Exchanges Manager
Global Minnesota was proud to virtually host two recipients of the 2022 U.S. Secretary of State’s International Women of Courage Award (IWOC), Facia Boyenoh Harris from Liberia and Roegchanda Pascoe from South Africa.
Minnesota is home to the largest Liberian population in the United States, estimated to be over 35,000 people. Hosting award-winner Facia Boyenoh Harris from Monrovia, Liberia, was not only an honor, but it felt familiar, like hosting a neighbor. Facia returned the sentiment, similarly expressed interest in visiting Minnesota in person to connect with our Liberian American community. An inspiring activist for women’s rights and law school graduate, Facia is a critical leader drawing community attention to gender-based violence in Liberia. Over the course of her meetings with Minnesotans, she consistently brought attention to the reality of violence against women.
Roegchanda Pascoe, who hails from South Africa, was also a fortuitous choice to virtually visit Minnesota. Many in Minnesota, including Global Minnesota, have looked to South Africa to grapple with our own experience of racism and trauma following George Floyd’s death. In South Africa, Roegchanda has courageously advocated for peace, justice, and economic inclusion in the historically underserved and violent Cape Flats of Cape Town. Despite multiple attempts on her life, Roegchanda preserves to create safer communities, especially for women and children who have been traumatized by violence, and to train the next generation of community advocates.
Meeting with staff from Minnesota’s Center for Victims of Torture was a highlight for our awardees. Staff from this international NGO discussed their process for helping heal and assist clients affected by war, violence, and torture. Roegchanda and Facia remarked that they often find themselves asked to do similar work as the NGO’s five full-time employees. It was validating, but also humbling to recognize how much work the award winners do in their communities even without this support.
The following week, Facia and Roegchanda attended a panel discussion by the co-creators of the Blueprint for Safety, a national guide for the justice system in response to domestic violence. Six people participated in the panel discussion including Commander Brad Hazelett of the St. Paul Police Department. Significant time was spent discussing the challenges of building trust in institutions such as police departments, especially around gender-based violence. By the end of the meeting, many connections were made.
Finally, on April 15, Global Minnesota live–streamed a discussion between Facia and Dipali Mukhopadhyay, Ph.D. of the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs. Unfortunately, Roegchanda had a personal obligation that kept her from joining this last program, but our moderator was able to engage Facia in an intimate discussion which is available for public viewing on the Global Minnesota YouTube channel. Seven organizations co-sponsored this important discussion.
Iowa International Center
– Kassi Bailey, International Programs Director
Alone and isolated, Ei Thinzar Maung, a 2022 International Women of Courage recipient from Burma, works to help build and run the provisional democratic government. She embodies courage, as she works in hiding under the threat of immediate arrest and imprisonment by the current ruling regime.
A human rights activist, Ei Thinzar advocates on behalf of minority groups, and has long promoted the vision of an inclusive, multi-party democracy for Burma that respects human rights. She was imprisoned in 2015 for protesting a law that included a ban on student unions and teaching in ethnic minority languages. Post-coup, her work to support peaceful pro-democracy activism includes the Civil Disobedience Movement and youth engagement.
While virtually visiting Des Moines, Iowa, Ei Thinzar connected with groups promoting minority rights, youth leadership, and female leadership development. This included the State of Iowa’s Youth Advisory Council, Iowa legislators, the Latina Leadership Institute, and the Greater Des Moines Leadership Institute. Ei Thinzar also participated in a virtual home hospitality conversation with Kay Bauer, a wife, mother, registered nurse, mentor, and coffee shop owner.
Throughout her visit with Iowans, Ei Thinzar said she felt connected and supported. She said she was amazed that Iowans were interested in her story and that they took the time to research the struggles of her people. Those who met her were awed and inspired by her bravery and commitment to promoting human rights. Ei Thinzar shared her story in a Global Café webinar that reached more than 28,000 individuals from Iowa and around the globe. Her story and courage to stand up for minority rights and democracy inspired all she met. As Diana Echeverria, Executive Director of Latina Leadership Initiative said to Ei Thinzar, “I’m just taking it in right now, that you are in the middle of making history for the next generation of women.”
Tulsa Global Alliance
– Bob Lieser, Vice President of Programs
Tulsa Global Alliance (TGA) hosted Josefina Klinger Zúñiga from Colombia, a courageous Afro-Colombian human rights and environmental defender from Nuquí, Chocó, a rural municipality in western Colombia with a majority Afro-Colombian and Indigenous population. She has dedicated her life to working in a country that can be dangerous for human rights and environmental defenders, where more than 80% of deaths in Colombia are linked to the economic exploitation of land and natural resources, including illegal mining, deforestation, and the drug trade.
It was a special experience to host IWOC virtually this year, in part because it brought back memories of the last in-person IVLP participant TGA hosted – IWOC award winner Rita Nyampiga from Zimbabwe in March of 2020.
Because of Josefina’s commitment to environmental issues, TGA arranged for meetings with two women and organizations that share this passion — Barbara VanHanken of the Oklahoma Chapter of the Sierra Club and Rebecca Jim of Local Environmental Action Demanded (L.E.A.D.). Josefina immediately bonded with both, and they shared advice and experience in protecting environmental resources while working to gain public support. Josefina was also virtually hosted for a home hospitality program by Edith and Glenn Wilson, who had hosted Rita Nyampinga when she visited Tulsa in person in 2020. After morning coffee and a tour of the Wilson’s house and backyard, Josefina and the Wilsons had conversations about Oklahoma’s history and environment and their families.
TGA also arranged a virtual Global Speaker Series speaking opportunity for Josefina, where she displayed photos and a video about her work and her community while she spoke. Some of the most powerful images were of young people taking part in an environmental festival and parade dressed as sea turtles or whales. These animals are frequently visible in the area around Josefina’s village.
Josefina spoke about the importance of creating a sustainable development model locally, not one that was imported from the outside. She said, “I believe in the revolutionary power of the small,” meaning that small movements can make a big difference. This reminded me of the quote from cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
Gitzel Puente, Vice-Chair of the TGA Board, said during the Global Speaker Series, “This was a very inspiring conversation,” and thanked Josefina for her work in human rights, noting that she exemplified “the power of positivity and being a good human being.”
I have always been struck in general by the positive impact of women leaders coming together through exchange programs, and this seems especially powerful when the leaders represent indigenous groups, as do Josefina and some of her Oklahoma counterparts.
– Heather van Dyk, Project Manager
WorldOrlando was honored to host International Women of Courage awardee Bhumika Shrestha from Nepal. Bhumika is a transgender activist who advocates for gender minorities’ rights and social justice. She was successful in adding a third gender on citizenship documents in Nepal, and, in 2021, she successfully changed her citizenship from “other” to female.
Bhumika had several virtual meetings with resources in Central Florida. She met with multiple LGBT+ organizations — LGBT+ Center Orlando, Orlando United Resilience Services, One Orlando Alliance, and Orlando Youth Alliance — as a Pulse Nightclub tragedy case study. These meetings were very intimate as there were only a few people in each meeting, which enabled participants and resources to engage with each other about lessons learned and share their hopes for future improvement of minority rights. Bhumika also participated in a home hospitality program hosted by Commissioner Patty Sheehan who shared some art that she had created during the COVID-19 pandemic in support of the Pulse Nightclub tragedy.
On the last day of the meetings, WorldOrlando partnered with LGBT+ Center Orlando for a speaking engagement with Bhumika. George Wallace, Executive Director of LGBT+ Center Orlando, moderated the event, and several local allies attended or later watched the recording produced of this exchange.
A highlight of these meetings was how confident and insightful Bhumika’s responses were despite a lack of opportunities growing up. For example, she shared in her meetings that she did not finish school. The International Women of Courage award not only gave Bhumika more notoriety to achieve her goals locally, but gave hope to youth in Central Florida who are facing similar challenges. It was an absolute privilege to work with her during this International Visitor Leadership Program.
– Andrea Vanessa Castillo, Program Officer
The Secretary of State’s International Women of Courage Award recognized women from around the world who have demonstrated exceptional courage, strength, and leadership – often at great personal risk and sacrifice – in advocating for the empowerment of women and girls in all their diversity. In April of 2022, WorldOregon had the privilege of virtually welcoming one such leader to our community.
Rizwana Hasan has been working tirelessly for the past 27 years to address challenges in Bangladesh as an attorney, social justice advocate, and mother, with a people-centered focus on environmental justice. In her capacity as chief executive of the public interest law firm Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association, she has argued and won monumental cases against deforestation, pollution, unregulated ship breaking, and illegal land development. Despite significant resistance from powerful interests and threats of violence to herself and her family, Rizwana has continued her crucial work in the courtroom to combat environmental degradation and the local effects of climate change. This work has led to her global recognition and to her receiving one of the 12 2022 International Women of Courage Awards.
During her exchange, Rizwana heard about how Lewis and Clark Law School supported the next generation of environmental defenders through their Global Law Alliance for Animals and the Environment and their Earthrise Law Center and learned about Western Environmental Law Center’s partnerships with tribal governments in environmental advocacy across the state.
WorldOregon hosted a public fireside chat that focused on her journey to become an environmental justice leader (view the event recording here). We had the chance to hear about Rizwana’s successes in Bangladesh and her perspective as an agent in the community. As Portland Commissioner Carmen Rubio said during our event, “People around the world are self-organizing to lead the fight for climate justice, environmental justice, and racial justice – not only because they are existentially intertwined, but because communities have said ‘Enough.’” Rizwana said “enough,” and we had the opportunity to get a firsthand account of what that looks like.
This is what citizen diplomacy is all about: Two-way exchange, creating connections, and lessons learned on all ends.
Rizwana reminds us that we “cannot just sit in one city and forget about the rest of the world,” and that we must be cognizant of just how connected we are to each other. These past few years amid a global pandemic have shown us just how intertwined we all are. Being a global citizen brings human connections to the forefront of our lives, and it is the reason we do what we do. This virtual connection gave us the chance to engage with Rizwana in a meaningful and rich way, and we at WorldOregon appreciate and treasure our time with such a dynamic and caring leader. We hope you will join us as we work to carry forward the message of persistence that she shared with us:
“Courage is standing against all odds – not only with courage but with compassion, with heart, with persistence.”