“Silence in the face of injustice is complicity with the oppressor.”– Ginetta Sagan
The Ginetta Sagan Award recognizes and assists women who are working to protect the liberty and lives of women and children in areas where human rights violations are widespread.
The Ginetta Sagan Award emphasizes that more human rights work must be done by and for women. The annual award grant of $20,000 is given in recognition of individual accomplishment but also in the belief that it will serve as a beacon of hope to women everywhere who are fighting for human rights. The Award is intended to help women throughout the world in their struggle to overcome oppression, to let them know that they are not alone.
“Ginetta Sagan’s name is synonymous with the fight for human rights around the world. She represents to all the triumph of the human spirit over tyranny.” – Bill Clinton
Ginetta Sagan, former honorary Chair of the Board of Directors of Amnesty International USA, devoted her life to defending the rights of those who were unfairly persecuted by repressive governments. Ginetta was born it Italy and was active in the anti-fascist Italian resistance movement during WWII. She was captured and tortured in 1945, but escaped on the eve of her execution. She later moved to the United States, where she founded 75 Amnesty International chapters around the country. As an advocate of human rights, she traveled widely, often to countries where her life was endangered. She researched and wrote meticulous reports about the abuses that she observed, serving as a witness and public voice of the oppressed. She inspired countless others to follow in her footsteps. As an activist and educator, she was instrumental in saving the lives of hundreds of prisoners of conscience. Ginetta’s commitment to human rights serves as her legacy to future generations.
Dorothy Njemanze, co-founder and executive director of the Dorothy Njemanze Foundation, is a filmmaker, actress, public speaker, and investigative journalist based in Abuja who works to expose widespread abduction and sexual violence against women and girls in Nigeria. She has been arrested and detained and suffered violence and intimidation for her work as a human rights defender. She was one of four plaintiffs in a landmark case brought against Nigeria, in which the government was found guilty of gender-based violence. Through her foundation, she helps victims of violence access legal services, medical care, social services, education, and increased economic empowerment. The Foundation also creates audiovisual materials in regional dialects to promote human rights awareness at the grassroots.
Charon Asetoyer is the Executive Director and founder of the Native American Community Board and the Native American Women’s Health Education Resource Center, located on the Yankton Sioux Reservation, South Dakota. Asetoyer’s activism is focused at the intersection of reproductive justice, environmental justice, and Native American rights. She has been an undeniable force in improving her community’s health and well-being through providing resources like health information, referral services, a domestic violence shelter, and transitional housing. In addition, her community-based research has influenced policies and practices at the local and federal level. She was appointed to the National Advisory Council for Health and Human Services by President Clinton and has also served on the National Environmental Justice Advisory Committee of the EPA
Julienne Lusenge, Director and founder of Le Fonds des Femme Congolaises (FFC- Congolese Women’s Fund), is one of the most respected advocates for women and girls in eastern DRC. After violent conflict usurped the region, Julienne, a radio-journalist, began documenting horrific sexual abuse and children’s rights violations at the hands of warring parties. By 2001, Julienne co-founded an NGO (SOFEPADI), working round-the-clock to support survivors of sexual violence; get the Congolese government and the UN to acknowledge that rape was being used a weapon of war; and convince government and the UN to take action to protect women and girls in eastern DRC. In 2007, she launched FFC, which works to strengthen local Congolese women’s groups working to ensure women’s rights to physical integrity, economic justice and participation in decision-making spaces.
Journalist and activist Amal Khalifa Habbani has promoted equality and justice for women in Sudan throughout her carrer. She has been beaten, fined, arrested, and detained multiple times for her advocacy work. She co-founded the Ahjras Al-Hurriya newspaper, a small school run by volunteers for internally displaced children, and the Sudanese Journalist’s Network. After a colleague was detained for inappropriate dress, Amal and her colleagues created the “No to Women’s Oppression Initiative,” which opposes Public Order Laws and argues that they are imposed to subjugate and assault women. In July 2017, she was convicted of “obstructing a police officer from doing his job” because of her reporting, and was fined 10,000 Sudanese pounds or to serve four months in prison. She is currently appealing this sentence.
Dr. Magda Adly’s activism began in the 1970s, and she was imprisoned during the Sadat regime in 1977 and 1978, accused of “changing the regime by force.” In 1993 she co-founded (with co-winner Dr. Suzan Fayad and others) El Nadim Center for Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence, the only specialist clinic in Egypt that is dedicated to treating victims of torture and trauma. As a result of her work, Dr. Adly has faced numerous threats to her safety and was attacked in 2008 while waiting to attend an appeal hearing against the pre-trial detention of three torture victims. In February, 2017, the Egyptian government closed the Center after repeated threats and continued crackdown on civil society, and she and other center works now have filed a lawsuit against the closure.
Dr. Suzan Fayad became active in women’s and human rights as a college student in the 1970s. She co-founded (with co-winner Dr. Magda Adly and others) El Nadim Center for Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence in 1993. She specializes in rehabilitation of victims of violence and torture. Initially, the center was founded to give dignity and protection to torture victims and domestic violence but its mission has evolved to include legal action and political activism on behalf of victims of gender and political violence. Since February, 2017, the Egyptian government closed the Center after repeated threats and continued crackdown on civil society, and she and other center works now have filed a lawsuit against the closure.
Activist Jenni Williams is a founder of the social justice movement Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA). WOZA encourages women and men to speak out about issues they may be too fearful to raise alone, including domestic violence and rape. In nearly a decade of struggle and hundreds of protests, more than 3,000 WOZA supporters have spent time in police custody. Ms. Williams has been beaten, imprisoned without food or medical supplies, and threatened with execution. Ms. Williams has said the WOZA slogan, “Tough Love,” reflects her conviction that “the power of love can conquer the love of power.” As of 2016, she had been arrested 65 times but continues to work for the rights of Zimbabweans.
Rebecca and her daughters were raped, and her husband killed, by combatants in Congo’s long-running civil war in 1998. The following year, Katsuva began a “listening house” for women like her in her home in an isolated, conflict-ridden region of South Kivu, far from urban medical aid and legal protections. She began taking women and children into her home to rebuild their lives. In 2002, she renamed her organization the Association des Personnes Desherites Unies pour le Development (APDUD). Ms. Katsuva very suddenly died in 2016 from high blood pressure and malaria, but the Association continues to help women, finding them medical care and sheltering them in nearly 50 houses built by the Association, which is supported by a communal farm.
For nearly 40 years, Yolanda Becerra Vega has courageously fought to help women in Colombia resist political marginalization and raise their voices against the country’s long-running conflict. As National Director of the 3,500-member Popular Women’s Organization (Organización Femenina Popular), she has endured physical attacks and constant threats and intimidation by armed groups. Through marches rallies and street theatre, Ms. Vega has campaigned against violence and impunity. Her organization also offers women economic assistance, training, education, health services and legal aid for victims of human rights violations.
Since 1999, Betty Makoni has been building the Girl Child Network (GCN), a loose network of organization that trains girls to succeed in school, thrive in the home and society, and resist sexual abuse and rape – or, if they have been victimized, to survive with pride. The Network now serves over 30,000 girls in 45 districts across Zimbabwe. Ms. Makoni’s work has won supporters in Zimbabwe and internationally, including the 2007 World Children’s Prize for the Rights of the Child. Nevertheless, Ms. Makoni repeatedly has been threatened, arrested, and imprisoned. Yet, despite government threats and violence, she persists to in her activism for women and girls.
Lydia Cacho Ribeiro, investigative journalist, is one of Mexico’s leading defenders of children’s and women’s rights. She founded and directs the Centro Integral de Atención a las Mujeres (CIAM) in Cancún, a crisis center and shelter for victims of sex crimes, gender-based violence, and trafficking. Her 2004 book, Los Demonios del Eden (The Demons of Eden) created a nation-wide scandal by exposing a high-level pedophilia ring. Because of her work, Ms. Cacho has received numerous death threats and was raped in an attempt to intimidate her. In response to an invalid arrest and corruption, Ms. Cacho became the first woman in Mexico to file a federal suit against a Governor, a District Attorney, and a judge. She is also the first woman in Mexican history to take a woman’s rights case to the Mexican Supreme Court.
Lilijana Raicevic was one of the first human rights defenders in her country to raise the issue of human trafficking and its consequences on women’s human rights. In 1999, she founded the Women’s Safe House, the first shelter for women in Montenegro. The shelter serves as the focal point of service delivery and advocacy work for women who are victims of family violence and human trafficking. Recognizing the need for a better protection program for female victims, Ms. Raicevic and the Women’s Safe House successfully lobbied for the adoption of the Witness Protection Law by the Montenegrin Parliament. The Women’s Safe House continues to fight for women in Montenegro.
Hawa Aden Mohamed has devoted her life to the betterment of Somali women in a country torn apart by civil war. Ms. Mohamed is the founder of the Galkayo Education Center for Peace and Development (GECPD). The center serves over 500 women and children in many towns and villages with medical care, vocational and income-generating trainings, support for more than 50 orphans, and it is the only public school for girls in the area. Since its establishment GECPD has worked for the total elimination of Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C), which is widely practiced in Somalia. Ms. Mohamed continues her work as the Executive director of GECPD.
A Kurdish teacher from Diyarbakir in Eastern Turkey, Ms. Akkoc responded to her own experience of political and sexual abuse, including the murder of her husband and her arrest and torture, by founding the organization Ka-Mer (Women’s Center) to advance women’s rights in southeast Anatolia, Turkey. Today there are branches of Ka-Mer in five other Anatolian cities providing legal and psychological counseling for abused women. Ka-Mer offers a crisis line help, direct assistance, and intervention for women and family members impacted by so-called “honor killings.”
As Executive Director of Movimiento de Mujeres de Dominico-Hatianas, (MUDHA), Sonia Pierre works to promote greater awareness of the deep-rooted challenges facing women and children of Haitian descent in the Dominican Republic. MUDHA challenges both gender discrimination and racism in the Dominican Republic by empowering women, providing access to basic social services, and challenging racist laws and practices that maintain people of Haitian descent in conditions of poverty. Ms. Pierre very suddenly died in 2011 from a heart attack, but MUDHA continues to help women and children in the Dominican Republic fight racism and discrimination.
Jeannine Mukanirwa worked for the Promotion et Appui aux Initiatives Feminines (PAIF), a women’s human rights organization in Goma to inform women of their rights and provide concrete assistance through self-funded community-based projects. As one of the few voices in eastern Congo willing to speak out against rape and other highly sensitive issues by directly confronting military and civilian authorities, Ms. Mukanirwa was threatened with death and arrested many times. In 2001 she fled to Canada, where she continues to work on behalf of PAIF.
Former child soldiers, children who have been seized, tortured, and forced at gunpoint to become rebels in the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in northern Uganda, have become the life’s work of Helen Akongo, who worked with GUSCO, the Gulu Support the Children Organization. Ms. Akongo’s special concern is the support – physically, emotionally and spiritually – of the girls who have escaped and come to GUSCO from the bush, especially those who are pregnant or with children.
Since 1997, Giulia Tamayo Leon, a prominent women’s rights activist and human rights lawyer from Lima, Peru, has documented human rights abuses against low-income women in both rural and urban communities. While campaigning against cases of forced sterilization of women in Peru, Ms. Tamayo and her family received death threats. Now living in exile in Spain, Ms. Tamayo works for the Madrid office of Amnesty International.
In 1981, Hina Jilani co-founded the first all-female law firm in Pakistan and later established a women’s legal aid program for Pakistani women, including those seeking to divorce abusive husbands. As a result, Ms. Jilani has been the target of violent attacks, including the “honor killing” of a client in her office. In recognition of her work, she has been appointed the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General on the situation of human rights defenders. In 2013, she joined “The Elders,” a group of statespeople, peace builders, and human rights activists brought together by Nelson Mandela.
Sima Wali, President of Refugee Women in Development, Inc., has been advocating for Afghan women and men for over 20 years, when she narrowly escaped from Afghanistan to resettle in Washington, DC. Since the fall of the Taliban, Ms. Wali has returned periodically to Afghanistan to carry out needs assessments and lead capacity-building trainings for local nonprofits. In 2009, Ms. Wali co-authored Invisible History: Afghanistan’s Untold Story and was the subject of the documentary The Woman in Exile Returns: The Sima Wali Story.
Adriana Portillo-Bartow has paid dearly for her political commitment, first when she was forced to flee from El Salvador to Guatemala and then when her father, stepmother, sister, sister-in-law, and two daughters, then aged nine and eleven, “disappeared” in 1981. Fleeing to the USA in 1985, Ms. Portillo-Bartow founded the “Where Are the Children?” project which pursues the truth about the disappeared children of Guatemala.
Beatrice Mukansinga founded MBWIRANDUMVA (“Speak, I am Listening”) to aid women disabled, traumatized, and left without homes or families following the genocide that killed thousands in Rwanda. MBWIRANDUMVA provides counseling, medical assistance, shelter, food, and skills to help women heal emotionally and physically and become economically self-sufficient.
Mangala Sharma works to assist the thousands of refugee Bhutanese women who had been raped, tortured, and shunned by their families. Ms. Sharma created Bhutanese Refugees Aiding Victims of Violence (BRAVVE), which now provides counseling and training in income-producing skills in all eight Bhutanes refugee camps in Nepal. In 2001 Ms. Sharma was granted political asylum in the United States, where she works with refugee families.