An AWIU Conversation with Dr. Rita Nyampinga


International Woman of Courage Dr. Rita Nyampinga has been busy since returning to Harare, Zimbabwe from her stateside visit in 2020 to collect her IWOC award. On June 18th, she shared what she’s been doing with women recently released from prison in a Conversation with AWIU members and friends.


Known for her advocacy on behalf of female prisoners, Dr. Rita is the recipient of two awards for her activism: “Female Human Rights Activist of the Year” by Alpha Media House in 2014, and two years ago, the International Women of Courage award. She is currently the Social and Economic Justice Ambassador for Zimbabwe’s Coalition on Debt and Development.

Dr. Rita explained that she is using the IWOC grant she received from AWIU to fund a mushroom farming project for 15 former female prisoners. For the 35-year activist, it’s all about providing these women with the capability to control their own lives through economic empowerment. Says Dr. Rita, “Without money, someone else controls your life for you.”

It was in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where she visited a women’s prison, that Dr. Rita dreamed up her program of economic empowerment. “In Zimbabwe, when women come out of prison, they are ostracized by their families and friends,” she explained. “Many of these women were imprisoned for public demonstration, which you cannot do without police clearance.” Having been imprisoned herself, Dr. Rita was well-acquainted with the prison system and the aftermath of rejection and despair when she came out.

In the 18 months since the start of the mushroom cultivation project, 15 women have reintegrated into their communities via mushrooming and gardening. “I provided the equipment they needed, engaged a trainer, and got them started,” she said. They work in groups of five, and have received business training to learn accountability for the funds they raise from selling mushrooms.

The women also receive psycho-social counseling, a critical service in Dr. Rita’s eyes. “Our process is about reintegration, rehabilitation, reconciliation, and restoration,” she said. “Restoration occurs when the women work and generate income. Once this happens, they are accepted by their families and communities.”

A success story close to Dr. Rita’s heart: “One of these women started growing tomatoes. She has built a house and sent eight children to school on the proceeds. She is head of her family and an accepted member of the community now.”

American Women for International Understanding is delighted to announce that six-time Emmy Award-winning news anchor, Lynette Romero, will emcee the 15th Annual International Women of Courage Celebration. A veteran journalist with more than three decades in the industry, Romero brings extensive news experience as anchor of the extremely popular KTLA Weekend Morning News. The 6am-11am morning news block leads the market with the highest average ratings across all other time periods.

Romero came to KTLA in January 1998 as a general assignment reporter and in her first year at the station, received the prestigious Golden Mike Award from the Radio and Television News Association of Southern California for producing and reporting the KTLA News series “Public Schools: Working the System.” From August 2000 to October 2004, Romero was co-anchor for “KTLA Prime News,” where she, along with her news colleagues, received a second Golden Mike for best 60-minute evening newscast. She is a recipient of six local Emmy Awards including an Emmy for best feature news reporting. In 2006, Romero received a local Emmy and Golden Mike Award for her work as anchor/reporter for the show “Access L.A. – The Latino Experience” and a local Emmy as reporter/producer for the five-part series “From Farm to Fork.” In 2015, Romero was honored by the National Hispanic Media Coalition with the Excellence in Broadcast Journalism Award.

Romero has travelled domestically and internationally in her role as a journalist covering stories in Prague, El Salvador, Mexico City, Guadalajara, and Rome where she covered the Papal Conclave for KTLA and other Tribune television stations across the country.

Prior to joining KTLA, Romero anchored and reported for 10 years at KUSA-TV in Denver. She also spent nearly a year reporting for KUSA-TV’s sister station in Austin, Texas, KVUE-TV. While in Denver, Romero’s assignments included the 1993 papal visit, the standoff in Waco and the bombing of the Federal Building in Oklahoma City.

Romero has been a member of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists and an advisory board member for the University of Colorado School of Journalism and Mass Communication. She has taught anchor and reporting classes for UCLA Extension. She spends much of her personal time in the community speaking at schools and community events.

Romero has a Bachelor of Science degree in journalism, broadcast news from the University of Colorado in Boulder, Colo. She was born and raised in Denver.

Romero’s mother, Viola, was diagnosed with severe dementia in 2012 and Romero moved her mother to California where Romero became her primary caregiver. Viola lived with Romero, her husband David and their daughter Olivia for nearly 10 years. Viola passed away January 24, 2022, and that’s when Romero began honoring her mother’s life and legacy by giving back to Alzheimer’s and Dementia awareness and research.

Romero lives in Los Angeles with her husband, daughter and their two rescue dogs Benny and LuLu.

American Women for International Understanding is proud to announce that our Honorary Chair for the 15th Annual International Women of Courage Celebration is Ambassador Melanne Verveer, Executive Director of the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security. Ambassador Verveer is a long-time supporter of the International Women of Courage Celebration and was the recipient of AWIU’s Internationalism Award in 2014. She joins the list of other distinguished women on the Honorary Committee offering their support to AWIU’s 15th Annual Celebration which will be held on May 24th, 2022. We are honored to work with Ambassador Verveer.

Ambassador Verveer served as the first U.S. Ambassador for Global Women’s Issues, a position to which she was nominated by President Obama in 2009. In that role, she coordinated foreign policy issues and activities relating to the political, economic and social advancement of women, traveling to nearly 60 countries. She worked to ensure that women’s participation and rights are fully integrated into U.S. foreign policy, and she played a leadership role in the Administration’s development of the U.S. National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security. President Obama also appointed her to serve as the U.S. Representative to the UN Commission on the Status of Women.

From 2000-2008, she was the Chair and Co-CEO of Vital Voices Global Partnership, an international NGO that she co-founded to invest in emerging women leaders. During the Clinton administration, she served as Assistant to the President and Chief of Staff to the First Lady. She also led the effort to establish the President’s Interagency Council on Women, and was instrumental in the adoption of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000. She is the co-author of Fast Forward: How Women Can Achieve Power and Purpose (2015).

Ambassador Verveer has a B.S. and M.S. from Georgetown University and holds several honorary degrees. In 2013, she was the Humanitas Visiting Professor at the University of Cambridge and in 2017, she was selected to deliver the Tanner Lecture at Clare Hall College, Cambridge. She is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and the Trilateral Commission, and she serves on the Boards of the National Endowment for Democracy, the Atlantic Council, as well as the World Bank Advisory Council on Gender and Development. She has also served as the Special Representative on Gender Issues for the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office. She is the recipient of numerous awards, including the Secretary of State’s Award for Distinguished Service. In 2008, the President of Ukraine awarded her the Order of Princess Olga.

We look forward to working with Ambassador Verveer and the other accomplished women on our 2022 honorary committee.

For more information about the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security, please click here.



The U.S. Secretary of State’s International Women of Courage Award recognizes women from around the globe who have demonstrated exceptional courage and leadership in advocating for peace, justice, human rights, gender equality, and women’s empowerment, often at great personal risk and sacrifice.

In late March, the State Department announced two online panel discussions featuring five of the ten International Women of Courage honored in 2022. The awardees are participants of the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP), the U.S. Department of State’s premier professional exchange program, to cultivate lasting connections with their American counterparts. These are the women that AWIU will be honoring at our 2022 IWOC Celebration and supporting with a grant to continue their work.

The first discussion, hosted by the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security (GIWPS), in partnership with the U.S. Department of State, was on Wednesday, March 30, 2022. The GIWPS panel consisted of three 2022 awardees whose work defended human rights and advanced peace and security in the most challenging contexts. From Brazil, Burma, and Liberia, they shared their stories, strategies for effecting positive change, and recommendations to human rights defenders around the world and the international community looking to support their work.

The panel was moderated by Ambassador Melanne Verveer, Executive Director, GIWPS, with opening remarks by Katrina Fotovat, Senior Official to the Secretary of State, Office of Global Women’s Issues. The panelists were Ei Thinzar Maung, Deputy Minister for Women, Youths, and Children Affairs, Burma; Facia Boyenoh Harris, Co-Founder, Paramount Young Women Initiative and Liberian Feminist Forum, Liberia; and Simone Sibilio do Nascimento, Prosecutor, Rio de Janeiro State’s Public Ministry, Brazil.

Ei Thinzar Maung discussed her focus on putting women’s rights into the Burmese constitution. She said, “We must talk about this rights issue now, while fighting for democracy against the military coup. Otherwise, we will lose the opportunity – and this discrimination against women is not normal.”

Facia Boyenoh stated that her primary audience is women, but spoke of the necessity to bring men into the work so that they could serve as eventual change agents to tackle gender-based violence.

Simone Sibilio do Nascimento talked about how, in her role as the first woman to head the fight against organized crime in Brazil, she defended a woman who had been murdered, and how this was
“both a weight and a stimulant” for her. She also emphasized the importance of a woman heading the effort against organized crime, so that the community would take women seriously.

The second panel discussion, which took place on Thursday, March 31, 2022, was hosted by the United States Institute of Peace in partnership with the U.S. Department of State. Titled “Women, Climate Change and Peacebuilding,” this panel featured 2022 International Women of Courage Awardees Josefina Klinger Zúñiga and Rizwana Hasan, who have worked tirelessly to combat the climate crisis, promote environmental protection, and elevate the unique ways women and girls are impacted by the destruction of the environment. Furthering the discussion were Kamissa Camara, moderator, Senior Visiting Expert on the Sahel, U.S. Institute of Peace; Tegan Blaine, Director, Climate, Environment and Conflict, U.S. Institute of Peace; and Katrina Fotovat, Senior Official, Office of Global Women’s Issues, U.S. State Department.

Josefina Klinger Zúñiga works as a human rights and environmental defender and founded Mano Cambiada (“Changed Hand”) in Colombia to produce sustainable incomes and advance the rights of her community by training leaders on environmental resource management. She talked about nature’s generosity, and her focus on “writing a new story about climate change.” As a leader and teacher, she works with children and youth to create a new model for economic viability, relying upon social knowledge, not academic credentials. About her inspiration, she said, “I believe in small revolutions. My elders always said, when it’s most dark, the sun is going to rise.”

Rizwana Hasan is a lawyer who fights environmental and human exploitation in Bangladesh through the courts using a people-centered focus on environmental justice. She explained, “Ten million women are involved in food production in Bangladesh, over fifty percent of the population. They have become the managers of climate change by default, and they are the leaders of climate adaptation.” She also talked about the 1927 Forest Act, enacted by the British colonizers, which suppresses the rights of tribal people in favor of development, and the need for a paradigm shift in the use of natural resources.

Listen: “Women, Climate Change and Peacebuilding” at

Afghan filmmaker and 2018 International Woman of Courage Roya Sadat is the recipient of the 2021 Kim Dae Jung Nobel Peace Film Award, bestowed at a ceremony at the Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Kim Dae-Jung Memorial Hall in Gwangju City, Korea on December 16, 2021.

The award recognizes Sadat’s effort to promote democracy, human rights, and peace through the art of motion pictures, noting her body of valuable cinematic works and the semantic and artistic approaches which address important human rights issues.

In response, Sadat said: “I’m getting this important film award at a time in which I’m not allowed to make a film in my country. Art and culture, especially cinema, are completely shut down. This is also a time when people of my country are suffering poverty and hunger, women are excluded from society, artists are in exile and the voice of freedom is silent. And we are moving towards an unknown future, and perhaps the world is silently waiting for a greater catastrophe.

I would like to ask the international institutions and film festivals to be the voice of Afghan women who do not have the right to study and work nowadays in my country. Please support them, do not leave them alone, as we hope for a free and prosperous Afghanistan. I thank the institutions and individuals who stand by the people of Afghanistan, especially the women of Afghanistan.”

Throughout her career, Sadat has faced enormous risks and has overcome tremendous cultural, bureaucratic, and monetary barriers. Born in Herat in 1981, Sadat always dreamed of being a filmmaker. But when the Taliban came to power, her dreams were nearly crushed as music, movies, television, and theater were banned. At age 20, Sadat directed her first feature, “Three Dots,” written in secret during the Taliban era, about a young widow who is pressured to marry an in-law. Sadat took major risks to shoot the film in a rural village; at one point, she was chased away at gunpoint by villagers angry at her use of uncovered women actresses. The film received international acclaim.

In 2003, Sadat founded Roya Film House to tell compelling stories about Afghanistan. In more than 30 documentaries, films, and television shows, Sadat has not shied away from depicting the brutal injustices of life for Afghan women. In 2013, she founded the Afghanistan International Women’s Film Festival to promote women filmmakers and the empowerment of Afghan women through art. Sadat’s most recent work, “A Letter to the President,” tells the story of a strong-willed woman who is sentenced to death after accidentally killing her abusive husband.

Among other honors, Sadat was recognized as a 2018 International Woman of Courage by the U.S. State Department, a prestigious award given to women in recognition of their courageous and selfless efforts advocating for human rights, women’s equality, and social progress, often in the face of great personal risk. American Women for International Understanding (AWIU) hosts an annual event in Los Angeles to celebrate these women, each of whom receives an AWIU grant to support her ongoing work.

Kim Dae-jung was a South Korean statesman and activist who served as the eighth president of South Korea from 1998 to 2003, and was the first opposition candidate to win this office. He was a 2000 Nobel Peace Prize recipient for his work for democracy and human rights in South Korea and in East Asia in general, and for peace and reconciliation with North Korea and Japan. He was sometimes referred to as “the Nelson Mandela of Asia.”

Acting Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Heather Nauert hosts the 2018 Annual International Women of Courage Awards Ceremony, with special remarks by First Lady of the United States Melania Trump, at the State Department on March 23, 2018.

First Lady Melania Trump and Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Thomas A. Shannon Honor 13 Women of Courage at the 2017 Secretary of State’s International Women of Courage Award.

2016 Women of Courage Awards: Tenth Anniversary Forum with Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues Catherine M. Russell at the Department of State.

Secretary Kerry honors and presents the 2016 Secretary of State’s International Women of Courage Award to 14 honorees at the Department of State on March 29, 2016.