Introducing the Secretary of State’s
2023 International Women of Courage Awardees

Each year, the U.S. Department of State honors 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 and girls. The Secretary of State’s International Women of Courage (IWOC) Award brings global attention and shines a light on these women who have put their personal safety, and often their lives, at risk to improve their communities and inspire fellow citizens.AWIU is honored to announce the 2023 International Women of Courage Awardees. Countries represented are Afghanistan, Argentina, Central African Republic, Costa Rica, Ethiopia, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Mongolia, Poland and Ukraine. In addition, the State Department is presenting an inaugural group award, The Madeleine Albright Honorary Group Award, which this year honors the Women and Girl Protestors of Iran.

On Wednesday, March 8, at 2:00 p.m. EST, the Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken and First Lady Jill Biden will  host the 2023 International Women of Courage Award Ceremony at the White House. The Ceremony will honor the 2023 IWOC Awardees and feature remarks from the Secretary of State, the First Lady, the United States Representative to the United Nations, and senior State Department officials.
Live stream the Ceremony at or

On Saturday, September 10, 2022, an AWIU Conversation brought International Women of Courage and Guatemalan judges Yassmin Barrios (2014) and Erika Aifan (2021) together to discuss the plight of justice in their country.

Moderated by  AWIU members Laura Pollard and Gayle Morin, the Conversation was attended by Douglas Choi, desk officer for Guatemala at the U.S. State Department, and 18 AWIU members. Janice Colom, chair of AWIU’s Chicago Chapter, translated Barrios’ and Aifan’s remarks, assisted by Spanish-speaking members Kristin Ceva, Paula Cofresi-Silverstein and Ann Diederich.

As the president of one of two of Guatemala’s High Risk Court Tribunals, Judge Yassmin Barrios has made a career of taking on the most difficult and politically-sensitive cases. Such cases have confronted high-profile corruption, organized crime and drug trafficking, and human rights abuses. Barrios continues her caseload in Guatemala amid continuing threats to her safety.

In March, 2022, Judge Erika Aifan resigned from her position amid threats and pressure related to her work, and fled to the United States. A trial judge working in the High-Risk Criminal Court of Guatemala with responsibility for high-impact crimes, Aifan had presided over high-profile corruption and war atrocity cases, leading to defamation and threats of violence against her.

In recent years, more than 20 Guatemalan judges have left the country in the face of unfounded allegations, attacks on judicial independence, harassment and assault. “What is happening in Guatemala now is a well-orchestrated campaign of denunciation of judges who issue decisions that are not popular with the government and its cronies, including much of the media,” said Aifan. Barrios said, “This is one of the most difficult times to deal with the judiciary in Guatemala – democracy is deteriorating.”

In spite of this opposition, Aifan and Barrios are united in a desire to halt the dismantling of the justice system and the exodus of judges in Guatemala. They asked AWIU members to support education, justice and development in their country in any way that they can, and mentioned that the coming AWIU Delegation to Guatemala in October, 2022, was a positive step forward.


Judge Erika Aifan Guatemala

Judge Erika Aifan


Judge Yassmin Barrios Aguilar

Judge Yassmin Barrios Aguilar

2022 AWIU Grants to Non-Profits

Central to AWIU’s mission is our commitment to strengthening the work of women across the world through grants. Early on, AWIU issued grants for individual women to travel to the United States for study. In the past number years, grants have been issued to organizations which enhance the wellbeing of women within a developing country. “We encourage grants for concrete projects, those with a beginning, middle and end, and with specific goals clearly defined,” says Marsha Niazmand, co-chair of the Grants Committee. Stelle Feuers, her co-chair, added, “The grants traditionally serve poorly educated, marginalized women and girls who would benefit from a project designed to meet their needs now and into the future.”

This year’s 14 grants were approved by the AWIU Board of Directors in May, 2022, drawing from a budget of $30,000. Of the group, six are returning organizations that have received previous grants from AWIU. Africa is home to 12 of these organizations. Two other grants were awarded to organizations in the Caribbean and India. Four of the grants were issued to organizations in countries that have not previously received an AWIU grant:  Burundi, Guinea, Haiti and Sierra Leone.

Thanks to the Grants Committee for their hard work: Janice Colon, Stelle Feuers, Mary Pat Garr, Meg Huebner, Judith Jakaitis, Sharon Kolby, Linda Kukler, Marsha Niazmand, Eunice Reddick, Laura Schuldt


2022 Grant Recipients



Femmes En Action, F.E.A. (or Women in Action)

Hairdressing equipment and related training for unemployed women


Young Dynamic Youths (CYDY)

Maternal and child health education for internally displaced single adolescents and pregnant women


The Prince and Princess Academy

Building materials for three additional elementary school classrooms


Women Force Organization

Sewing machines and training for female bread-winners to embark on fashion careers

Ivory Coast

Ivory Coast Mothers and Children Clinic

Nutritional support for children enrolled at the local village school and the completion of a vaccination room at the health center


Rwanda Children

Nutrition and hygiene training and gardening program for women and children

Sierra Leone

The Needy Today

Computers for an ICT Center where impoverished women and girls learn digital literacy skills


Women Arises Association

Guaranteed clean water via a new water tank for the Bwatale Community Hospital, which serves a six-village community


Divine Action (DARUDEFO)

Training women in the low-cost and environmentally friendly production of smokeless briquettes as an alternative to charcoal and wood fuel



Training, machines and supplies for teen mothers to learn tailoring skills



Training in the use of sewing and other machines to generate income from the fabrication of garments, sanitary pads, and shoes


Alpha Women

Raising pigs for food security

The Caribbean


Second Mile

Pre-natal and maternal care materials, medications, and midwives for delivery and post-delivery care    


HOPE (Human Organization for People’s Enlightenment)

Bamboo handicraft training and tools to help women start a sustainable business

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.”

On Saturday evening, July 9th, Carol Ann Warren hosted a small gathering for AWIU’s Los Angeles chapter at her San Marino home. The featured guest was Ukrainian refugee Alona Tychyna, who spoke about her upbringing in a small Ukrainian town, the war that began in February, 2022, her precarious journey to the United States, her refugee status, her recent activities in the States, and her fears for her friends and relatives who remain in Ukraine and Russia.

Alona shared photos of bombed out buildings in her city of Zhytomyr, including a school, homes, and other civilian structures, and talked about rampant death and destruction everywhere. In March, Alona took refuge in Poland, where an offer of tickets to the U.S. came from a friend of her traveling companion. On March 30th, she was granted official permission to legally enter the United States on a humanitarian parole. Today she lives in the La Jolla neighborhood of San Diego as the guest of a generous couple and their two young sons.


The invasion of Ukraine has produced the largest refugee crisis in Europe since the Second World War. The UN says that, as of July 4th, more than 5.2 million refugees from Ukraine have been recorded across Europe and more than 3.5 million have applied for temporary residence in another country. Ninety percent of them are women and children.


Alona said she began her study of English in the past three months, which surprised everyone, as her English was excellent. One of the tragedies of the war, she said, was that “we are estranged from our friends and relatives in Russia, and expect never to see them again.” “Even the Russian language is a problem,” she said, explaining that schisms had developed between Russian and Ukrainian speakers, although many Ukrainians, especially in the cities, speak Russian.


Guests included L.A. Chapter members Kathy Bayle, Julie Barbour, Holly Clearman, Wendy Taylor Greenleaf, Wendy Gute, Meg Huebner and guest Nancy Rupp Kleinman, Jane Laudeman, Khin Lwin, Mitch Maddux, Julie Pantiskas, Laura Pollard, Gerie Rhosen and Clarissa Ru.


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.



Pooja Chandra Pama, ACE Health Foundation’s President and Founder, is an entrepreneur, humanitarian and an active AWIU member. Through her organization, she partners with the Academy of Women Entrepreneurs program (AWE), the U.S Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, by funding programming and seeding AWE graduates’ entrepreneurial projects. ACE Health Foundation is committed to creating and implementing educational and practical opportunities for women globally.


AWE, U.S. Mission Uganda and ACE Health Foundation participated in the virtual graduation of their 2022 cohort, and proudly celebrated and honored the accomplished group consisting of almost 300 Ugandan women entrepreneurs, through the business program provided by Arizona State University’s Thunderbird School of Global Management.


On behalf of Pooja Chandra Pama, ACE Health Foundation’s ambassador-at-large, the Hon. Tatiana Gfoeller, graciously shared with the graduating cohort her global wisdom and provided a motivating message drawn from her wealth of experience in diplomacy.  Gfoeller said “I couldn’t talk about creating businesses…for 33 years I ran embassies, but I didn’t own them”. A veteran U.S. diplomat, Gfoeller’s impressive resume includes the recent past presidency of AWIU and membership on the Council on Foreign Relations. She is the author of a new book, Simple Love.


An acclaimed storyteller, Gfoeller tailored her comments to suit her background, emphasizing the importance of leadership in the world of diplomacy and what it takes to be a strong leader. She highlighted the stark societal norms around male and female leadership: “A man, for example, raises his voice, shouts and gets angry. That’s fine. He’s being a leader. A woman raises her voice and shouts, she’s labeled hysterical.”


The diplomat discussed her career and various postings, ranging from Warsaw, Poland to Saudi Arabia. Her speech was peppered with anecdotes, such as her designation while in Saudi Arabia, during the month of Ramadan, as an “honorary man,” a role driven by her need to balance an observance of faith and her diplomatic mission.


“Now, when it comes to starting, developing and scaling businesses, they’re going to have to invite Pooja back to speak,” said Gfoeller. “However, I do think it’s good for the entrepreneurs to learn about the world of diplomacy and the leadership qualities and strategies called upon in professional sectors that aren’t mentioned in their curricula.”


Pama said she is immensely appreciative that her friend and colleague was willing “to take an enormous leap to participate in this event. I’m fortunate to know some of the finest diplomats in the world, thanks to living in D.C. and my membership in AWIU. I can’t thank her enough.”


By Sophie McNally, AWIU Passport to the Future