Two Africans Among 2018 International Women of Courage Award Recipients



Office of Global Women’s Issues
Department of State

Washington, DC

On March 23, Acting Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs & Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert hosted the annual International Women of Courage (IWOC) Awards at the U.S. Department of State to honor 10 extraordinary women from around the world. First Lady of the United States Melania Trump delivered special remarks at the ceremony.

Now in its 12th year, the Secretary of State’s IWOC Award recognizes women 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. Since the inception of this award in 2007, the State Department has recognized more than 120 women from more than 65 different countries. U.S. diplomatic missions overseas nominate one woman of courage from their respective host countries. The finalists are selected and approved by senior Department officials.

The bios of the 2018 awardees are located here and names listed below:

Roya Sadat of Afghanistan

Aura Elena Farfan of Guatemala

Dr. Julissa Villanueva of Honduras

Aliyah Khalaf Saleh of Iraq

Sister Maria Elena Berini of Italy (nominated by the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See)

Aiman Umarova of Kazakhstan

Dr. Feride Rushiti of Kosovo

L’Malouma Said of Mauritania

Godelive Mukasarasi of Rwanda

Sirikan Charoensiri of Thailand

Following the official award ceremony and meetings in Washington, D.C., the IWOC honorees will travel individually to Austin, Cleveland, Dallas, Pensacola, Phoenix, Raleigh, Salt Lake City, or San Antonio on the International Visitor Leadership Program. American organizations and businesses will host the IWOC awardees and collaborate with them on strategies and ideas to empower women both in the United States and abroad. The awardees will reconvene in Los Angeles for a closing ceremony before returning to their home countries.

Use #WomenOfCourage for news and updates on this year’s award. For press inquiries, contact


L’Malouma Said was born into slavery in 1972 in the far south-eastern town of Boutilmitt in Mauritania. When she was seventeen years old, she was a leading activist at her school for the emancipation of Haratines. Before becoming one of only four Haratine women elected as deputy (Member of Parliament) to the Mauritanian National Assembly in 2006 and again in 2013, she was the president of a cooperative of women traders. She was also officer in charge of women within the El Hor movement (Movement for the liberation of Haratines in Mauritania) as well as a founding member of the Mauritanian anti-slavery organization S.O.S. Esclaves, currently led by her husband Boubacar Messaoud. Said is well known for speaking out on human rights issues and her powerful national and international advocacy for the improvement of prisons in Mauritania. She believes Mauritania’s prisoners suffer from a lack of social and educational opportunities, as well as poor safety and health conditions, leading to escape attempts and the spread of diseases among the prison population. Said has a long history of defending human rights and equality, as well as the fight against all forms of discrimination in Mauritania. She is a vocal leader on these issues within the Mauritanian Parliament. She has proven herself to be a courageous woman with a history of commitment, determination, and perseverance in defending human rights issues during her two terms in the parliament.


Godelieve Mukasarasi dedicated her life after the 1994 Rwandan Genocide to fighting for a culture of peace and non-violence in Rwanda, as well as promoting the rights of women and girls affected by sexual violence in conflict zones worldwide. Founder and Coordinator of the organization Solidarité pour l’Épanouissement des Veuves et des Orphelins visant le Travail et l’Auto promotion/Solidarity for the Development of Widows and Orphans to Promote Self-Sufficiency and Livelihoods (SEVOTA), Mukasarasi works with communities across Rwanda to reset human, social, and economic relations destroyed during the Genocide. In 1996, she was approached by the United Nations team putting together the case against former Mayor of Taba Jean-Paul Akayesu for his role in the Genocide. Overcoming intimidation by community members and the murder of her daughter and husband, likely for her decision to testify at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, she mobilized four members of SEVOTA to testify against Akayesu. Although rape has been considered an international war crime since 1919, it had never been prosecuted as a war crime until the conviction of Akayesu. These women’s actions, through Mukasarasi’s leadership, changed the world of criminal justice forever, giving women who were sexually assaulted in conflicts a voice and access to justice. Since 1994, SEVOTA has reached over 300 genocide rape victims and helped them to reintegrate socially and economically into their communities. They have organized more than 1,300 households to participate in micro-savings clubs and 2,000 youth and children in peace and development clubs. Mukasarasi is truly a woman of courage, and has been an important figure in the peace and reconciliation of Rwanda and the protection of women and children across the globe. Mukasarasi received the John Humphrey Freedom Award by Law & Democracy (2004); the Outstanding Achievement Award for Rural Women’s Creativity Award from the World Women’s Summit Foundation in Geneva (1996); and, SEVOTA was honored with the Award for Human Rights for its contribution to the promotion of the rights of vulnerable women by Human Right International (2011).

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