Woman of Courage Award

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Please note, only members of UNANIMA congregations may nominate women for our Woman of Courage Award. 

Woman of Courage Award 2016

Meera Karunananthan


UNANIMA is proud to announ1ce that the recipient of our 2016 Woman of Courage Award is Meera Karunananthan! Meera was born in Sri Lanka and educated in Quebec, Canada, and is truly a global citizen with a global conscience. Fearlessly, she led a two-year global coalition for the human right to water to be named in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development—there was no member state too big or small for her to engage! Her campaign is lauded as one of the strongest rights-based campaigns during the negotiations for a new sustainable development agenda! Meera organizes the Council of Canadians’ public access-to-water campaign, called the Blue Planet Project. She mobilizes public opposition to privatization of water and bulk water exports while organizing grassroots political movements in many countries.

Meera is a young, water justice warrior who has helped people and planet immensely in her advocacy and action. We are inspired by her courage, determination, and leadership. We are confident that the work she put forward on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development will continue to help hundreds of thousands of people around the globe.


Woman of Courage Award 2015

Máxima Acuña de Chaupe

Jan3UNANIMA has become more involved in the issue of mining as it impacts water, the environment, and Indigenous Peoples; and many sisters in our communities already are working with this topic. Last July the Peruvian government approved a law which reduces the importance of environmental standards, in order to attract investment in the extractive industries. The promotion of extractive industries has already led to several cases such as that of Máxima Acuña de Chaupe, a peasant woman farmer who has taken an activist role in defending her life and her water.
She was sued by Yanacocha – a huge gold mining company – for living on the land where they were planning their Conga extraction project, and for her “aggravated usurpation” in activism against the company. Maxima and her family were not only ordered to leave the land, they were also asked to pay Yanacocha a compensation fine of about US $2,000. Men from the mining company and special police forces have beaten her and her husband, threatened her family’s lives, and killed her livestock. Maxima and her daughter Ysidora have testified to officials in Paris, Brussels, and Geneva against the disproportionate struggle in which her basic democratic rights are being trampled. We thank Leonor Valenzula Torres CCV for bringing this remarkable woman to the attention of the nominating committee!

Woman of Courage Award 2014

Rose Mapendo

rose mapendoWhen ethnic violence engulfed the Democratic Republic of the Congo in the late 1990s, Rose Mapendo was imprisoned with her family, after a harrowing nighttime arrest of her entire family. Her husband was executed, and her twin sons were born in prison. She emerged from this experience advocating forgiveness and reconciliation. In a country where ethnic violence has created seemingly irreparable rifts among Tutsis, Hutus, and other Congolese, this remarkable woman is a vital voice in her nation’s search for peace, encouraging world and local leaders to revisit the manner in which they enforce justice. Today, she is a global activist for peace and reconciliation and an in-demand motivational speaker, honored by the White House, and named 2009 Humanitarian of the Year by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. In 2012 she founded the Rose Mapendo Foundation—a nonprofit committed to empowering widows, women, and children around the world. Rose Mapendo’s story has been chronicled in the documentary film “Pushing the Elephant.” Mapendo is a victim no more. She is an incredible survivor, a true hero, and an inspiration to us all.

Woman of Courage Award 2013

Margaret Mary Issaka

margaret mary issaka A Ghanaian from Bolgatanga, the Upper East Region, Margaret Mary Issaka credits her parents  with showing her what courage was—her mother for bravely enduring the scorn of neighbors over her family of seven girls and no boys, and her father for refusing to take another wife in spite of that social “embarrassment.” She had a good education, learning eight languages, receiving an advanced diploma in Education for Primary Health Care from the University of Manchester in Britain, and earning many certificates (including one in radio journalism).

Margaret Mary worked over 30 years as an educator, social researcher, community organizer/developer, communication specialist, and activist. She produced and delivered her own radio programs in nutrition, health, and sanitation, bringing health education and development to poor, non-literate rural populations–always with a focus on empowering women and girls.

As a senior consultant in a management consulting firm, she enabled communities to manage water and sanitation facilities.  Margaret Mary helped equip, enable, and empower women through education and training as Executive Director of the Centre for Sustainable Development Initiatives.

Woman of Courage Award 2012

Nely Rodriguez

NelyAt its fall 2012 meeting, the UNANIMA board chose the recipient of the Fifth Annual Woman of Courage Award. We could not announce this before now because the winner had not officially accepted it! Communication is slow because our winner spends most of her time with the workers in the fields of southern Florida, USA. Nely Rodriguez (left in picture, with interpreter Julia) came to the USA from Mexico as a migrant worker. Her courage and leadership skills soon became evident as she helped organize the workers in fighting a national campaign for better wages and living conditions in the tomato fields of Immokalee, Florida. The workers–predominantly Hispanic, Haitian, and Mayan immigrants–were still doing their back-breaking work for wages unchanged since 1980. Nely was a speaker at our side event during the 56th session of the Commission on the Status of Women, and she impressed everyone with her confidence and conviction.

Check the Coalition of Immokalee Workers at

Woman of Courage Award 2011

Jessica Ernst

Jessica Ernst received the 2011 UNANIMA International Woman of Courage award at the October 2011 opening of its ten-year anniversary celebration.  A biologist and environmental activist, Jessica began her career as a patch-oil consultant. When the natural gas producer EnCana introduced fracking practices in the Calgary region, she was a major voice in exposing its harmful effects in other areas of Alberta, Canada after seeing her own household contaminated with pollutants. At great personal cost, she took the issue publicly, exposing EnCana’s violations in provincial laws to carry out hydraulic fracturing to extract natural gas from the area. In April 2011 she released a statement of claim in a lawsuit Ernst v. EnCana, alleging that EnCana “failed to follow the investigation and enforcement processes that they had established and publicized.”


Woman of Courage Award 2010

Sr. Therese Stritch, RSM

stritchThis year, UNANIMA International was extremely pleased to present its third annual award to a Woman of Courage – one who embodies those qualities which we believe essential for the advancement of women everywhere – solidarity, a passion for human rights, commitment, and courage in the face of power which threatens life. We believe that we have made an excellent choice in St. Therese Stritch.

Born in Ireland, Therese arrived in Kenya in 1973. Learning the Kikuyu language, she helped the local women, many with little formal schooling, to become self-supporting. Later, Therese joined the Express Community to work with women of the Mukuru slums in Nairobi’s industrial area. She started a Skills Training Centre for young girls in a temporary classroom. Soon after, British Airways staff, especially the air hostesses, provided funding for a permanent skills training centre at Bakhita Primary School where the centre still operates. Here, girls from Mukuru and other nearby slums are taught knitting, dressmaking, craft work, hairdressing, and more recently computer applications.

Therese lives as of 2010 in Lokori, in the heart of the South Turkana desert, and continues her work with women and girls along with literacy classes for the shepherd boys in the evenings and separate classes for the local shamba girls.

Woman of Courage Award 2009

Hasina Kharbhih and Sr. Judith Shadap, RNDM

In 2009, our annual Woman of Courage Award went to two women who have shown amazing courage in the struggle against poverty, HIV/AIDS, and human trafficking in Northeast India. Historically isolated by geography and politics and torn by ethnic warfare, Northeast India is a center for human trafficking. Poverty, an effect of armed conflict in the region, has displaced people from their homes. Additionally, it has increased the vulnerability of children and young women to sexual exploitation and HIV/AIDS.

Hasina Kharbhih

Hasina-Kharbhih Hasina Kharbhih, a founder, president, and team leader of the Impulse NGO Network, responded by developing an  expansive tracking system to combat child trafficking. This comprehensive model  successfully brings together the state government, security agencies, legal groups, media, and citizen organizations to combat the cross-border trafficking of children in the region and on the nearby crossings to Bhutan, China, Myanmar, Thailand, and Bangladesh. Her desire to build a world fit for children takes on issues of child trafficking, HIV/AIDS intervention, and livelihood support initiatives for rural Northeast India.

Sr. Judith Shadap, RNDM

Sr.-Judith-ShadapSr. Judith Shadap, RNDM, the founder of Women for Integrated Sustainable Empowerment (WISE), one of the NGOs supported by Impulse, uses the self-help group ideology to promote a transformation process in vocational training for women in difficult situations. Through her work,  Sister Judith aims to alleviate poverty and encourage holistic development of those living in rural areas.


Women of Courage Award 2008

Lydia Cacho Ribeiro

For our first annual Woman of Courage Award, we honored Lydia Cacho Ribeiro, a journalist and women’s rights activist from Mexico. Lydia founded and directs a crisis center and shelter for victims of sex-crimes, gender-based violence, and human trafficking – Centro Integral de Attención a la Mujer (CIAM) – in Cancún, Mexico. As an investigative journalist, she has uncovered the involvement of businessmen, politicians, and drug traffickers in prostitution and child pornography. She has also written to expose the crimes against children in sex tourism in a book entitled Los Demonios del eden: El poder detrás de la pornigrafia infantil (Demons in Eden: the power behind child pornography). The threats and violence in her work have only emboldened her to continue in the face of impunity and corruption, even at high levels. In 1999, she was raped in an attempt to intimidate her. Consequently, she was the first woman to file a federal suit against a governor, a district attorney, and a judge for corruption and attempted rape in prison. She was also the first woman in Mexican history to take a woman’s rights case to the Mexican Supreme Court.