These Women Are Working for #JusticeForAll (Literally, It’s Their Jobs)

By Ambassador Luis Arreaga and Ambassador Cathy Russell

Five years ago this week, President Obama released the first U.S. National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security.

It was one of many milestones marked by the United States in an effort to champion the rights and roles of women globally. And it underscored the lessons we’ve learned about women and U.S. foreign policy.

We’ve seen time and again that the women, peace, and security agenda is simply common sense. It’s important to U.S. national security, and it’s important to who we are as a country and what we stand for around the world.

For more than two decades, the pillars of women, peace, and security issues have been a part of our global work, from defense, to development, to diplomacy. We’ve seen that women and girls need to be protected from violence. They need to be able to participate in all aspects of society. And they are critical to preventing conflict from happening in the first place.

The National Action Plan made this understanding an official part of U.S. foreign policy. As part of this policy, the United States has trained men and women to better respond to gender-based violence, pushed for more women to be at the table when peace is negotiated, and invested in the next generation by focusing on adolescent girls’ education and empowerment.

Our ultimate goal is for women to be a part of police forces, Parliaments, peace negotiations, and peacekeeping missions. When they are, society is better for it.

That’s a story the United States wants to tell, which is why the State Department has launched #JusticeForAll.

Over the next week, we will highlight a few of the many women the State Department supports around the world, and showcase how they contribute to peace and security in their communities.

Many of the women we profile are on the front lines of change. They are pioneers, going where no woman in their community has gone before. Others are simply doing their jobs. But all of them are making critical contributions to their communities. Here are their stories.

“In the Dominican Republic the primary cause of violent death for women is feminicide. Our country still has a macho culture and my professional career has not escaped that reality: being a woman has subjected me to questioning about my personal life, which usually the Dominican society does not impose on male prosecutors.

But rather than being a hurdle, this has strengthened me and made me more committed to fighting for a more just society where gender equity will no longer be a utopia.”

- Yeni Berenice Reynoso Gomez, National District Prosecutor, Dominican Republic

Florie Hajra, Forensic Investigations Directorate, Kosovo

“I [have been] a member of Kosovo Police since 1999 when the organization was established, just after the war was ended in Kosovo. I first started working as a patrolling officer, moving on through other police units as a crime investigation officer, community policing officer and forensic crime scene officer.

Being a woman police officer in many cases helped me to be closer to citizens and to get more information. Especially while I was working as a community policing officer, the contact I had with ordinary citizens, representatives of local committees and with school officials made a lot of women and young girls feel more comfortable [and] approach me to discuss, report, or raise problems they face.

There are little things that make the difference. My little thing is hard work and dedication.

There is no alternative to long term commitment to the path to peace, security, development and prosperity. The role of my job as Kosovo Police officer is very crucial in promoting justice, peace and security. As member of Kosovo Police I consider that we have to be very professional in our duty, to be committed to serve to our citizens by protecting their lives and property, to prevent and fight the criminal threats and criminal acts, by respecting and protecting the rights guaranteed to each citizen by the constitution and by treating all citizens equal and fair.”

- Florie Hajra, Forensic Investigations Directorate, Kosovo

Nadine Sayiba, Lawyer, Democratic Republic of Congo

“As a lawyer, my job means that I deal with people in the judicial system on a daily basis. Our work begins in the legal clinic. I meet with victims and help them get oriented by providing legal advice. If a victim agrees, we will help him or her write and file their plea with the police or the prosecutor’s office before sending the case to the courts. We then immediately begin considering possible outcomes based on the given situation.

[Being] a woman is an advantage. If both a man and a woman are to take part in an activity with victims of sexual violence or children, I am the one who takes the lead with the women to convince a judge of their vulnerability.

I always have the impression that I am a human being and that the fact of being a woman need not rule my professional life. It used to be, however, that I found some male lawyers or judges and civil or military officials had a tendency to want to discriminate against me or minimize my capacities and role. I learned to see this and it moved me to buck up professionally and learn from the best in the field.

Thus, after some of my pleadings in court, some have tagged me with nicknames such as “Iron Woman”, or “Mrs. Thatcher” or “The Grand Lady” because I have proven my worth in my profession. I have raised myself to the level of the men and have never had anyone but men as adversaries in court proceedings.

My parents served as role models. I considered my mother a truly upstanding woman. Although she was not a lawyer, she was able to reconcile her role as mother for me, her daughter, as a wife for her husband, and as a woman to promote progress in her professional environment. She always said to me, “Daughter, even if you are not paid, you will be rewarded: the work you do for victims and potential victims is God’s work.”

My father was irreproachably honest and, in this country where people no longer trust the judicial system, always told me to become a lawyer rather than a judge, so that I could at least bring about some measure of change.

Others whose values motivated me to accept my calling even further are still with us: Charles Guy Makongo, whose vision of the rule of law is always at the ready, encourages me to continue fighting the good fight.

I tip my hat to women who are raped, beaten, and discriminated against, and who by reporting such crimes stand as exemplary models of conviction, courage and determination. The role they have given me adds conviction to a common vision, one that seeks peace, security and justice.

Likewise, to those outstanding women and men who have been able to remain fair-minded and just in their fight for justice, peace and security. They are my role models: Margaret Thatcher, Santa Teresa of Calcutta, Martin Luther King Jr., Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela are people to be emulated.”

- Nadine Sayiba, Lawyer, Democratic Republic of Congo

Shahla Qureshi, Superintendent of Police, Sindh Police, Karachi, Pakistan

“In Karachi, the prevailing lawlessness here creates many desperate situations for police officers. Despite all the negatives, I love to work out in the population. I feel empathy for victims of domestic violence and desire to abolish anti-women practices from our society. This is my driving passion that motivates me to take every day as a new and vital challenge in my attempt to address the grievances of a huge metropolis.

My mother is my role model. She has always worked for the good of others. In policing, her spirit [resonates with] me. I find happiness in helping others, just like my mother!

There is a dire need for women in policing in Pakistan. Less than one percent of our law enforcers are female. I have tremendous pride knowing that I am the first female police commander in the history of Karachi.

Female victims have a distinct level of comfort discussing female issues such as rape, sexual assaults, or domestic violence with me. I have helped establish a lady complaints desk in my area to assist these victims in receiving proper police assistance.

I also volunteer as an active member outside my work in several non-governmental organizations such as the Child Protection Bureau, and the War against Rape. Victims who would or could never approach the police based on the existing police culture can receive indirect police help via these important NGOs. It helps to make this approach to victims at the informal grass root level.”

- Shahla Qureshi, Superintendent of Police, Sindh Police, Karachi, Pakistan

Teresa Escobar Benitez, National Civil Police of Guatemala, Head of the Office of Victim Assistance

“I am a career officer in the National Civil Police of Guatemala, Head of the Office of Victim Assistance, whose mission is to promote and provide care, counseling, and support to victims of violent crime.

Violence against women is a clear violation of human rights, which means that the eradication of these crimes is an indispensable condition for their social and individual development and their full and equal participation in all spheres of life.

I have always considered that justice must prevail for peace, security, and harmony among human beings. For this reason, it is necessary to promote the law and disseminate the law in its full force. A culture of impunity creates discontent, mistrust, and promotes resentment that leads to conflict and insecurity. These conditions hinder the attainment of long awaited peace for the people of Guatemala. It has halted economic development, security, and the cooperation and advancement of common goals between men and women.”

- Teresa Escobar Benitez, National Civil Police of Guatemala, Head of the Office of Victim Assistance

Slobodanka Ristic, Commander, Crowd Control Division, Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina

“I am Commander of the first platoon within Crowd Control Division and drill commander for new police cadets at the Police Academy in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Even though I consider myself as a highly professional police officer, while I was working as an investigator in Counter Narcotics Department, I seemed best suited for undercover operations: since I appear fragile, criminals were not expecting me to be in any way associated with the law enforcement.

There are several people that I consider my role models, but [one female colleague in particular] showed to me that honesty, professionalism, and hard work are the values that I strive to achieve and live by in my work and my life.

And even though sometimes it feels difficult to be a young female police officer, especially the one leading the Crowd Control Platoon, I am grateful to know that the values I uphold will be recognized, because the very role model I mentioned is a true example of all those virtues.

When you have a citizen trusting the uniform you wear, security is never an issue. And being a drill commander, my contribution is to embed my values within this new generation of police cadets. I believe that if they have good role models, they will become good police officers that will serve and protect our community. And when citizens are feeling safe and secure, then we know that we are successful in our job.”

- Slobodanka Ristic, Commander, Crowd Control Division, Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Arsla Salim, Assistant Superintendent of Police, Islamabad, Pakistan

“I currently command two large police stations for the Islamabad Police. My primary function is to monitor investigations and ensure proper evidence collection.

When I wear the uniform I feel like I am a guardian of the public. I promote justice when I properly monitor investigations and ensure that citizens are protected.

When I conduct inquiries, I am again ensuring that justice is at work, as there is a lot of sectarianism in my Pakistan. I treat all faiths with equal respect. I myself do patrolling and strict monitoring of the personnel deployed in my area. I motivate, guide, and direct my staff for the common good.”

- Arsla Salim, Assistant Superintendent of Police, Islamabad, Pakistan

Zeinabou Mint Taleb Moussa

In many parts of the world, survivors of sexual violence struggle to access justice.

This is why Zeinabou Mint Taleb Moussa quit her job as a midwife in Mauritania, a country of some 3.6 million people on the western edge of sub-Saharan Africa. She wanted to break the silence around sexual violence and see justice served for survivors.

“Although most of the sexual offenders are sent to prison, the majority of them eventually obtain provisional release,” she says.

The victims of sexual violence are accused of “Zina,” unlawful sexual relations outside marriage. Moussa and her NGO have been denounced the “impunity” of sexual predators while criticizing government for their “deaf ear” on issues of sexual violence against women in Mauritania.

Beyond calling attention to the issue, Moussa also trains members of Mauritania’s justice sector to take action. The NGO she leads has hosted workshops for physicians, judges, lawyers, and police officers that focus on prevention and combatting sexual violence throughout Mauritania.