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Courage Personified: Lessons from the 2024 International Women of Courage Awardees
Dr. Geeta Rao Gupta, U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues
America's Top Nazi-Hunter Speaks on Law of Deterrence
Sierra Jones, Student, Arizona State University
The Present is Female
Cathleen Jeanty, Innovation Fellow, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees
Winner, Student/Young Professional Member Essay Contest, International Women's Day 2024
The Human Touch in Mentoring Beats an AI Robot Every Time
Jan Hartman, Retired U.S. Foreign Service Officer, U.S. Department of State
Winner, Individual Member Essay Contest, International Women's Day 2024
Shaping Tomorrow’s World with Feminist Foreign Policy
Riley Sullivan, Student, George Washington University

As I look back at my first Women’s History Month in my role as Ambassador-at-Large, with all the events, the bilateral and multilateral meetings that typically characterize the month of March, my interactions with our incredible International Women of Courage will stay with me forever.  

For the past 18 years, the U.S. Department of State has bestowed the prestigious International Women of Courage Award on women from around the world who have shown exceptional courage, strength, and leadership in taking action to improve their communities, and to defend and advocate for the dignity and rights of others. I have long attended the ceremony as a member of the audience, but this time I had the opportunity to spend almost a full week with our amazing 2024 awardees as they participated in the International Visitor Leadership Program in Washington D.C.  It was the opportunity of a lifetime, a privilege that comes with this job, a learning opportunity for which I am ever grateful.    

You can read all about their stories in their bios: Ajna Jusic of Bosnia and Herzegovina, who stepped forward from the shadows of social stigma to reclaim her identity, publicize herself as a child born of sexual violence, and become a leading advocate for other stigmatized children of war.  Rina Gonoi of Japan, a survivor of violence and sexual harassment during her time in the Japanese Self Defense Force, whose decision to speak out resulted in important reforms and sparked a national conversation about accountability. Benafsha Yaqoobi of Afghanistan, a former Commissioner for the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, who in exile remains a tireless advocate for Afghans with disabilities.  To read their stories, though, is not the same as to hear from them directly.  We talked, in particular, about courage:  what it is, what drives it, and what can sustain it in the face of almost unimaginable danger and cruelty.   

Here is what I learned. 

Courage is not the absence of fear.  Our International Women of Courage, and far too many women and girls around the world, know fear all too well.  Far too many live in conflict, displacement, or under the thumb of an autocrat. Far too many are suffering gender-based violence, threats and harassment, whether in times of war or in times of peace, whether in our homes, online, or on the street. The physical absence from the White House ceremony of one 2024 awardee, Martha Beatriz Roque, reflects the danger such courageous women endure, as the Cuban government restricted her movement and prohibited her from traveling abroad as a result of her human rights advocacy. 

Courage is not always a matter of choice. Often, it is thrust upon us, as an overwhelming need to do something about a grave injustice. For some of our International Women of Courage, it was driven by anger. Growing up in Iran’s Baluchistan province, 2024 awardee Fariba Balouch, a member of Iran’s marginalized Baluchi group, saw her community suffer violence, imprisonment, executions, and systemic discrimination at the hands of the Iranian regime; it was their suffering, the relentless undermining of their human rights that led to her activism, giving voice to the millions of women in Iran who continue to struggle for their basic freedoms, even as Fariba and her family have suffered. 

Courage is not an infinite resource; the challenges are great and are only growing. All of these women spoke about the toll their work has taken on their families, their health, their lives. Outrage at injustice may light the match, but every single one of our women talked about needing the fuel to keep that match lit. This was part of why the program was so moving: I could see in real time the energy and resilience that comes with knowing that they were a part of a community that supported them – that despite all the detractors and nay-sayers they were among a special cohort who will stand with them long after they return home. 

Courage, ultimately, is an act of love. Love for one’s family, one’s community, one’s country, and most importantly, of freedom.  It’s love for her country and what she believes it should stand for that motivates Fawzia Karim Firoze, a Bangladeshi Supreme Court lawyer, every time she represents domestic workers without any other recourse to justice.  It’s the same for Agather Atuhaire of Uganda, who uses her status as a journalist to speak out about the bravery of human rights defenders in her community and the cowardly acts of those who choose to silence them. It is the love that Fatou Baldeh, an advocate against Female Genital Mutilation in the Gambia, has not just for her young niece but for all of the young Gambian girls as she continues to speak out passionately against not just the abhorrent practice, but recent moves to overturn a ban against it.  It is love and a need to see freedom for all of her fellow citizens that drives Volha Harbunova, a Belarusian human rights defender, who has faced imprisonment and torture at the hands of the Lukashenka regime for her tireless advocacy for the rights of women, LGBTIQ+ communities and other marginalized groups.  

As Volha put it, “Courage is when you care.”  

I know that my own role is to continue to ensure that these women never feel alone in their work. Our job is to always find the courage to care. 

Dr. Geeta Rao Gupta is the U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues.


Traditionally, it is difficult to prove the extent to which law enforcement, practiced humanely and with proper respect for human rights, yields deterrence. Former Director of the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Special Investigations Eli Rosenbaum recognizes this challenge, but his insights also underscore the importance of relentlessly pursuing justice in the hopes of possibly deterring future atrocities. Rosenbaum further stresses the current, uniquely urgent need for deterrence in international law with regard to the ongoing war crimes being committed in Ukraine, noting “those happening even as I speak”. 

Eli Rosenbaum addressed this challenging pursuit of deterrence during a discussion hosted by The Leadership, Democracy, and National Security Lab at Arizona State University on Thursday, February 8th, in Washington D.C. This event sparked a dialogue about Rosenbaum's extensive career, including his contributions to the investigation of war crimes in Ukraine, his analysis of lawfare’s strategic importance in safeguarding U.S. national security, and prevention of ongoing international crimes. Rosenbaum, who recently retired, previously held significant roles such as Counselor for War Crimes Accountability and Director of Human Rights Enforcement Strategy and Policy in the Human Rights & Special Prosecutions Division. In these capacities, Rosenbaum prosecuted cases involving World War II Nazis, facilitated the extradition of individuals for trial, and handled cases related to genocide in Rwanda, mass atrocities in 1980s Guatemala, and various other significant matters.

Rosenbaum's expertise shed light on the specific challenges of prosecuting individuals involved in Nazi atrocities. He shared insights from cases he personally handled, such as that of John Demjanjuk, a Sobibor death camp guard. Despite legal victories, logistical hurdles often posed formidable obstacles, such as finding countries willing to accept deportees. His reflections also touched upon the historical failures of trials aimed at deterrence like those in Nuremberg and Tokyo. He emphasized how Cold War dynamics hampered their efficacy, highlighting limitations in international justice systems. Drawing from his experiences, he pointed out the shortcomings of the International Criminal Court (ICC), particularly in holding powerful nations accountable. These discussions underscored the critical need for innovative approaches to deterrence and accountability.

The urgency of effective deterrence mechanisms was addressed in discussions surrounding ongoing conflicts, including war crimes in Ukraine and the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Rosenbaum stressed the importance of bolstering international cooperation and resources for prosecution to address these pressing issues. Moreover, he highlighted the need to address existing legal gaps and explore avenues for future accountability. Within the next few years Rosenbaum hopes to see further research and detailed publications conducted on the potential legal reckoning in post-Putin Russia, examining parallels with post-Hitler Germany, where prosecutions persist decades after the fall of the regime. Rosenbaum pointed out that Russian officials and military personnel had committed appaling violations of both international criminal law and Russia's domestic legal framework. In light of their actions, which resulted in the loss of countless lives and the waste of national resources, an increasingly informed Russian population may ultimately seek accountability from them as dissatisfaction with ongoing conflicts persists, despite state propaganda and suppression. Rosenbaum highlighted the importance of legal experts in developing solutions that could be swiftly implemented in Russia when circumstances allow, suggesting a pathway towards accountability and justice in the post-Putin era.

Rosenbaum's discussion illuminated the challenges and critical importance of pursuing justice to deter future atrocities. His insights showcase the ongoing struggle to uphold human rights and the rule of law in our complex global landscape. As we reflect on his words, we're reminded of the imperative for continued efforts to hold perpetrators accountable, both domestically and internationally. Rosenbaum remains hopeful for a future where justice prevails and urges us all to actively contribute to this noble endeavor. You can watch a recording of the event by clicking this link:America's Top Nazi-Hunter Speaks on Law as Deterrence. 

Sierra Jones is a student at Arizona State University and a programs intern at WFPG.


Ninety-nine years ago, The Foreign Service was created. As The Foreign Service comes upon its one-hundredth birthday, still less than half of the Foreign Service is female. And as the ranks get higher, those numbers get smaller.

For centuries, women have played a seminal role in advocating for a better world: standing on the frontlines of movements for nuclear disarmament, abolition, anti-war policies, voting equality, and human rights. Women have been engaging in ‘everyday diplomacy,’ long before the phrase became a tenant of our international lexicon. The soft skills - the ability to listen, think critically, look through a different lens, and facilitate cooperation - are foundational skills to hone in a world that is becoming more diverse by the day. And women have these skills in droves. 

Women - as a whole - tend to be less isolationist: both politically and professionally. And, in our increasingly globalized world, collaborative approaches are key. 

Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright once noted that ​​“as a diplomat, you have to be able to put yourself into the other person's shoes. Unless you can understand what is motivating them, you are never going to be able to figure out how to solve a particular problem.”Considering the world is grappling with what is the highest number of violent conflicts since World War II, it is obvious that the current hyper-militaristic, conflict-heavy foreign policy approaches aren't working. 

The Council on Foreign Relations found that the presence of women in positions of leadership can greatly reduce the likelihood of violent conflict emerging and bolster the prospects for the peaceful resolution of existing conflicts. Nevertheless, women are still often left out of many pivotal negotiation and decision-making processes. At last year’s COP28, only 15 of the 133 world leaders in attendance were women. In other powerful rooms, there are no women at all. 

It’s time for more representation in the field of diplomacy. However, that representation will only come when more pathways and pipelines are built for women to enter, stay in, and advance in the field of diplomacy. Once more efforts are made to dismantle systemic barriers, address implicit gender biases that are foundational in the field, create more gender-inclusive policies, and increase representation, we will see more women in diplomacy. 

I envision a world with more high-ranking female diplomats. More female cabinet members. More female heads of state. The first female Secretary-General of The United Nations. And more countries united - not by conflict and mutual enemies - but instead by mutual understanding. 

I believe diplomacy and leadership are no longer about speaking softly and carrying a big stick but instead speaking in a language that allows everyone - regardless of race, class, gender, and creed - to hear you. And breaking your biggest stick into pieces egalitarian enough that everyone has a share.  

Cathleen Jeanty is an Innovation Fellow at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. This piece was selected as the winner of WFPG’s Student/Young Professional member essay contest for International Women’s Day 2024.

There are many ways to prepare new students at a college or new young professionals just starting their careers and all the permutations of novices launching themselves in whatever sector or joining a new group. But in my experience by far the most effective way to onboard new people in whatever world or sector is mentoring. One can read all the books and articles, or watch videos or podcasts, or listen to briefings as preparation for starting a new path. But nothing is as powerful as having a fellow human being who has been down that same path before you to mentor you so you will get the most out of this new experience, and likewise the world you are entering will also benefit from a new member who will feel at home.

Mentorship adds the much-needed human touch in today's harsh world, where a relationship grows over time, as the newbie learns from the veteran, can ask any question without shame or fear, take on advice not once but over a period of adjustment and becoming part of the fabric of the new organization. This enriches not only the new member's experience, but also benefits the organization offering mentorship programs because the new members will undoubtedly feel more at home than joining without mentorship, and will, therefore, not only benefit themselves, but it is more likely that the new member will want to engage and give back to the new organization or group because they feel they are now part of the whole.

Beyond just going over how the new organization works, and looking at the governance and where the new member might want to get involved, mentors can also greatly help newbies by introducing them to other members who have been around for a while, and helping to ensure that the new people are not sitting alone at a luncheon or standing by themselves at a cocktail or sitting alone at an event. Expanding the circle of friends beyond just mentor and mentee is truly a gift that is not possible without the human touch of a mentor.

Mentorship makes all the difference in how new members feel about joining a new organization and affects the level of their involvement as well, plus their own enjoyment of being a part of a new group and wanting to contribute to fulfilling its goals.

Jan Hartman is a retired U.S. Foreign Service Officer. This piece was selected as the winner of WFPG’s Individual member essay contest for International Women’s Day 2024.

When Ambassador of the Kingdom of the Netherlands to the United States, Birgitta Tazelaar, once addressed a room of United States security officials, she asked who identified as a feminist. She estimated that about 20% of the room raised their hands. However, when Ambassador Tazelaar then asked who in the room believed in gender equality, every hand in the room went up. Unlike the United States, the Netherlands is one of just fifteen countries that have implemented policies officially dubbed as “feminist foreign policy.” These American officials’ lack of conviction for the term “feminism,” defined as the concept of equality for men and women, was a far cry from the Dutch government’s perception of feminism.

The Ambassador shared this paradoxical anecdote on February 7, 2024, at the Women's Foreign Policy Group event Shaping Tomorrow’s World with Feminist Foreign Policy, held at the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands and co-organized by Meridian International Center and the Embassy of the Netherlands. Ambassador Tazelaar joined Susan Markham, Director of the Halifax International Security Forum, and Stephenie Foster, Founding Partner at Smash Strategies, in a discussion moderated by Christina Lu, Staff Writer at Foreign Policy. The panelists discussed feminist foreign policy in depth, from its foundational framework to its successes and its challenges in front of dozens of interested audience members.

The term “feminist foreign policy” was first coined in 2014 by Swedish foreign minister Margot Wallstrom and is broadly defined as the consideration of a gendered lens in foreign policy formation. Feminism in foreign policy measures, however, often includes elevating women’s voices in peacebuilding processes, targeting issues that disproportionately impact women, and incorporating input from women’s civil society organizations. Markham and Foster, co-authors of their new book Feminist Foreign Policy in Theory and in Practice, posited that feminist foreign policy has no standardized format for all countries. In their book, they break down the core components shared by effective feminist foreign policy and the variation in feminist foreign policy efforts from state to state. They provide examples of the differences in feminist foreign policy initiatives in different nations, like the emphasis on pacifism in Colombia and the Canadian processes that integrate gender-based analyses into all policy areas.

Markham and Foster compared countries like the Netherlands, Colombia, and Canada with the United States. While the U.S. does have specialized areas within existing foreign policy mechanisms to address gender issues, such as the Office of Global Women’s Issues in the Department of State and the White House Gender Policy Council, officials are hesitant to use the term “feminist” in their policy. Furthermore, the isolation of gender issues to specific bodies rather than the integration of gendered perspectives throughout all policy areas leaves these issues underfunded and inconsistently implemented in practice. Beyond that, what policy there is frequently implies that women are monolithic and neglects the versatile roles women play in security issues. Markham illustrated this by noting that women are often treated as victims of violent extremism in policy when, in actuality, they can also be perpetrators in some situations.

Beyond the practical inefficiencies of the U.S.’s incorporation of gender in foreign policy, Ambassador Tazelaar posited that the lack of the “feminist” label on foreign policy initiatives disadvantages the broader movement toward gender equality. To some, the term “feminism” itself carries a negative undertone that makes anything associated with it, positive or negative, unpalatable. Without the more “radical” term attached to policy, the Ambassador believes that opportunities to push for more unprecedented progress toward gender equality are squandered. As just the second woman to ever hold her job title, the Ambassador strongly supports gender equality in leadership positions, as does the Dutch government at large. The Netherlands has set goals of having women hold at least half of all ambassadorships and consulate positions by the year 2028 and has instated a mentorship program for women diplomats.

Despite progress, the future of feminist foreign policy is volatile. All of the panelists were skeptical of the average person, Dutch or American, knowing what feminist foreign policy is, let alone vocalizing their support for it. Moreover, in a constantly shifting political climate, feminist foreign policy is not a guarantee between elections and administrations. Even Sweden, the first state to establish a feminist foreign policy agenda, has rolled back this decision due to the “divisive” nature of feminism. To keep progressing toward feminist foreign policy goals, Ambassador Tazelaar emphasized the need for hard data to back up the benefits of utilizing feminist foreign policy in areas like national security, international development, and economic growth. Foster also stressed the importance of gendered policy analyses to avoid critical gaps in policy as a whole.

Ultimately, though, the de-stigmatization of feminism as a theory would solidify a strong future for feminist foreign policy. Only once every hand in a room of security experts and average citizens alike confidently raises in support of feminism can gender equality in foreign policy be realized.

Riley Sullivan is a student at George Washington University and a programs intern at WFPG.