Global Advisory Council

Farida Azizi came to the United States as a refugee in 2000. As a peace activist, Ms. Azizi has worked to promote the human rights of Afghan women through her work within the aid community, and through her advocacy at the international level. While a Program Officer for the Norwegian Church Aid (NCA) Afghanistan Program from 1996-2000, Ms. Azizi implemented capacity-building programs for Afghan women in the peace-building and rehabilitation process for her country. Ms. Azizi was one of the founding members of the Cooperation for Peace and Unity, a network committed to developing peace capacities at the grassroots level. She is also a member of the Afghan Women's Network, based in Peshawar, Pakistan.

Laura Alonso is one of Latin America’s most prominent activists for open, accountable government. Laura began her career in Argentine politics—first for a political party, then for a local public administration. Dismayed to discover the corruption that flourished in Argentina’s government, Laura left her career to promote transparency in her country. Laura began working at Poder Ciudadano (Citizen Power), a government watchdog organization where she currently serves as executive director. Acting in partnership with Transparency International, Laura trains NGOs throughout Latin America and Southeast Asia in how to safely and effectively monitor governments.

Vera Stremkovskaya is a leading human rights attorney in Belarus, currently serving as Founder and Director of the Center for Human Rights, a non-governmental association of lawyers committed to protecting the rights of the people of Belarus. Previously, she served as the principal lawyer for the Belarusian Helsinki Committee and worked as an attorney for the Minsk Bar Association. She is the recipient of the 1999 International Human Rights Award given by the American Bar Association.

Claudia Patricia de Luna Silva Lago is a young attorney known for her trailblazing work in Brazil to promote women's advancement. Ms. Lago participated in the 1999 Vital Voices Political Workshop held in Brazil as a follow up to the Montevideo Vital Voices in Democracy Conference. She is also the president of the Vital Voices Brazil Chapter, Women by Women in Politics (Elas por Elas na Politica), an NGO which grew out of the Montevideo Conference.

Charm Tong is a long time human rights activist who has traveled the world to educate governments, civil society and global citizens regarding the ongoing violence and oppression inflicted upon the people of Burma by its military regime. She is a co-founder of SWAN, the Shan Women’s Action Network, which attracted global attention in 2002 when it released a ground-breaking report, “License to Rape”. Charm helped establish a school for Shan State youth who have fled Burma yet are denied access to refugee camps in Thailand. She has received numerous awards for her activism, including the Reebok Human Rights Award and recognition from Time Magazine and Marie Claire. She has addressed the United Nations several times, and was invited to the White House by President George W. Bush to discuss human rights and the future of Burma.

Nanda Pok is the Executive Director of Women For Prosperity (WFP), and is known in the international community for her efforts to train Cambodian women to succeed both politically and economically. Ms. Pok has taken a courageous stance against the scourge of human trafficking, particularly in Asia, and is working to ensure that her own government and the international community take action as well.

Mu Sochua returned to her native Cambodia in 1991 after 18 years in exile, and has worked tirelessly ever since as one of her country's leading advocate for human rights, working to stop human trafficking, domestic violence and worker exploitation. She joined the newly formed government, eventually becoming the Minister of Veterans and Women's Affairs - and one of only two women serving in the Cabinet. While serving in the government, Mu negotiated two international agreements with neighboring countries to help curtail human trafficking in Southeast Asia and launched a campaign to bring NGOs, law enforcement officials and rural women into a national dialogue and education program to help protect women and girls victimized by trafficking and boost prevention efforts nationwide. She was also a leader in creating awareness throughout Southeast Asia about the vulnerability of refugee populations to exploitation and worked closely with regional border agencies to help monitor and combat the growing problem. Now she has taken her vast experience in anti-human trafficking to work on behalf of NGOs throughout her country, providing a vital link between grassroots and government organizations.

Dr. Yaojie Gao is a retired doctor and has been a leading advocate on behalf of AIDS patients in her country since 1996 when she discovered that thousands of Chinese peasants had sold HIV positive plasma to illegal blood banks during the 1990s, resulting in high rates of infection throughout rural China. In her efforts to treat the sick in her community, Dr. Gao spent thousands of dollars from her own pension to purchase medicines for her patients. In recognition of her extraordinary commitment to those afflicted with HIV/AIDS and for her pioneering advocacy on behalf of AIDS patients, Gao was awarded the Jonathan Mann Award from the Global Health Council in 2001.

Jianmei Guo is the founder of the first legal aid clinic begun in China , The Center for Women's Law Studies and Legal Services of Peking University. The clinic provides legal aid to help ordinary or impoverished women protect their rights, drafts proposed legislation, and publicizes the plight of women abused by husbands, employers, or government. A growing circle of judges and other officials now act as ad hoc advisers to the center, which handles cases in such far-flung areas of China as the northwestern Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, coastal Shanghai and the southern province of Guizhou. The cases handled by the Center reflect many of the major social issues facing women in China today.

Wang Xingjuan established the first women's hot line in China in 1992 to provide assistance for women facing the obstacles of unemployment, divorce and domestic violence. The hotline developed into the Maple Women’s Counseling Center, where Wang currently serves as Director. The center’s programs provide gender-sensitivity training workshops for police, judges, doctors, and the All China Women's Federation to raise their awareness about domestic violence and gender-based violence. Wang has earned international recognition for her role in founding and sustaining of one of the earliest women's NGOs in China.

Xie Lihua is founder of Beijing Cultural Development Center for Rural Women (2001) and currently serves as its Chair of the Board of Directors. She also is Deputy Editor-in-Chief of China Women’s News and Editor-in-Chief of Rural Women magazine that she launched in 1993. Then, Ms. Xie began to spearhead projects to improve the lives of rural women in the countryside as well as those who had moved to urban areas with the Migrant Women’s Club (1996), the Practical Skills Training Center for Rural Women (1998), including projects on women’s literacy, vocational skills building, suicide and domestic violence prevention and women’s political participation in China.

Lucie Pilipova, an ardent advocate for women's full participation in democracy, is a member of the Board of Forum Zen, the coordinating organization for Vital Voices activities in the Czech Republic. A highly successful businesswoman, she is helping women use their economic power to make their voices heard in the political process.

Maria Pacheco is General Manager and Owner of Keij de Los Bosques (Protectors of the Forest), she helps indigenous Guatemalan women create small business enterprises and link them to local and international markets. Ms. Pacheco is also National Program Designer for the Economic Development for Rural Communities (SEGEPLAN), a program that provides 300 rural production groups with the technical assistance required for national and international success. An alumna of Vital Voices’ 2006 FORTUNE–State Department International Leaders Mentoring Partnership and a Fulbright Scholar with a Masters degree in agriculture from Cornell University, Ms. Pacheco also serves as President of the Guatemalan Rural Entrepreneurship Association, Board Member to Rural Development Network in Latin America (RIMISP), and Member to both the Guatemalan Exporters Association (AGEXPRONT) and the Alliance for the New Humanity.

Danielle Saint-Lot has been a leader in both the public and private sectors. Throughout the 1980s, she occupied several important positions in Haiti 's Ministries of Commerce and Industry and Foreign Affairs and External Cooperation. She was an independent candidate for the town of Petion-Ville in the 2000 mayoral elections. In 1990, she began working as an independent consultant for a number of organization- both public and private, national and international. From 1996 to 1999, she was the president of Partners of the Americas Haiti-New Jersey and is currently an advisor to the group.

Judit Wirth is the Chair of Women Together with Women Against Violence (NaNE) and a leading advocate to end violence against women in her country. Through her organization, Judit established the first crisis hotline for women victims of violence. She is also actively lobbying the government for victim's protection and cooperating with government agencies and non-governmental institutions to improve policy. She provides legal assistance to victims and has launched a public education campaign with the help of Soros and the US government to stop domestic violence. Ms. Wirth is also Chair of the Hungarian Women’s Lobby (HWL), an umbrella organization of independent Hungarian women’s NGOs and the Hungarian member organization of the European Women’s Lobby.

Margaret Alva championed four major legislative amendments as a member of the Indian parliament from 1974 to 2004 to strengthen women’s rights in her homeland, including the devolution of more power to local government and the reservation of a third of local council seats for women. Margaret Alva now serves as secretary general of the Indian National Congress and is a close adviser to its president, Sonia Gandhi. She was also Minister of Human Resource Development under the government of Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, where she led the effort to harness and promote the potential of India’s massive population. Throughout her career, she has used her power to lift the lives of those at the grassroots – enabling women’s political leadership to take root, and the world’s largest democracy to flourish.

Jaya Arunachalam is the founder the Working Women's Forum in India and is a pioneer in building leadership skills among thousands of poor working women throughout India . Ms. Arunachalam does not see the WWF as an organization but as a social movement, providing a social platform to poor women workers. Twenty-five years ago, Ms. Arunachalam, then an active Congress party worker, gave up party work to pursue the challenge of providing an alternate development model with human dignity as its main focus. The need then for an alternate development model that was pro-poor, pro-women and anti-caste was urgent as caste and feudal values inhibited the process of development. Using micro-credit assistance as a tool for mobilization of poor women workers, the WWF has economically empowered over 700,000 women members spread over 3,000 villages and 1,600 slums, with multiple field offices. Her work for the past twenty-five years is just beginning to become visible to the eyes of the policy makers as an innovative model for the decentralized development movement. Ms. Arunachalam has played a leading role in the tsunami relief efforts in Southern India .

Anita Gupta is a leading voice in corporate philanthropy. She is currently the Director of Public Affairs for Emerging Markets for Citigroup. Previously, she served as Vice President and Director of Corporate Affairs for Citibank N.S., India . Under her leadership, Citibank's Corporate Affairs has designed and implemented a number of pioneering initiatives for community development, including programs that use micro-credit to help economically deprived women become self-sufficient.

Ruchira Gupta is a journalist from India who has put an international spotlight on the scourge of trafficking through her writing and film work. She directed and produced the award-winning documentary film, "Selling of Innocence," based on her journalistic efforts in Nepal and India . Ms. Gupta has received international acclaim for this film, which has helped to raise awareness about the trafficking of women and girls. Most recently, she worked with the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) as Director of theUNIFEM Media Unit to raise awareness about trafficking and other forms of violence against women. Ms. Gupta is the Founder and President of Apne Aap, a nongovernmental organization in India that works to create international partnerships to defend and ensure women's and children's rights to survival, protection, development, and equal participation.

Rita Chaikin is Project Coordinator for Isha L'Isha—Haifa Feminist Center where she is responsible for the design of pioneering programs that continue to help government, law officials and non-governmental organizations collaborate to identify, assist, and protect victims of human trafficking as well as prosecute traffickers and educate the public.

Maria Grazia Giammarinaro, a native of Palermo , is a prominent judge, expert on trafficking, and the Director of the Office of Legislation of the Italian Ministry of Equal Opportunity. She was instrumental in creating the very successful US - Italy Working Group to Combat Trafficking, and helped create a special residence permit so victims would not be sent back to their countries. She helped create partnerships with NGOs on a number of key issues, including domestic violence, small and women's businesses and trafficking in women and children.

Kakenya Ntaiya grew up in rural south Kenya in the Maasai village of Enoosaen. Impassioned by the importance of education, she successfully convinced her family to delay her circumcision and marriage so that she could complete her high school education. Following her graduation, Kakenya Ntaiya negotiated with the village elders to leave her home in Kenya to receive a college education in the United States. An undergraduate alumna of Randolph-Macon Women’s College and current doctoral student at the University of Pittsburgh, Kakenya has become the first youth adviser to the United Nations Population Fund. Today, she travels around the world as a passionate advocate for girls’ education and is planning to establish a girls boarding school in her home village.

Fatima Hussien Al-Essa Al-Qanaie is a trailblazer in her country as the first woman to call for equal rights of men and women in the media and diplomacy. She was one of the first Kuwaiti women to be educated abroad and the first to work in Kuwait’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. She founded and served as Editor in Chief of a leading magazine dealing with women’s issues in Kuwait, Samra. As a renowned writer and top television and radio host, she has continued to bring marginal issues affecting the lives of women to mainstream audiences.

Ghada Al-Khalaf represents the future generation of Kuwait. She recently graduated from a leading international university with an MBA and was active in the rallies to bring full political rights to women in Kuwait last year. She founded the Youth and Graduate Committee of Kuwait, a non-partisan group that works for greater political awareness and participation among young people.

Lulwa Abdelwhab Eassa Al-Qettami is the mother of the women’s movement in Kuwait. She is the Founder and Chair of the Women’s Social and Cultural Society and served as first female Dean of a Women’s College. A path-breaking leader in Kuwait, she is the first Kuwaiti woman to call for the liberalization of women from wearing the abaya in 1963, the first person to establish a school to eradicate illiteracy in the State of Kuwait, and was chosen as Arab Woman of the Year in 1987 for Social Work and Volunteerism in the Arab World.

Lulwa Al-Mulla is Secretary General of the Women’s Cultural and Social Society, an organization established in 1963 as the first women’s non-governmental organization in the State of Kuwait. As a leading activist, she led the effort to petition the Kuwaiti government to allow women to register to vote. She travels throughout the world building ties and lending support to citizens of conflict regions such as Kosovo and Iraq.

Dr. Lubna Al-Kazi is a powerful voice in Kuwait for women's rights. She was actively involved in the historic passage of the law granting women the right to vote and run for office, an effort that was successful in 2005 after years of work. Dr. Al-Kazi, a professor of Sociology at Kuwait University, has worked with the United Nations, written multiple books and articles, and is active in the Kuwaiti Women's Social and Cultural Society, the premier group in Kuwait at the forefront of women's rights.

Dr. Rola Dashti is a leading activist in Kuwait and throughout the region advocating democratic reform, fighting for gender equity and increasing roles for women in public life. She has recently been listed as one of the fifty most powerful Arabs. She is the elected Chairperson of Kuwait Economic Society, the first woman to chair the society since its establishment in 1970 and has been a successful businesswoman. She was one of the first women to declare her candidacy for the 2007 elections in Kuwait, the first national election in which women will be able to vote and run for elected office.

Hafsat Abiola is a revolutionary human rights and democracy activist. She comes from a family of courageous fighters for freedom and justice, including her parents, M.K.O. and Kudirat Abiola who both died in their struggle for democratic freedom. To continue the legacy of her parents, she founded and directs the Kudirat Initiative for Democracy (KIND), an NGO that seeks to empower democracy and development in Africa by strengthening organizations and creating initiatives that advance women. KIND has promoted women and youths as change-makers by creating community radio stations, skills training opportunities and leadership development programs, training 1000 young women across Nigeria each year. Ms. Abiola is the author of many articles published in national and international media, and co-editor of an international anthology of women that will be published by National Geographic in 2005.

Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is currently Managing Director of the World Bank. She is also MD/CEO of NOI Global, a Financial Advisory and Development Consulting Services Company based in both Nigeria and the United States. Dr. Okonjo-Iweala, served from June to August 2006 as Minister of Foreign Affairs for the Federal Republic of Nigeria and from July 2003 to June 2006 as Minister for Finance of Nigeria. She led the work and the negotiations that resulted in an $18 billion, or 60%, cancellation of Nigeria’s $30 billion Paris Club debt, thereby bringing the country’s external debt burden down from $35 to $5 billion. Dr. Okonjo-Iweala graduated with an A.B. magna cum laude in Economics from Harvard University and holds a Ph.D. in Regional Economics and Development from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Inez McCormack is an influential woman, human rights and labor activist. She founded and currently chairs the Participation and Practice of Rights (PPR) project ( It is developing practices for good governance that have been described by Mary Robinson as 'groundbreaking.'

Inez became active in the Northern Ireland civil rights movement and subsequently as a pioneering labour and equality activist. She was the first woman to be elected President of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions. She led a successful campaign for inclusive equality and human rights provisions in the Good Friday Agreement and has since campaigned for their implementation as key to democratic conflict resolution.

She has received many awards in recognition of her “outstanding contributions to the causes of human freedom and dignity." They include the Vital Voices Global Leadership Award; the Eleanor Roosevelt Award from New York City, and an honorary doctorate from Queen’s University Belfast.

Meryl Streep recently portrayed Inez’s work in a groundbreaking documentary theatre production in New York. Entitled SEVEN, the play was developed several years ago by Vital Voices Global Partnership and captures the important work and remarkable lives of a diverse and courageous group of women leaders around the world.

Mukhtaran Bibi is an advocate for girls’ education and a champion for human rights in Pakistan. In 1992, after Mukhtaran’s 12-year old brother was accused of holding hands with a girl from a higher caste tribe, a village tribunal ordered that she be gang raped. Instead of committing suicide, as shame and tradition compel many such victims to do, Mukhtaran Bibi reported the crime and fought to bring her attackers to justice. Mukhtaran then used the settlement to build two primary schools in her village.

Anel Townsend is a courageous, young congresswoman and one of her country’s leading advocates against corruption. A former journalist, Ms. Townsend felt called to dedicate her life to strengthening democracy through public service, particularly during this time of democratic transition and decentralization in Peru . She has one of the highest approval ratings of any member of congress in her country. She was appointed by the President to serve as Minister for Women’s Affairs and has been a strong supporter of women’s rights. She has been working to develop legislation to further combat violence against women.

Carmelita G. Nuqui has served is the Executive Director of Development Action for Women Network (DAWN) since 1996. DAWN is a non-government development organization that is devoted to assisting Filipino women migrants in Japan and their Japanese-Filipino children in the promotion and protection of their human rights and welfare. She also serves as President of Philippine Migrants Rights Watch (PMRW), a registered civil society NGO network in which DAWN is an active member. Together with its nine other member organizations, PMRW encourages the recognition, protection and fulfillment of Filipino migrants’ rights – both in the Philippines and abroad during the entire migration process.

Marina Pisklakova-Parker started the first domestic violence crisis hotline in Russia and has since expanded the ANNA organization. Today, through Marina ’s leadership, there are over 150 such crisis centers throughout Russia staffed by hundreds of trained counselors. In addition to her groundbreaking work on domestic violence, Ms. Pisklakova has traveled throughout the world as a consulting domestic violence expert for international delegations of legislators, government officials, prosecutors, and police managers to study methods of investigating domestic violence, human trafficking, and other violations of women’s rights. Marina has received awards from Human Rights Watch, the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Foundation, and Vital Voices Global Partnership, among others.

Oda Gasinzigwa is the President of Women’s National Council, the largest women’s organization in Rwanda . The council played a key role in helping women in Rwanda gain 49% of the seats in parliament.

Dawn Marole is one of South Africa 's leading businesswomen. As Founding President of the Business Women's Association in South Africa , she created a 5,000-member organization with eight branch offices throughout the country. Through the association, Ms. Marole pioneered entrepreneurship training and mentoring programs to develop unprecedented opportunities for black women in post-apartheid South Africa . She is recognized throughout Africa for her leadership, creativity, and successful strategies. Dawn is a leader of a major investment holdings group, serves as an advisor to the Ministry of Finance, and the Ministry of Trade and Industry, and chairs an organization to stop violence against women.

Ms. Awut Deng Acuil is a major force in the building of peace in Sudan. A tireless advocate for conflict resolution from the grassroots, Ms. Deng is responsible for numerous innovative efforts at peace building. Ms. Deng has worked with women both inside and outside Sudan for the past 19 years on issues of peace and unity among Sudanese in Kenya and Sudan. An expert trainer on conflict resolution, she contributed to making the New Sudan Council of Churches one of the most successful conflict mitigation organizations in Sudan and has created two other organizations to mobilize and disseminate the voice of women for peace. She was awarded Interaction’s 2002 Humanitarian award, and has been recognized by world leaders for her work.

Saisuree Chutikul is a senator in the Thai parliament and chair of several bodies working against trafficking in children and women. She has been the leading advocate of progressive views on children, women, education, and social development, and has represented her country on various United Nations committees concerning the rights of women and children, including the Committee on the Rights of the Child and the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women. Ms. Chutikul speaks openly to elevate issues concerning women and children to the level of a public issue and passing legislation that will protect and empower them.

Penelope Beckles is a lawyer by profession having been called to the bar in 1988. She is presently the Minister of Public Utilities and the Environment of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago and has previously served as Minister of Culture and Tourism and Minister of Social Development. She entered politics in 1992 as a local government Representative and has also served as a senator. Ms. Beckles is an advocate for women’s and youth empowerment, increased participation of women in politics and decision making whilst focusing on raising awareness generally in communities on issues relating to the overall improvement of life. She has served as the President of the Rape Crisis Center and is a member of several NGO groups including Women Working for Social Progress. She has been affiliated with Vital Voices since 1998 and together with other women leaders in the Caribbean hosted a Vital Voices Conference in Trinidad and Tobago .

Oksana Horbunova is a highly effective voice for victims of trafficking in the Ukraine. Currently serving at the International Organization for Migration, Ms. Horbunova previously led La Strada, one of the leading groups committed to combating the trafficking of women and girls, which has brought international attention to this problem in Ukraine and throughout Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. Ms. Horbunova pressed her own government to pass legislation against trafficking, and has worked tirelessly around the world to help others do the same. She testified before the U.S. Congress in support of passage of the United States' groundbreaking anti-trafficking legislation, the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000.

Reyna McPeck is a leading businesswoman and advocate for women's progress. She is member of the Venezuelan Women's Business Association and Managing Partner of Commercial Regrinox, a manufacturing company of service industry equipment. She has also served as President of the Small Business Committee for VENAMCHAM (Venezuelan-American Chamber of Commerce), and as President of the Venezuelan Chapter of the International Women's Forum (IWF). She is working with a local university through the Vital Voices Venezuela organization.

Le Thi Hong Van is spearheading the Vital Voices Chapter in Vietnam which is dedicated to supporting the advancement of women in business. Since 1998, Ms. Van has served as the senior representative of the U.S.-based firm, Invensys Energy Systems. During this time, she has helped Invensys make impressive gains in Vietnam 's highly competitive energy systems markets. She has established partnerships with Siemens, Alcatel, and IBM. A leading businesswoman, she frequently speaks on women's issues in Vietnam and has volunteered as a translator for a forest and rural development program which teaches women in the mountainous areas of Vietnam how to cultivate vegetables more efficiently. She is an active supporter of a number of charitable groups in Vietnam.

Amat Alsoswa is a driving force for women’s leadership in Yemen . Throughout her career, she has been the first -- and often only -- woman in key positions of influence in the government and private sector. Now, as Yemen ’s first-ever Minister of Human Rights, she is helping enhance the rights and freedoms of all her fellow citizens and to promote her country’s democratic development.