International Women of Courage: Jestina Mukoko

Posted by Nicole Fox
March 11, 2016
Jestina Mukoko [Photo courtesy of Jestina Mukoko]

What happened to Jestina? That was what everyone wanted to know in Zimbabwe in 2009. The year before, Jestina Mukoko was abducted by security agents, who beat and tortured her. She was forced to confess to an alleged terrorist incursion plot from neighboring Botswana, and then she was imprisoned, and a court granted her bail in March of 2009.

Ms. Mukoko appealed her arrest through the courts, and finally the Zimbabwean Supreme Court ruled that state security forces violated her human rights.

First lady Michelle Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton present the 2010 International Women of Courage Award to Jestina Mukoko of Zimbabwe, March 10, 2010, at the State Department in Washington.

The following year, then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton awarded Ms. Mukoko the International Women of Courage Award, an annual award that honors women from around the globe for exemplifying exceptional courage and leadership by advocating for human rights, women’s equality, and social progress. Often at great personal risk, these women have dedicated their lives to advancing causes they believe in. 

As the Executive Director of the Zimbabwe Peace Project, an NGO that monitors human rights abuses throughout the country, Ms. Mukoko is a long-time human rights activist, as well as a pioneering role model as a broadcaster for the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation. 

As the State Department celebrates the 10th year of the International Women of Courage Award, we’re following up with women we’ve honored in the past.

Six years after receiving the award, Ms. Mukoko is still proud that despite the violence she’s experienced, she stood firm by remaining in Zimbabwe and continuing her fight for human rights. Here are some of her thoughts on courage, the award, and what’s next for women’s rights.

In a perfect world, women and girls would: Live without fear of their rights being violated and they would be confident to express their views and opinions.

In three words, what does courage mean to you? Confidence, conviction and unwavering boldness

What’s your favorite memory from the International Women of Courage Award ceremony? The opportunity to meet First Lady Michelle Obama, who convinced me in her speech that she had read my story, and meeting Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and representing all the other honorees in the acceptance speech.

What other International Woman of Courage stands out to you from your time in the United States? The other woman who stood out during my time in 2010 is Sonia Pierre, who works against the discrimination of Haitians in the Dominican Republic. 

How did the International Women of Courage Award change your work? It changed my work because I realized that the work was being seen and considered important. The award also profiled the monitors who tirelessly provide our primary information.

What’s the secret to getting things done and making progress on the issues that matter to you? The secret is having a dream, no matter how ambitious, and being moved by smilesworn by those who have been assisted.

What do you think is the biggest barrier to progress? The biggest barrier to progress is being bogged down by those who are bent on painting everything you do with a negative brush.

What’s the accomplishment you’re most proud of? I am proud that even though I faced a life-threatening experience, I have refused to be forced to migrate from my country of birth that I am so proud of.

What should the next generation of women leaders know about leadership and courage? What can they do to continue your work? The next generation needs to know that they have to lead from the front and also know that unless a leader stands by what they believe in, their dreams will never be realized.  

About the Author: Nicole Fox is a policy advisor in the Secretary’s Office of Global Women’s Issues. Previously she served at the U.S. Embassy in Zimbabwe. 

Editor's Note: This blog is the second in a series of blogs that will -- surrounding the 2016 International Women of Courage Awards -- explore the insights of courageous women's rights advocates from around the world.

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