Zainab Hawa Bangura

In the small town of Yonibana, a village in Sierra Leone, Zainab’s mother told her husband that she believed her daughter should forgo marriage and attend school. Her parents separated, but this decision set Zainab on a trajectory for success.

After attending the prestigious Mathora Girls School on a scholarship, she graduated from university and began a career in insurance. However, when Sierra Leone’s civil war began, she abandoned her career and started the Campaign for Good Governance, which opposed rebel groups pillaging villages across the country.

Since then, Zainab has led a life of public service in the United Nations and the government of Sierra Leone, even running for President in 2002. On the international stage, she’s been a driving force in stopping female genital mutilation in Western Africa and played a critical role in the UN’s peacekeeping missions in Liberia.

After working for more than 20 years in conflict resolution and human rights, Zainab now serves as the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict.

In this role, she remains unafraid of taking on groups like the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), Boko Haram and Al-Shaabab for their use of sexual violence as a tactic of terror; displacing large groups of religious and ethnic minorities to occupy their land.

Following in her mother’s footsteps of challenging the status quo, Zainab is working tirelessly to end the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war and ensure the dignity of survivors everywhere.

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