Women PeaceMakers
Institute for Peace and Justice

Contact: Jennifer Freeman
Phone: (619) 260-7569
Fax: (619) 260-7570

Location: KIPJ Room 121
Joan B. Kroc School of Peace Studies
5998 Alcala Park
San Diego, CA 92110

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Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice

Selected PeaceMakers

2015 Women PeaceMakers

The 2015 Women PeaceMakers will be announced in the coming weeks. They will be in residence at the institute from September 12 to November 21.

For more information, contact Senior Program Officer Jennifer Freeman at

2014 Women PeaceMakers

Robi Damelin — Israel

Robi DamelinRobi Damelin is a spokesperson and director of the Women’s Group for the Parents Circle – Families Forum (PCFF), a grassroots organization of more than 600 bereaved Palestinians and Israelis who promote reconciliation as an alternative to hatred and revenge.

Damelin moved to Israel from South Africa, where she had been involved in the anti-apartheid movement, in 1967 following the Six-Day War (also known as the Third Arab-Israeli War).

In 2002 her life changed dramatically when her son David was killed by a Palestinian sniper near a settlement during his army reserve service. Her first words to the army officers who appeared at her door to tell her about David were, “You may not kill anyone in the name of my son.”

She joined the PCFF after David’s death. As a spokesperson, she travels with a Palestinian partner throughout Israel, the West Bank and internationally to share their stories and message of reconciliation. Damelin also returned to South Africa to learn more about reconciliation processes that have been in motion since the end of apartheid, a journey chronicled in the film “One Day After Peace.” The sniper who killed David was arrested in 2004, motivating Damelin to begin her own difficult path of reconciliation with him and his family.

As director of the Women’s Group of the PCFF, she works with other bereaved women to, as she says, “solidify our choice to use our pain to prevent further bereavement” and “strengthen women’s voices as facilitators of reconciliation in their communities.” The group’s exhibits — photography, culinary arts, embroidery and others — have traveled the world spreading messages of hope and co-existence.

Damelin is also a board member of the Charter for Compassion and initiated the Israeli Palestinian Narratives Project, “History through the Human Eye,” through the PCFF. She writes, “I continue on this path inspired by my deep sense of loss, my commitment to building a more peaceful future for Israelis and Palestinians, and my endless love for David.”

Nimalka Fernando — Sri Lanka

Nimalka FernandoNimalka Fernando of Sri Lanka is a prominent human rights defender, lawyer and activist with over 30 years of peacemaking experience. She is a co-chair of South Asians for Human Rights and the president of the International Movement against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism (IMADR) — an organization dedicated to eliminating discrimination and racism, forging international solidarity among discriminated minorities, and advancing the international human rights system.

A Sinhala Christian woman in Sri Lanka, Fernando is of the majority ethnic community but a religious minority — giving her a unique perspective on the bloody conflict that has polarized communities across the island for decades. As a colleague of hers has written, “Through Ms. Fernando’s biography it is possible to register key social movements in Sri Lanka, in South Asia, and globally.”

Fernando first became involved in human rights work with the Student Christian Movement of Sri Lanka, and then the Movement for Inter-Racial Justice and Equality, which sparked in her an interest in law for social justice. The Voice of Women, the first feminist circle in Sri Lanka composed of professional and progressive women, further influenced Fernando as violence and political tensions continued to rise in the 1980s between the Sinhala government and Tamil separatists.

In frustration with the Sri Lankan legal system that failed to provide redress for egregious human rights abuses, Fernando moved into community development work and full-time activism — exposing her to severe repression by the state which viewed her as pro-Tamil. She was forced out of the country for a time.

While in exile, Fernando worked for the Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development and became engaged in international advocacy at U.N. conferences and through networks working on minority rights. During the peace process mediated by Norway in the early 2000s, Fernando was involved in track-two negotiations and participated in the Tokyo Conference on Reconstruction and Development in Sri Lanka, while continuing her grassroots peacebuilding activities.

Fernando has been a founding member of several organizations, including a network of women’s organizations and activists committed to peacebuilding, known as Mothers and Daughters of Lanka. In 2011 she received the Citizen’s Peace Award from the National Peace Council of Sri Lanka. She continues to face repression and threats for her fervent calls for accountability for alleged war crimes committed during the war.

Ashima Kaul — India (Kashmir)

Ashima KaulAshima Kaul is a grassroots worker, journalist, policy analyst and social entrepreneur from India’s Kashmir Valley. Born and raised in Kashmir as part of the ethnic minority community of Kashmiri Hindu Pandits, she and her family moved out of the valley when she was 15. A decade later, her extended family that remained behind was forcibly displaced to Hindu-majority areas of the region as violence broke out between Kashmiri Muslims and Hindus.

After later trips to Kashmir on journalistic assignments, Kaul was struck and saddened by what had transpired there since she left and decided to act: “I had to recover the dying, bullet-ridden soul of Kashmir, rebuild broken relationships, break the silence of women, give them a voice and establish new spaces for creation of a spirit of trust, solace and healing.” Her first step was to facilitate a group dialogue with Muslim and Pandit women, leading to the creation of a formal dialogue group, Athwaas, or “handshake.”

In addition to the Kashmir dialogue groups, Athwaas brought together 50 women to advocate for peace from women’s perspectives, in a parallel platform from the official peace process initiated in 2005 that excluded women’s voices.

Kaul later founded the Yakjah Reconciliation and Development Network. Yakjah, which means “being together,” focuses on countering the violence in Kashmir by building relationships between different religious and ethnic groups through dialogue and development projects. The organization has a program on Youth Expression and Leadership, which holds cross-cultural workshops and exchanges across the region to involve young people in peacebuilding and developing their leadership skills. The program has reached over 400 youth so far, and includes a core group of 50 young men and women. As Kaul writes, “The youth form the critical mass. While they do carry the conflict legacy and can be indoctrinated in the name of religion, they also have the potential to lead for change.”

Kaul is part of the Women Waging Peace Network of the Institute for Inclusive Security, and is a local correspondent for Insight on Conflict, a website published by the international NGO Peace Direct.

Margaret Arach Orech — Uganda

Margaret OrechMargaret Arach Orech is the founder and director of the Uganda Landmine Survivors Association (ULSA). A survivor of a landmine explosion and a subsequent attack by rebels of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), Orech is an ambassador for the Nobel Peace Prize-winning organization the International Campaign to Ban Landmines.

In the late 1990s, while working for the Association of Volunteers in International Service, in Kitgum in northern Uganda, the bus she was riding in hit a landmine and was ambushed by the LRA. Her right leg was shattered from the blast; as the rebels scoured the bodies for survivors, she played dead until the army came nearly an hour later. Orech has worked since that time for the health and rights of fellow survivors of landmines and victims of the war in northern Uganda.

Orech’s work with communities affected by the conflict in northern Uganda includes encouraging dialogue and interaction with other survivors of violence, including former rebels. In one case, she came face to face with a young man who was part of the group responsible for the attack that nearly killed her. Showing him compassion upon his expression of remorse, she helped organize a traditional cleansing ceremony to help him begin his slow journey to recovery.

With ULSA, Orech mobilizes survivors in a peer support structure in which they share and develop ideas that address survivors’ needs and foster social and economic reintegration into their communities — many of which were displaced for years because of the violence in northern Uganda.

On the international level, Orech is a commissioner for the Interfaith Action for Peace in Africa, and continues to lobby nations to sign and ratify international agreements such as the Mine Ban Treaty, the Convention on Cluster Munitions, and the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. She has met with heads of state and those in the midst of conflict to advocate on behalf of victims and survivors.

Of her experiences she writes, “My healing was a drawn [out] process, but I was able to overcome and now use the bitter experiences to encourage those who have faced similar situations that there is actually hope after all. … Here I am, today, after that long and difficult road to recovery and the transformation from victim-survivor to peace advocate.”