Haja Zainab Hawa Bangura (born 18 December 1959) is a Sierra Leonean politician and social activist. She served as the second United Nations Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict with the rank of Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations from 2012 to 2017, in succession to the first holder of the post, Margot Wallström. In 2017 she was succeeded by Pramila Patten.
In 2007, Bangura became Sierra Leone's foreign minister in the government of President Ernest Bai Koroma of the All People's Congress (APC) Party. She was the second woman to serve in that post, following Shirley Gbujama who held that position from 1996 to 1997. She served as Minister of Health and Sanitation from 2010 to 2012.
Zainab Hawa Bangura was born "Zainab Hawa Sesay" in the small rural town of Yonibana, Tonkolili District in the Northern Province of British Sierra Leone. She hails from the Temne ethnic group. She was born into a family of limited means, and she attended secondary school on a scholarship that was awarded to her by the Mathora Girls Secondary School near Magburaka. She later attended the Annie Walsh Girls Secondary School in the capital city of Freetown. Then, after graduating from Sierra Leone's Fourah Bay College, she studied in the United Kingdom for advanced diplomas in insurance. While in her early 30s, she became vice-president of one of her country's largest insurance companies. She speaks three languages: Temne, Krio, and English.
Bangura became a social activist during the difficult period when Sierra Leone was ruled by the NPRC military junta. She began with consciousness-raising efforts among urban market women, reminding her followers that her own mother was a market woman. In 1994 she founded Women Organized for a Morally Enlightened Nation (W.O.M.E.N.), the first non-partisan women's rights group in the country. The following year she co-founded the Campaign for Good Governance (CGG). Then, using CGG as her platform, she campaigned for the holding of national elections that finally drove the NPRC from power in 1996 and restored democratic government. This was Sierra Leone's first democratic election in 25 years, and the Sierra Leonean media and the general public attributed that success largely to her efforts.
During Sierra Leone's civil war (1991–2002) Bangura spoke out forcefully against the atrocities committed against the civilian population by the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) and was targeted for assassination several times by that group. She also spoke against the corruption in the civilian government of President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah and the atrocities committed against civilians by government soldiers. In 2002 she ran against Kabbah for the presidency of Sierra Leone, departing for the first time from her accustomed role as a non-partisan civil society activist. She won less than one percent of the vote, and her Movement for Progress (MOP) party failed to gain any seats in Sierra Leone's parliament. Mrs. Bangura claimed that her party's low vote count resulted from corruption in the voting system.
After the 2002 elections Bangura founded the National Accountability Group (NAG) whose mission was to fight against official corruption and to promote transparency and accountability in government. In 2006 she left Sierra Leone for neighbouring Liberia where she was appointed Director of the Civil Affairs Office in the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) and given responsibility for the reconstruction of 16 Liberian ministries and 30 government agencies following that country's devastating civil war.
Bangura returned to Sierra Leone in 2007 after Ernest Bai Koroma won the presidency in a hard-fought national election and was named foreign minister shortly thereafter. Many Sierra Leoneans believed that the new president elevated this well known critic of government to such a high position to demonstrate his good faith in promising reform.
As a devoted Muslim, Bangura took time off politics in 2009 to travel to the Holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia to participate in the 2009 Hajj pilgrimage ceremony.
- Women Political Leaders Global Forum (WPL), Member of the Global Advisory Board
Bangura has won several international awards for her promotion of democracy and human rights in Africa, including: the African International Award of Merit for Leadership (Nigeria, 1999); the Human Rights Award given by the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights (New York, 2000); the Bayard Rustin Humanitarian Award given by the A. Philip Randolph Institute (Washington, DC, 2002); and the Democracy Award given by the National Endowment for Democracy (Washington, DC, 2006).
In November 2013, Bangura received an award from Project 1808 Inc, an organisation in partnership with University of Wisconsin Madison African Studies, Division of International Studies. The award recognised Bangura for her effectiveness in bringing attention to the issues surrounding sexual violence throughout the world by engaging fellow world leaders, rebels, militants, victims and communities.