We are delighted to announce the appointment of Teresa Casale as our new Executive Director. Teresa joined Mina’s List in early 2020 as our first Advocacy Director, driving our efforts to help shape public policy related to Afghan women and girls and advance the women, peace and security agenda.
As our energy focused on the unfolding crisis in Afghanistan over the past year, she has taken on an increasingly critical leadership role. She spearheaded our policy work related to the peace process and subsequent evacuation, helped define our approach to communications, and built valuable and lasting relationships with coalition partners.
As we take stock of what we have learned through our experience in Afghanistan and embark on a new chapter, we are excited to have her at the helm. With over 15 years of experience in policy and programs focusing on global gender equality, humanitarian response, refugee issues, and peacebuilding Teresa is perfectly placed to lead Mina’s List as we expand our work globally.
She will collaborate closely with our Founder, Tanya Henderson, who will be stepping into the role of President, to set our strategic direction over the coming years.
To mark this exciting chapter in our development as an organization, we sat down with Teresa to hear more about her background and her ambitions for the future of Mina’s List. You can read the interview below.
Can you tell us a bit about your work over the last several years and how that has informed your approach since joining Mina’s List?
Over the past several years, my policy advocacy work has focused on building U.S. congressional support for the women, peace, and security (WPS) agenda, particularly as it relates to the Afghan context. My previous experiences working with the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) and as the Legislative Chair of the U.S. Civil Society Working Group on Women, Peace and Security gave me a deep understanding of the WPS agenda that has helped massively in undertaking this vital work. At ICRW, I specialized in the WPS agenda and got the chance to work on the 2017 U.S. Women, Peace, and Security Act just as it was passing, and then its implementation. It was this experience that brought me to my current work on Afghan women.
Since joining Mina’s List, my WPS background has been put to good use through our work in Afghanistan. Before the Taliban took over, Tanya and I worked closely with Afghan women leaders in their efforts to build support for an inclusive peace process. When it became clear that women’s civil society would be excluded from peace negotiations, we partnered with them to plan a parallel peace process that involved 100 women delegates from diverse backgrounds across the country. During the Taliban’s takeover, and in the months since, I’ve been heavily involved in our urgent crisis response in Afghanistan. In that response we were able to– individually and through coalition efforts–support the evacuation of over 1,500 people, all Afghan women leaders and their families. Since that time we’ve also worked with local partners to help them find safe and dignified resettlement in countries around the world.
How did you first get involved with Mina’s List?
As the 2017 Women, Peace, and Security Act was passing, it became very clear that Afghanistan was going to be an important test case for its implementation. If the legislation was going to prove meaningful and relevant, it would have to work when applied in the Afghan context.
Unfortunately, it quickly became clear that the U.S. administration had very little intention of implementing the aims of the WPS agenda in Afghanistan. In the multiple rounds of peace talks that the U.S. convened before the withdrawal of its troops, Afghan women were consistently sidelined and their voices repeatedly ignored. It was during this time that I met our Founder and President Tanya Henderson, and we agreed there was not enough global action on behalf of Afghan women or initiatives to help the U.S. implement their own WPS legislation.
As a result, Tanya and I decided to join forces to advocate on the Hill for the inclusion of Afghan women in the peace process that was happening at the time. That is how we first forged a relationship. Joining Mina’s List was an obvious next step for my career, not only because I was incredibly passionate about the work Tanya was doing, but also because I had decided around the same time to leave Washington DC and move to California to be with my family. Fortunately, Mina’s List is California-based.
Since that time, I’ve managed our entire policy advocacy portfolio, first as Advocacy Director and then as Deputy Executive Director.
What are some of the things you are most proud of achieving since you joined?
I’m very proud of taking on incredibly complex and difficult work in the midst of a crisis, with very few resources available to us, and no idea what was going to happen. We just did what we had to do. And, honestly, I’m proud of not giving up on this work when it felt like most of the world was giving up on Afghanistan. I follow the lead of our Afghan partners here. If they don’t give up in moments of crisis and loss - and they never do - how could we?
Can you describe your experience taking on the Deputy Executive Director role? How has that prepared you to take the helm now as Executive Director?
I took on the role of Deputy Executive Director as the crisis in Afghanistan was unfolding, which was the most intense and chaotic period of Mina’s List’s history. As a team, we quickly had to pivot and make difficult, life-altering decisions literally overnight, especially as it related to evacuation. Supporting Tanya in these efforts is also something I’m incredibly proud of. Her evacuation work was all-consuming, sometimes 24 hours a day. While she was completely immersed in those efforts, I took on greater responsibility for the rest of our work and overall organizational management.
As an organization, we expanded our team, our finances, our fundraising, our communications, and our advocacy in a very short amount of time. Managing this expansion, while continuing to lead our policy advocacy work, led to my own growth as a leader and positioned me very well for the next step I am taking.
How has your policy work in conflict mitigation, peacebuilding, emergency response, and humanitarian affairs informed your approach to this role?
My first job out of grad school was in refugee resettlement policy at the International Rescue Committee. This was during the Iraqi refugee crisis, which gave me a good understanding of international humanitarian programs and the policy framework around them. I then joined an organization called Global Communities where I first served as the program officer for Afghanistan, the Republic of Georgia, Kosovo, and India, and then went on to create the organization’s advocacy and government relations function. In that capacity, I conducted policy advocacy as it related to our programs in the West Bank and Gaza, Liberia, Kenya, Rwanda, Syria, Lebanon, and other countries. Each of these countries were either experiencing a humanitarian crisis, or were affected by or recovering from violent conflict.
It was in these settings that I first saw the power of women leaders and peacemakers. I was privileged to work alongside incredible women who implemented deeply transformational work in their own communities, often in extremely complex, dangerous, and fragile situations. This was most evident to me during my experiences in Palestine and Kenya, where our programs were led by women. In Palestine, our country director overcame the extreme oppression of violent occupation to successfully train thousands of young people in leadership and community development. In Kenya, our country director worked in the informal settlements of Nairobi, where she helped former gang leaders find reconciliation and healing after being pitted against each other during post-election violence. I then had the immense privilege of facilitating meetings for these women with policymakers in Washington DC. Seeing the impact of their voices and perspectives on members of congress taught me how important it is that women are heard in all places where decisions are being made, particularly U.S. foreign policy, which is very male-dominated. This set me on the path that I am still on to this day. I became dedicated to the women, peace, and security agenda from then on.
What else did you learn about the role of women during your work in societies dealing with conflict?
Traveling to countries dealing with crisis, oppression, instability, and violent conflict has been invaluable to me. Without having these experiences it might be easy to see women as not having their own agency, or to regard them as victims of conflict with nothing to add. The narratives are perpetuated by the media and in pop culture. One of the biggest things I’ve learned by working in these settings is just how inaccurate these perceptions are.
Yes, women do bear a disproportionate burden of conflict and, yes, they are victimized in ways that men are not. But they’re not helpless victims; they’re powerful and active agents in their own right, and can transform a country’s future if given the chance to lead.
As you look to the future of the organization, what are you most excited about? Where do you see the greatest opportunities to expand Mina’s List’s programming and team?
I am most excited about leveraging the momentum that we've gained over the past year to expand our programming into new areas. Growing the relationships we’ve forged with women political leaders across the world will be a key priority. As we speak, countless networks of women leaders are working across the globe to effect change in their societies and find solutions to some of the most complex challenges of the 21st century.
Of course, we will continue to work with Afghan women leaders as they advance their agendas from countries around the world, including Afghanistan, and will keep bringing international attention to the situation of women and girls living under the Taliban regime.
Lastly, I’m excited to expand and broaden our advocacy work. I have a deep history and specialty in global political advocacy, and I believe that when combined with meaningful programming, this expertise will help to raise our profile, increase our global footprint, and deepen our impact.