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Inspiring Thursday: Francisca Van Dunem

Portuguese Minister of Justice, she made history by becoming the very first appointed cabinet minister of African descent. She worked as a public prosecutor in Lisbon, served in the Attorney General’s Office, and was a director of the Department of Investigation and Penal Action of Lisbon from 2001 until 2007. Van Dunem also was the appointed Attorney General for the District of Lisbon in 2007. 

Francisca Van Dunem was born in 1955 in Luanda, Angola. She first moved to Portugal in 1973 for the purposes of educational mobility; however, she had to return after her home country gained independence. Due to the overwhelming volume of political unrest, Francisca Van Dunem lost her brother and sister-in-law. After the devastating loss, Van Dunem fully moved to Portugal together with her parents and nephew. Not soon after that, Van Dunem graduated from the University of Lisbon with a law degree. She kicked off her career in her alma mater as a specialist in criminal law. Two years later, she became an advisor at Alta Autoridade contra a Corrupção (High Authority Against Corruption) and after that a public prosecutor in Lisbon.

She continued with her exceptional career growth considering that afterwards Van Dunem served in the Attorney General’s Office, was director of the Department of Investigation and Penal Action of Lisbon from 2001 until 2007, and was elected Attorney General. She finally was appointed as Portugal’s Minister of Justice in November 2015 and continues serving as such. Francisca Van Dunem utilized her position as Minister of Justice to speak about women’s rights, specifically in relation to femicide.

“We should all keep in mind that many homicides are, in fact, femicides.” – Francisca Van Dunem

As a Minister, she supported a protocol between the Ministry of Justice, the Attorney General’s Office and three of the most prominent organizations supporting victims of violence against women, the Association of Women Against Violence, the Portuguese Association of Victim Support and the Alternative Women and Response Union. The purpose of the protocol was to attempt formalizing a joint and cooperative approach between judicial authorities and non-governmental victim support organizations, creating a specialized section of investigating crimes of domestic violence or crimes of violence based on gender. The following would improve the care, information, support and personalized referral of survivors, to advance their protection.

Her career and prominence in Portugal are undoubtedly inspirational, by the time Francisca Van Dunem moved to Portugal, African nationals constituted around 1% of the population. It surely takes courage, strength, and determination to move forward despite all the difficulties and obstacles one faces while pursuing the dream, making Francisca Van Dunem a role model for many.

Written by WAVE Intern Polina Lynova


Our last Inspiring Thursday: Reem Alsalem

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