Michelle Obama, Secretary Clinton recognize champions of human rights

First lady Michelle Obama, right, and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton share a laugh as they present the 2010 International Women of Courage Awards.
First lady Michelle Obama, right, and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton share a laugh as they present the 2010 International Women of Courage Awards.

Women of Courage Honored at State Department

By Jane Morse
Staff Writer (Department of State)

Washington — First lady Michelle Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton honored women human rights activists from around the world with this year’s Women of Courage awards at a special ceremony March 10 at the State Department.

“These 10 women have overcome personal adversity, threats, arrest and assault to dedicate themselves to activism for human rights,” said Melanne Verveer, the State Department’s first-ever ambassador-at-large for global women’s issues, in introductory remarks. “From striving to give more voice to politically underrepresented women in Afghanistan to documenting human rights abuses in Zimbabwe, these heroic individuals have made it their life’s work to increase freedom and equality in the world.”

The awardees this year are Shukria Asil of Afghanistan, Colonel Shafiqa Quraishi of Afghanistan, Androula Henriques of Cyprus, Sonia Pierre of the Dominican Republic, Shadi Sadr of Iran, Ann Njogu of Kenya, Dr. Lee Ae-ran of South Korea, Jansila Majeed of Sri Lanka, Sister Marie Claude Naddaf of Syria and Jestina Mukoko of Zimbabwe.

The Women of Courage award was established in 2007 by then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to recognize and honor women around the globe who have shown exceptional courage and leadership in promoting women’s rights and advancement.

Clinton said the stories of this year’s honorees are a reminder of how much work there is to do before human rights are respected and protected by all governments. She told the Women of Courage awardees: “We are standing with you. … We here at the State Department and [the Obama] administration are trying to be good partners. … We look forward to building relationships with you.”

Clinton emphasized that the United States will be watchful of the awardees’ safety. “We send a message to your governments, who may not be thrilled that you are here, that we will be watching them as well.”

Michelle Obama lauded the awardees for taking risks and facing hardships few people are willing to endure. She noted that among the invited guests in the room were young women from a local school and from the White House mentoring program, which pairs young people from area high schools with White House staff mentors for a year.

“Listen closely,” Obama told the young women, “because if these women can endure relentless threats, then surely you can all keep going. … None of you are too young to start making a difference.” She urged the young American women to take inspiration from the Women of Courage awardees.

Speaking on behalf of all the awardees, Jestina Mukoko of Zimbabwe said the Women of Courage award is “a solidarity message that unites women all over the world. … By accepting this award, we confirm that women have a place in the fight for equality and justice.”

Also speaking at the awards ceremony was Andrea Jung, chairman and chief executive officer of Avon, a 125-year-old company that got its start by providing women with opportunities for economic independence through the sale of cosmetics. Jung announced that the Avon Foundation for Women is presenting a $500,000 grant to the U.S. Department of State Secretary’s Fund for Global Women’s Leadership for programs designed to help end violence against women.

Jung also said the foundation is donating another $1.2 million to Vital Voices, a nongovernmental organization aimed at training women the world over for leadership. That grant will bring together women leaders from 15 countries to share insights in furthering the progress of women in fields such as business, government and law enforcement.

A video replay of the awards ceremony is available at http://www.state.gov/video/.