They come from all around the world and use many weapons to fight human rights abuses, including blogging, poetry, journalism and the law. They suffer imprisonment, beatings, death threats and ostracism in their battle for social justice.
And through it all they persevere. They are the International Women of Courage awardees recognized March 8 — International Women’s Day — in a special ceremony at the U.S. Department of State with first lady Michelle Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry.
“With every act of strength and defiance,” Obama said, the awardees “have inspired millions to stand with them.” The awards, she said, are a call to everyone to “stand up for justice” and “build a better world.”
Kerry said men as well as women should be concerned with the rights of women, in that political stability, peace and prosperity require that human rights be advanced for everyone. He added that advancing the rights of women and girls is “at the center of America’s foreign policy.” He announced that the State Department would be supporting more seed money to help launch or expand successful initiatives that help women and girls.
Since its inception in 2007, the Secretary of State’s International Women of Courage Award recognizes each year women from around the globe who have shown exceptional courage and leadership in advocating for women’s rights and empowerment. To date, 66 women from 44 different countries have been so honored.
These are the awardees for 2013:
• Malalai Bahaduri, second lieutenant, Afghan National Interdiction Unit (Afghanistan).
• Julieta Castellanos, rector, National Autonomous University of Honduras (Honduras).
• Dr. Josephine Obiajulu Odumakin, president, Campaign for Democracy (Nigeria).
• Elena Milashina, journalist, human rights activist (Russia).
• Fartuun Adan, executive director, Elman Peace and Human Rights Centre (Somalia).
• Tsering Woeser (Wei Se), Tibetan author, poet, blogger (China).
• Razan Zeitunah, human rights lawyer and founder of the Local Coordination Committees (Syria).
• Ta Phong Tan, blogger (Vietnam).
• Nirbhaya, “Fearless,” champion for justice (India).
Their biographies are at the State Department website.
The honorees who were able to travel to the United States began their visit March 4 in Pittsburgh, where they participated in a forum at Chatham University and met with representatives of organizations such as the Women and Girls Foundation and Gwen’s Girls. In Washington, they met with Department of State and White House officials, members of Congress and leaders of nongovernmental organizations.
Following the awards ceremony, the honorees will travel separately to cities across the United States to engage with the American people through the International Visitor Leadership Program. They will visit Indianapolis, Portland, San Francisco and Tampa. The women will reconvene in San Diego to reflect on their visit and discuss ways to work together to improve the lives of women and girls around the world.