March 10, 2010In celebration of International Women’s Day, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton presented the fourth annual Award for International Women of Courage to ten women from around the world. This award recognizes their courage and leadership as they fight for social justice, human rights, and the advancement of women. The Secretary of State payed tribute to this year’s ten honourees from Afghanistan, Cyprus, the Dominican Republic, Iran, Kenya, S. Korea, Sri Lanka, Syria, and Zimbabwe. They were chosen among 75 exceptional women nominated by U.S Embassies worldwide for their extraordinary work in advancing human rights.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you all. Thank you so much and this is an extraordinary day here at the State Department, a day that we look forward to when we present to you some of the women who personify the courage that really is required in so many places still to stand up for women’s rights and human rights, to make a difference, to protect those who are vulnerable and to advance the circle of opportunity and prosperity to more people. I am particularly delighted to welcome back to the State Department our First Lady, Michelle Obama. (Applause.) This is the second time that Michelle Obama and I have celebrated the International Women of Courage Awards together. It’s a tradition I really like because she is doing so much for women and girls not only in our own country, but around the world. She inspires them. She challenges them. She exemplifies for them the kind of strength, warmth, and grace that so many of us see in her and aspire to for our own daughters. She has made the health and empowerment of young people, particularly young women, a centerpiece of her leadership. And she and I agree on many things, but one that we particularly agree on is that every child should have the chance to fulfill his or her God-given potential. And I just have to thank her for the mentoring programs that she created at the White House, for the special project that she is doing now to tackle childhood obesity, and to really setting the standard for what we want to see in our own country and around the world as well. And I want to thank and recognize – I want to also recognize Melanne Verveer. (Applause.) Melanne is our country’s first Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues, and it’s no accident that that would happen in the Obama Administration, where we would have someone of her experience and expertise promoting the political, economic, and social empowerment of women. As Melanne often reminds us, the world is full of remarkable women whose work goes unnoticed or undervalued. And today, we celebrate some particular women, but they really stand in for millions of other women who are serving their communities and making our world a better and safer place for all. And I want to recognize finally, our partners from Avon – Andrea Jung, the chairwoman and CEO of Avon – (applause) – and Reese Witherspoon, Avon’s global ambassador. Avon is our partner here at the State Department in focusing on and trying to end, once and for all, the global epidemic of violence against women. It happens in the homes, it happens in the streets, it happens all over the world. And we have to call it for what it is – a crime – and we have to mobilize to combat it. And Avon has agreed to be our partner in working with the State Department in doing so. And I thank you both for taking on this challenge with us. (Applause.) Now today once again, we are honoring women from around the world who have endured isolation and intimidation, violence and imprisonment. Many have even risked their lives to advance justice, freedom, and equal rights for everyone. Their stories remind us of how much work there is left to do before the rights and dignity of all people – no matter who you are or where you live – are respected and protected by the world’s governments. But these women prove that change is possible. They are brave and they are making a difference, and they are up against powerful interests determined to bring them down. By honoring them today, the United States and the Obama Administration sends a very clear message that though they may work in lonely circumstances, they are not alone. We are standing with you. (Applause.) For example, our two honorees from Afghanistan. Shukria Asil is a member of the council in her province of Baghlan. She’s pushing for educational opportunities for girls, professional opportunities for women, and stronger rights and recognition for the mentally disabled. Colonel Shafiqa Quraishi is leading a national effort to recruit thousands of women into the Afghan National Police and to train police officers to better protect women and girls. Ann Njogu has relentlessly spoken out against government corruption and violence against women in Kenya at great risk to herself. She has documented the upsurge in sexual and gender-based violence that followed the contested election of 2008. Jestina Mukoko monitors human rights abuses in Zimbabwe. After she was abducted and beaten by the police, she took her abusers all the way to the Supreme Court of Zimbabwe, which ruled in her favor. (Applause.) Sister Marie Claude Naddaf opened the first shelter in Syria for women escaping domestic violence and human trafficking. Androula Henriques has built a comprehensive network to stop human trafficking in Cyprus and has opened her home to women preparing to testify against their captors. Although she could not join us today, we celebrate her achievements and pledge our support to end the scourge of human trafficking. (Applause.) And we also have Shadi Sadr, who has represented women in the Iranian courts and led a campaign to stop the stoning of women. (Applause.) After multiple arrests, she was forced to flee Iran and now fights for the women of Iran from her home in Germany. She is also not here today, but we honor her courage and that of all the woman activists in Iran, many of whom have been persecuted and imprisoned because of their work. And in countries where entire communities are disenfranchised, it is often the women who work to pull down legal, economic, and cultural barriers, women like Sonia Pierre, who fights discrimination against Haitians in the Dominican Republic. Or Dr. Lee Ae-Ran, who’s helping North Koreans build new lives in South Korea. Or Jansila Majeed, an advocate for internally displaced people, both Muslim and Tamil, in Sri Lanka. Every day, these women and many others are taking on the world’s most entrenched problems. And we here at the State Department and throughout this Administration are trying to be good partners to them, because even though they’re working one person at a time, one court case at a time, one rally or one rescue at a time, we want to bring their work to a greater audience and try to amplify it and to make clear that human rights provide the foundation for the work that we do here in the United States. So on this day, in this week where we celebrate International Women’s Day, we honor some whose stories are rarely told but who deserve to be heard. And we ask that as we applaud each of them, we recognize all those who will never have a chance to be recognized in any forum for all that they do as well. And let me close with this message to our honorees. We look forward to building relationships with you. We will be watching your progress, listening for news of your successes, struggles, and above all, your safety. We send a message to all governments that might not be thrilled that you’re here that we’ll be watching them as well. And we thank you for everything you are doing and will do.