Courage is Contagious

A BLOG POST BY STEPHENIE FOSTERWomen of Courage Awards Today, March 8, 2011, is the 100th Anniversary of International Women’s Day. I was privileged to spend part of the day at the US State Department Fifth Annual Women of Courage Awards. I think I’ve been almost every year, and I am always amazed that each year-group of awardees seems more courageous than the last (although I know that it can’t be true!).

For the last five years, these awards have been presented to 10 courageous women from across the globe. Secretary Clinton, herself a woman of courage, presented the awards, and was joined by First Lady Michelle Obama, who coined a great phrase, “courage is contagious,” as well as the first woman Prime Minister of Australia, Julia Gillard. Mrs. Obama’s phrase captured the moment and the spirit of the day.

These ten women share remarkable tales of resiliency despite attempts – sometimes violent, always oppressive  - to dampen their amazing spirit and conviction. The ten awardees this year included two who weren’t there because their governments would not allow them to attend: opposition leader Nasta Palazhanka from Belarus and blogger/civil society leader Yoani Sanchez from Cuba.

And for the first time, one of the awards went to a head of state, Roza Otunbayeva, President of the Kyrgyz Republic. President Otunbayeva received the award for her ability to bring together a fractured opposition as Kyrgyzstan shed authoritarianism and held its first democratic election. In a majority Muslim state, President Otunbayeva, is an incredible example of leadership and vision.

Other awardees were:

  • the first woman to hold the position of Prosecutor General in an Afghan province, Maria Bashir;
  • a fearless Cameroonian journalist Henriette Ekwe Ebongo;
  • China’s Guo Jianmei, a lawyer willing to take the cases that no one else will take;
  • Hungarian Parliamentarian Agnes Osztolykan, the first Roma woman to serve in Hungary’s parliament, a fighter against discrimination;
  • Eva Abu Halawah, a courageous Jordanian human rights advocate who  has fought so-called honor crimes;
  • Marisela Morales of Mexico, who has stood up to corruption as a prosecutor in Mexico; and,
  • Ghulam Sughra, the first girl to graduate from her Pakistani village school and a fighter for girls’ education.

These women are examples to us all of courage under fire, and may we all catch the bug.

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