This week's "Photo of the Week" comes to us from Michael Gross, who serves as the official photographer at the U.S. Department of State. In this photograph, Gross captures Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and First Lady Michelle Obama with the 2012 International Women of Courage Award winners: Maryam Durani, Kandahar Provincial Council Member (Afghanistan); Major Pricilla de Oliveira Azevedo, police officer, Rio de Janeiro Military Police (Brazil); Zin Mar Aung, political activist and NGO co-founder (Burma); Jineth Bedoya Lima, investigative journalist (Colombia); Hana Elhebshi, architect and political activist (Libya); Aneesa Ahmed, gender-based violence (GBV) activist and former Deputy Minister of Women's Affairs (Maldives); Shad Begum, human rights activist and founder/executive director of Anjuman Behbood-e-Khawateen Talah (the Union of Women's Welfare) (Pakistan); Samar Badawi, political activist (Saudi Arabia); Hawa Abdallah Mohammed Salih, human rights activist (Sudan); and Safak Pavey, Member of Parliament (Turkey). The prestigious Secretary of State's Award for International Women of Courage annually recognizes women around the globe who have shown exceptional courage and leadership in advocating for women's rights and empowerment, often at great personal risk.
Secretary Clinton said, "Whether pushing for change in the halls of government in the Maldives, the courts of Saudi Arabia; whether making sure women have a voice in Libya's future and a role in Pakistan's government; whether enduring imprisonment or abuse for trying to assist other women and girls at risk, these women, who you will meet today, are all making a difference in the face of adversity, often under the threat of violence that is sometimes hard for those of us here in Washington or across our great country even to imagine. And while we honor them today, we know that tomorrow their work will and must continue so that every woman and girl someday will have the opportunity to live up to her own God-given potential.
"As I often say, this isn't just the right thing to do; it is also the smart thing to do. Improving the lives of women improves the lives of their families, strengthens their communities, and does create more opportunities for economic growth and prosperity. We know that investing in women's employment, health, and education levels leads to greater economic growth across a broad spectrum. It also leads to healthier children and a better educated population overall. We know that political systems that are open to full participation by women produce more effective institutions and more representative governments. And we know that the work that so many of you do will be done day after day as it moves us closer and closer to realizing the vision of equality...As long as you are on the front lines of this struggle, the United States will be with you, and we will use every tool at our disposal to help you."
In closing, the Secretary said, "Well, I don't know about you, but I always come away from this event not only inspired, but also challenged. Because after all, we must ask ourselves, “What are we doing? What are we doing to further justice and dignity and freedom, human rights and women's rights? What more can we do? And we have different talents. We are at different stages in life. But each of us can make a contribution. And I hope that when you think about what is possible for you, you will remember these women and their stories." You can read Secretary Clinton's complete remarks here, and you can learn more about the 2012 International Women of Courage Award Winners here.
Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women's Issues Melanne Verveer seeks to ensure that women's issues are fully integrated in the formulation and conduct of U.S. foreign policy. You can read her latest blog on "Honoring Women of Courage," which she co-authored with Isobel Coleman, a senior fellow and director of the Civil Society, Markets, and Democracy Initiative at the Council on Foreign Relations. Stay connected with the Office of Global Women's Issues on Facebook and Twitter. You can also view more of Michael Gross' photographs on the Department of State's Flickr photostream.