What I Have Learned from the International Women of Courage

Posted by Ginnie Seger
March 22, 2016
Ginnie Seger, a Video Producer in the State Department's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs poses for a photo with 2015 International Women of Courage Award Recipient May Sabe Phyu.

The Secretary of State’s International Women of Courage Award pays tribute to women who have demonstrated exceptional courage, strength, and leadership in acting to improve others’ lives. Each year, after receiving their award in Washington, DC, honorees travel throughout the United States on an International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP). They meet with various individuals and groups related to their work. As a result of these meetings, the women build relationships with their U.S. counterparts and gain knowledge and skills to use back home.

For the past two years, I’ve traveled with these women and have seen firsthand how their relationships with each other grow and develop. Although they come from different countries, cultures, and backgrounds, courage is their touchstone, their standard, and a tie that bonds them together.

One lesson I’ve learned from these women is that courage comes in many forms. As we walked the streets of New York City, May Sabe Phyu from Burma told me that to her courage meant speaking the truth with her heart. May Sabe Phyu is leading a coalition of civil society networks to end discrimination against women and ethnic minorities in Burma. Yet her work comes at great personal risk; she has been jailed, fined, and harassed. When I asked her why she chose to become an advocate, her answers were simple: “Honesty is a form of courage, and I am living an honest life. I see discrimination and I speak the truth.” 

As the women tell their stories throughout their exchange program, I see looks of recognition pass between them, as if they have found other members of the same tribe.

“The stories of the other International Women of Courage awardees are all very, very, similar. It is really amazing seeing and feeling that we are not alone,” May Sabe Phyu said.

In addition to the solidarity the International Women of Courage feel with each other, they also get the opportunity to spread their message across the United States, creating a ripple effect of inspiration. While on the IVLP, I’ve witnessed the looks of awe on the faces of young girls as they learn about the women’s experiences.

Although few will face the trials these women have endured, everyone will experience situations that require courage. The stories from the International Women of Courage provide a model for the kind of bravery humans are capable of and they inspire us to dig a little deeper to stand up and find new forms of courage in our lives.

About the Author: Ginnie Seger is a Video Producer for the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.

Editor's Note: This blog is part of a series that will -- surrounding the 2016 International Women of Courage Awards -- explore the insights of courageous women's rights advocates from around the world.

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