Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton hosted the 2011 International Women of Courage Awards Ceremony with special guest First Lady Michelle Obama on Tuesday, March 8. Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women's Issues Melanne Verveer and other U.S. and foreign dignitaries also participated, including Julia Gillard, Prime Minister of Australia; Cherie Blair; and Lloyd Blankfein, CEO and Chairman of Goldman Sachs.
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, "Now, for anyone raising children in today's world, it seems that there are not enough heroes and heroines, so I am particularly privileged to honor nine other women who have truly done heroic work to advance freedom, equality, opportunity, and dignity for all. They have risked their lives. They have served in prison. They've been harassed and oppressed. Sometimes their own children's lives have been at risk. They have been insulted, beaten, and tortured.
"And yet, each of these women has found the strength to persevere in the face of fear, isolation, or repression. And they've done so not just one day or one year, but day after day and year after year.
"Now, two of our honorees, Nasta Palazhanka from Belarus and Yoani Sanchez from Cuba, could not be here because their governments would not allow them to travel here. But we are with them in spirit and we salute them for everything they are doing on behalf of their countries and their people.
"Now, as you hear more about each of these women from Mrs. Obama and from me and from the citations, you will understand that each has pushed the envelope of what was considered permissible. And they have been inspirations, and I believe they can inspire generations of women and girls who follow after.
"Now, I was struck to learn the other day that our planet that we all share is now host to the largest generation of girls and women every born. There are now more than 850 million girls and young women age 10 to 24. What kind of world will they inherit? What kind of world will their children inherit? How will they lead the next generation? Who will they look to as models?"
She continued, "Each of these women -- and I mention them in a personal way because this has been a personal mission for them. They have reached down deep and done what was necessary. And I often wonder how many of us, including myself, under those circumstances, could have done the same. Their courage, their compassion, their commitment, their quiet moral authority has come from putting the well-being of others before their own..."
CEO and Chairman of Goldman Sachs Blankfein followed the Secretary. He said, "Investing in women is one of the most effective ways to stimulate growth in emerging markets. But equally important, it has a huge effect on these women's families and on their communities. Children are healthier, homes are more stable, and communities are more vibrant. And that is why we're especially honored to partner with the State Department to extend this initiative to new countries. This public-private partnership establishes a training program for 100 female entrepreneurs in new countries identified by Secretary Clinton and her team. Over the past two years, the Office of Global Women's Issues and Ambassador Verveer have been vital partners for 10,000 Women. I want to especially acknowledge Melanne's support and guidance when 10,000 Women was just getting off the ground. There is no better example of these programs' impact than in the graduates themselves. I'm humbled by their passion and resolve every time I meet with them..."
Australian Prime Minister Gillard followed Chairman Blankfein. She said, "[A]s we celebrate International Women's Day, we celebrate the courage of women who have shaped our world -- women like Susan B. Anthony in your own country and Jessie Street in mine, women who are publicly noted for shaping events that led to a world where we better recognize women's equality and women's rights. Now, there are so many women who contributed to that story whose names we do not know. Indeed, today, we honor every brave mother who ever raised a strong daughter and helped us get here. Those women worked for more than political rights. They worked for the opportunity for women to hold high office, but they worked for so much more..."
Secretary Clinton then awarded this year's honorees:
Her Excellency, Roza Otunbayeva, President of the Kyrgyz Republic;
Maria Bashir, Prosecutor General, Herat Province (Afghanistan);
Nasta Palazhanka, Deputy Chairperson, Malady Front (Young Front) non-governmental organization (Belarus);
Henriette Ekwe Ebongo, journalist and publisher of Bebela (Cameroon);
Guo Jianmei, lawyer and Director of the Beijing Zhongze Women's Legal Counseling and Service Center (China);
Yoani Sanchez, Innovator and Blogger, Founder of Generación Y blog (Cuba);
The Honorable Agnes Osztolykan, Member of Parliament, Politics Can Be Different Party (Hungary);
Eva Abu Halaweh, Executive Director of Mizan Law Group for Human Rights (Jordan);
Marisela Morales Ibañez, Deputy Attorney General for Special Investigations against Organized Crime (Mexico);
Ghulam Sughra, Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Marvi Rural Development Organization, (Pakistan).
Kyrgyzstan President Roza Otunbayeva's said, "Secretary Clinton, I accept this award on behalf of all women of Kyrgyzstan who struggle from the day to day to make their voices heard. This award belongs to those who, despite their condition, rise above and demand respect to their human dignity. In big politics, when a woman stands up to dictator or it is a domestic situation when she refuses to accept violence and humiliation, what do we have celebrating today? The courage is one of the same quality and scale. Many millions of women do not have the fame and publicity that I enjoyed in my political career. It is so to these nameless, but truly heroic women that I dedicate this award and mostly humbly pledge to continue my work for the cause of social justice and the rule of law..."
Henriette Ekwe Ebongo, a winner from Cameroon, also delivered remarks. She said, "We do appreciate this award of International Women of Courage as a wonderful umbrella and shield to protect us in our daily activities. We welcome this precious award as a tremendous (inaudible) tool for younger generation to stand up and fight and pave the way for the future, a better future. The International Women of Courage Award represent for all of us a new beginning and a good reason to stand firm. This country has done a lot in shaping the mentalities and contributing to building a modern, democratic society."
In closing, Grammy Award-winning composer and lyricist Tena Clark performed a song she wrote to honor the International Women of Courage and the women they represent around the world.