On Tuesday, the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day, First Lady Michelle Obama joined Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to recognize ten remarkable women, recipients of the 2011 International Women of Courage Award. The State Department Award created in 2007 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.
“I am particularly privileged to honor these women who have truly done heroic work to advance freedom, equality, opportunity, and dignity for all,” said Mrs. Clinton at the ceremony. “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.”
“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.”
The CEO and Chairman of Goldman Sachs, Lloyd Blankfein, was also in attendance to announce a new partnership with the State Department to provide scholarships for 100 women entrepreneurs in developing countries like Haiti over the next two years. It will supplement the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Women program, a $100 million investment to provide business and management training, which has already educated more than 3,500 women in more than 20 countries. These women have been growing their businesses, boosting their profitability, creating new jobs for others.
The 10 Awardees are:
• Henriette Ekwe Ebongo of Cameroon: For a lifetime of selfless dedication to the pursuit of justice, the rule of law, human rights, and freedom of expression, at great cost to herself, her physical safety, her family, and her public persona.
• Maria Bashir of Afghanistan: For defending those who have no legal voice, fighting corruption, and bringing hope to women survivors of violence, disfigurement, and child marriage.
• Jianmei Guo of China: As a lawyer she has defended those who are in desperate need of support, standing against injustice with her groundbreaking work to improve the status of women — women who are robbed of their wages, who need to get a divorce, and who have nowhere to live.
• Agnes Osztolykan of Hungary: As the first Roma woman ever elected to the parliament in Hungary, she has overcome racism and discrimination to emerge a leader in elected office, serving as a proud defender of the Roma people and culture, and tirelessly pressing for equal rights and the inclusion of minorities in society.
• Eva Abu Halaweh of Jordan: Taking on one of the most sensitive issues, she has provided a legal outlet for victims of torture, abuse, and so-called honor crimes. She has been a relentless advocate on behalf of human rights and women at risk.
• Roza Otunbayeva, President of the Kyrgyz Republic: For her visionary leadership and tenacity to end conflict and to keep her country intact, and her fight to empower all of her citizens through meaningful elections and democratic advancement, she stands not only as a great leader of her own country but as a challenge and an example for leaders everywhere.
• Marisela Morales Ibanez of Mexico: In a country committed to the fight against violence and the drug traffickers and criminal organizations, she has shown an unfailing drive to combat organized crime and corruption, despite the danger, and a valiant dedication to protect citizens’ security and human rights.
• Ghulam Sughra of Pakistan: She has lived a life that demonstrates unequivocally that one person can make a difference. In her village, she stood up for her own rights and became the first woman to get a divorce. And then she decided she wanted to fulfill her own dream and become educated. She then pressed forward to help other rural women and girls to have the same opportunities to overcome poverty and gender discrimination.
• Nasta Palazhanka of Belarus: In a country that is still oppressing its people, rigging elections and jailing political opponents in the most brutal and oppressive ways, she stands against an intimidating force. But, she has spoken out to promote civil society and youth political activism.
• Yoani Sanchez of Cuba: As a young blogger, she uses technology to promote positive change. She has created an interactive space for the exchange of ideas and free expression. She has given voice to the concerns and aspirations of her fellow citizens.