Secretary of State, First Lady Honor 'Women of Courage'

11 March 2009

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, left, shakes hands with Veronika Marchenko, from Russia, as first lady Michelle Obama look on, 11 Mar 2009
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, left, shakes hands with Veronika Marchenko, from Russia, as first lady Michelle Obama look on, 11 Mar 2009
The Obama administration is honoring courageous women around the world and taking steps to promote gender equity in the United States.

At a ceremony at the State Department, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton underscored the administration's determination to defend the rights of women around the world. "We simply cannot solve the global problems confronting us from a worldwide financial crisis to the risks of climate change to chronic hunger, disease and poverty that sap the energies and talents of hundreds of millions of people when half the world's population is left behind," Clinton said.

The remarks came at an event honoring eight women who have displayed incredible courage in the fight for human rights in their homelands.

They include women from Afghanistan, Guatemala, Iraq, Malaysia and Niger. Others come from Russia, Uzbekistan and Yemen.

First Lady Michelle Obama told the gathering that they are an inspiration. "This is how real change occurs -- one determined woman at a time. And change is coming," she said.

Malaysian lawyer and human rights activist Ambiga Sreenevasan spoke on behalf of all eight recipients of the Secretary of State's Award for International Women of Courage. "Ours is a message of hope that something has been achieved, despite the odds," she said.

Earlier, President Barack Obama honored American women of accomplishment at the White House.

He said the United States still has work to do to live up to the promise of true equality for all, especially in the area of equal pay. And he announced he is creating a White House panel to coordinate policy across the government affecting women and girls. "It's a council with a mission that dates back to our founding -- to fulfill the promise of our democracy for all our people," the president said.

He cited the women in his own life, a single mother who struggled to get an education while raising two children, a grandmother who could only go so far in her banking career because of her gender, and a wife who has struggled to balance work and family. "In so many ways, the stories of the women in my life were the stories of women across this country -- a story of unyielding progress and also untapped potential," he said.

The president has also named a new ambassador-at-large for international women's issues. She is Melanne Verveer, who currently heads a non-profit group that grooms women for leadership roles around the world.

The following is a list of the women honored Wednesday at the State Department. All the 2009 recipients of the Secretary of State's International Women of Courage Awards were at the ceremony except for Reem Al Numery from Yemen.

Ms. Wazhma Frogh (Afghanistan)

Wazhma Frogh is the Afghanistan Country Director for the NGO Global Rights and a dynamic leader in the fight against domestic violence, marital and child rape, and sexual abuse in Afghanistan.

Ms. Norma Cruz (Guatemala)

Norma Cruz is on the forefront of women who are fighting on behalf of victims of violence and sexual abuse. As director of the NGO Survivors Foundation, Ms. Cruz combats the widespread impunity that too often accompanies the endemic violence against women in Guatemala.

Ms. Suaad Allami (Iraq)

A prominent lawyer, Suaad Allami fights against the erosion of women's rights and defends the most disadvantaged. She founded the NGO Women for Progress and the Sadr City Women's Center, which offers free medical care, literacy education, vocational training, and legislative advocacy. She has accepted a Humphrey Fellowship from the State Department for academic year 2009-2010.

Ms. Ambiga Sreenevasan (Malaysia)

An accomplished lawyer who became President of the Malaysian Bar Council, Ambiga Sreenevasan masterfully uses the rule of law to advance human rights, the status of women, and religious tolerance. In the face of death threats and intimidation, Ms. Ambiga has emerged as a strong voice of tolerance and justice.

Ms. Hadizatou Mani (Niger)

Sold to a "master" at the age of 12 for the equivalent of $500, Hadizatou Mani persevered in gaining her freedom and helped pave the way for others trapped in similar circumstances to seek justice. Through her valiant efforts, persistence, and refusal to succumb to social pressure to abandon her case, she won a historic, precedent-setting decision in the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Court of Justice that condemned her enslavement.

Ms. Veronika Marchenko (Russia)

Veronika Marchenko is the head of the NGO Mother's Right, and has demonstrated exceptional bravery and leadership in exposing the truth surrounding the disturbing peacetime deaths within the Russian armed forces. Ms. Marchenko has successfully sought justice on behalf of bereaved families of servicemen who died as a result of cruel and inhumane conditions.

Ms. Mutabar Tadjibayeva (Uzbekistan)

Imprisoned for criticizing her government's handling of events surrounding the 2005 violence in the city of Andijon, Mutabar Tadjibayeva refuses to be silenced. She has returned to human rights advocacy, and remains a fearless critic of human rights abuses.

Ms. Reem Al Numery (Yemen)

When she was 12, Reem Al Numery had her childhood cut short when she was forced to marry her 30-year -old cousin. She has emerged as a strong and brave voice on behalf of other girls facing a similar fate. Her courage has inspired a widespread drive against child marriages in Yemen.