March 8th is International Women's Day -- a day to honor the contributions of women in advancing the cause of freedom, justice, and equality. Ten women from around the world have been selected by the U.S. State Department to receive the Women of Courage Awards. These women have transformed their societies and serve as an inspiration to the international community.
One of the award recipients is Jennifer Williams – a founder of WOZA, Women of Zimbabwe Arise. WOZA's twice yearly marches united women of all races and economic backgrounds for peace and development, and to preserve space for civil society. Although these marches have resulted in mass arrests by authorities, the women remain undeterred.
Dr. Siti Musdah Mulia earned her Ph.D. in Islamic thought from the State Islamic University in Indonesia. A prominent Muslim feminist, she has used her knowledge of the Quran to recommend banning child marriage, and allowing interfaith marriage.
Latvian journalist Ilze Jaunalksne is being honored for her courageous reporting. She exposed a vote-buying scandal that led to the indictment of several powerful political figures. In the face of harassment, she took the government to court and sued for defamation of character and won, the first case of its kind in Latvia.
Dr. Samia Al-Amoudi, an obstetrician gynecologist in Saudi Arabia, diagnosed her own breast cancer last year. She has bravely fought to raise public awareness about the need for Saudi women to get access to care and treatment for serious illnesses.
Other award recipients include Mariya Ahmed Didi, one of two women elected to parliament in the Maldives and Susana Trimarco de Veron in Argentina who is fighting the scourge of human trafficking. Mary Akrami and Aziza Siddiqui from Afghanistan and two women from Iraq are also receiving awards.
"Women of courage," said Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, "are standing up for freedom and human dignity, and the United States with them. We must not forget," she said, "that the advance of women's rights and the advance of human liberty go hand in hand."