This year's International Women of Courage Awards were presented to 21 women, seven of whom were killed in targeted attacks in Afghanistan.
Speaking at the Department of State awards ceremony, Secretary Antony Blinken, who was joined by First Lady Jill Biden, said “For 15 years, the State Department has given the International Women of Courage award to women around the world who have shown exceptional strength and leadership in advocating for peace, justice, human rights, and gender equality.
Among the women honored was Maria Kalesnikava of Belarus. She and her partners mounted a historic challenge to the 26-year rule of Aleksandr Lukashenka, courageously facing imprisonment in the aftermath of the disputed election.
Phyoe Phyoe Aung is an emerging leader in Burma. Her organization The Wings Institute facilitates youth exchanges between different ethnic and religious groups and promotes peacebuilding and reconciliation.
Another award winner, Maximilenne Ngo Mbe of Cameroon, has promoted human rights and been an outspoken voice among civil society actors, often sacrificing her personal safety, in the push for a peaceful resolution of the civil war in Cameroon.
Wang Yu of China is one of the country’s most prominent human right lawyers and has faced arrest and imprisonment for defending activists.
Julienne Lusenge, of the Democratic Republic of the Congo is a leading female activist in fighting against gender-based violence.
Other award recipients include Mayerlis Angarita of Colombia, Judge Erika Aifan from Guatemala, Shohreh Bayat of Iran, Muskan Khatun of Nepal, Zahra Mahamed Ahmad of Somalia, Sister Alicia Vacas Moro of Spain, Ranitha Ghanarajah of Sri Lanka, Canan Gulllu of Turkey, and Ana Rosario Contreras of Venezuela.
Secretary Blinken noted that women and girls are often “the most vulnerable to human rights abuses:”
“That’s why the equal rights and dignity of women and girls is a foreign policy priority for the United States. When we design our foreign policy with the rights and needs of women and girls in mind, our policy is more effective, more humane, and more likely to make a lasting difference in people’s lives.”
Addressing the award winners, Secretary Blinken said, “You are making our world more just, stable, peaceful, and free. The United States is proud to be in your corner.”