On International Women’s Day March 8, 2011, the U.S. State Department bestowed the annual Secretary of State’s International Women of Courage Awards.
For the first time, a head of state was named as one of ten honorees. The President of the Kyrgyz Republic, Roza Otunbayeva, kept her country intact during a time of upheaval, empowered all citizens through meaningful elections, and relinquished some of her constitutional duties to a new government under a new constitution.
"She has offered an invaluable lesson to fledgling democracies everywhere," said Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, "because we know, of course, that elections alone do not produce democracies. It is that willingness to share power with other elected officials, to build democratic institutions, to hold a second and a third free and fair election, to transfer power peacefully – that's what allowed true democracy to take hold."
Maria Bashir of Afghanistan received the International Women of Courage Award for her work defending those who have no legal voice, fighting corruption and bringing hope to women survivors of violence, disfigurement and child marriage.
Honoree Henriette Ekwe Ebongo of Cameroon was selected for her pursuit of justice, the rule of law, and freedom of expression. Guo Jianmei of China was honored for her fearless legal advocacy in defense of women who are vulnerable and marginalized.
Another award recipient is Agnes Osztolykan of Hungary, the only Romani woman in the current Hungarian Parliament, where she has become a vocal – and nonpartisan -- advocate of Roma rights. Eva Abu Halaweh of Jordan provides legal support for victims of torture, abuse, and so-called honor crimes.
Honoree Marisela Morales of Mexico was recognized for her efforts to combat organized crime and corruption and protect citizens' human rights. And Ghulam Sughra of Pakistan was honored for supporting the rights of rural women to get an education, health services and access to economic opportunity.
Two International Women of Courage Award recipients were unable to attend the ceremony in Washington because their governments refused to allow them to travel. They are Nasta Palazhanka of Belarus who has stood up and spoken out on behalf of civil society and youth political activism, and Yoani Sanchez of Cuba, a blogger who promotes freedom of expression.
All these award winners are fearless advocates for the rights of women and for fundamental human rights and democracy. The United States support their efforts to improve the status of women around the world.