The U.S. Department of State in early March recognized ten women from around the globe with the Secretary of State’s International Women of Courage Award. They were honored for their outstanding contributions to peace, human rights, gender equality, and social progress.
“If we are to address and meet our most pressing global challenges, we must include women and girls as full and equal partners in our efforts,” said Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources Heather Higginbottom during the ceremony. But too often, women have no voice in the political process or access to the halls of justice. Still, the voices of many are difficult to ignore. To amplify women’s voices, three of the awardees formed advocacy groups.
May Sabe Phyu is the director of the Gender Equality Network in Burma, a coalition of some 90 organizations collaborating to advocate for women’s rights. She has been instrumental in developing Burma’s inaugural National Strategic Plan for the Advancement of Women.
After outbreak of violence in Burma’s Kachin State in 2011, Ms. May co-founded the Kachin Peace Network and the Kachin Women’s Peace Network to raise awareness of internally displaced persons, of the specific needs of displaced women, and to advocate for peace and reconciliation in Burma.
Sayaka Osakabe sparked a nationwide conversation about discrimination against women in the Japanese workforce through an organization she founded, "Matahara Net". One of the women she helped won a landmark Japan Supreme Court case in October 2014 ruling against pregnancy discrimination.
Ms. Osakabe has advocated strongly, and the Government of Japan has taken commendable policy steps to address the issue.
Rosa Julieta Montaño Salvatierra of Bolivia has spent much of her life working towards protecting women’s rights, and to protect women from sexual exploitation and violence. Thirty years ago, she founded the NGO Oficina Jurídica para la Mujer, or Legal Office for Women, which promotes gender equality through education, and by influencing public policy. The organization has worked with the Bolivian legislature in drafting laws that help or protect women, such as stricter penalties for rape, greater protection for reproductive rights, and advanced gender equality laws.
“These honorees demonstrate to us what is possible when women stand up for their rights and freedoms,” said Deputy Secretary Higginbottom. “But they also demonstrate that we have a long road still to travel to achieve justice and equality for all.”