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Remarks at International Women of Courage Award Ceremony

Secretary Condoleezza Rice
International Women's Day
Benjamin Franklin Room, Washington, DC
March 10, 2008

(11:50 a.m. EDT)

UNDER SECRETARY DOBRIANSKY: Good morning to all of you. Thank you so much for coming here today to the Second Annual Secretary of State’s Award for International Women of Courage. We are here to honor women who display extraordinary courage in their efforts to improve lives and protect human rights. And I would like to extend our appreciation to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice for her sponsorship of these awards. Secretary Rice has fought tirelessly to transform our diplomacy to promote democracy and protect human rights throughout the world. She has often reminded us that promoting women and democracy is not about just women’s rights; it is about human rights and about enabling women to contribute to the political, social and economic development of their countries. Every day, women around the world make sacrifices to help their societies grow and prosper, but too often these efforts and sacrifices are not even recognized, let alone acknowledged. Secretary Rice has been in the forefront of making sure that these contributions are properly recognized and rewarded. Please join me in welcoming our Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice. (Applause.)

SECRETARY RICE: Thank you. Thank you, Paula, for that kind introduction, and thank you very much for everything that you do every day to advance this cause.

It is with great pleasure that I am here today, and I would like to recognize the many dignitaries and honored guests who have joined us. I see several members of the Diplomatic Corps -- thank you for joining us -- and several of our friends from the private sector, nongovernmental organizations and corporate sector. Thank you.

I am honored to join you all as we celebrate this year’s International Women’s Day. The day is an opportunity to highlight a broad range of issues of common concern to all women, regardless of their race, creed, or nationality. It is a time to reflect on past accomplishments, to recognize current reform efforts that are underway, and to acknowledge the challenges that still lie ahead.

Last year, we at the State Department established the Secretary’s International Women of Courage Award. This is an opportunity to pay tribute to women from around the world, who courageously champion equal rights in their communities, and whose personal sacrifice is an inspiration to all who seek peaceful change. President Bush has said that, “The struggle for women's rights is a story of strong women willing to take the lead.” The eight women who we honor today are the living embodiment of that fact.

From Somalia and Fiji, to Iraq and Afghanistan, from Pakistan and Paraguay to Kosovo and the Palestinian territories, these women of courage are transforming their societies from the bottom up, and in doing so, they are inspiring us all. Our eight honorees are among 95 exceptional women who were nominated by American Embassies worldwide. Despite differences of language, ethnicity and background, these eight women share a commitment to the non-negotiable demands of human dignity – the conviction that no culture, no religion, and no tradition of any nation provides license for treating women as objects or instruments to be commanded by another.

In too many parts of the world, unfortunately, women still struggle for basic rights and liberties in places where discrimination and exploitation and violence against women is all too common and all too often accepted or tolerated. In too many parts of the world, women still do not share equal rights with men or have access to justice. Despite seemingly insurmountable challenges and often at great risk to their own lives, today’s honorees have made a conscious decision to remain committed to the cause of equal justice for women. These heroines also represent so many other women around the world who fight and sacrifice so that future generations may benefit from human rights protections, access to justice and democracy, and greater prosperity and personal security in their countries.

These eight women of courage may not be as well known as other brave women such as Aung San Suu Kyi, who remains under house arrest, or women like Benazir Bhutto, who lost her life working for democracy. But these iconic leaders -- like these iconic leaders, the women who we honor today are an inspiration to women in their own countries and around the world who are working for freedom and positive change. And I may say, too, that they represent not just women and their courage, but all people who seek equal justice, equal rights, and the nonnegotiable demands of human dignity. And they are an inspiration to me.

The United States remains deeply committed to helping women of courage everywhere to peacefully remove the barriers to political, economic, and social empowerment for themselves and for others. This is a calling that requires dedication, commitment and passion. And to our honorees here today and to women around the world who are watching today’s events, I say this to each and every one of you: In your quest for justice and dignity, know that you will always have a friend and a partner in the United States of America. The United States looks forward to working with all of you, our world’s true women of courage. Congratulations on your accomplishments. (Applause.)

UNDER SECRETARY DOBRIANSKY: Thank you, Madame Secretary, for your continued leadership and your inspiring words today. When women stand up for their freedom, all of society benefits. When women are educated, have access to healthcare and are active and productive members of their country’s economy and governments, their countries are better equipped to reach their full potential. As President Bush has said about our own country, “Our history was altered because strong women stood up and led.” Well, today we gather to honor women devoted to bringing change to their societies. They are an inspiration to people in all nations who struggle for human rights. This year’s awardees have made immense personal sacrifices to stand up for freedom in Afghanistan, Paraguay, Iraq, Kosovo, Fiji, Pakistan, Somalia and the Palestinian Authority. While their backgrounds are different and their causes diverse, these brave women of vision are working to create a just and peaceful world.

It is now my honor to begin to present the 2008 Secretary of State’s Awards for International Women of Courage. And let’s go to our first and that is Miss Suraya Pakzad. And if I could ask her to come forward. (Applause.)

In 1998, Suraya Pakzad founded Voice of Women, a nongovernmental organization now based in Herat in western Afghanistan, with offices in three provinces. It was one of the very few organizations that continued operating during the Taliban, a really – a huge achievement. Its core service today is providing shelter and counseling to women who have recently been released from jail, women who have run away from abusive relationships and girls escaping forced marriages. It now gives me great pleasure to present this year's Secretary of State's International Women of Courage Award to Suraya Pakzad. (Applause.)

And I'd like to recognize Ambassador Jawad and Mrs. Jawad, who are here today from Afghanistan. Thank you so much for being here. (Applause.)

From Iraq, we have Eaman Al-Gobory. (Applause.) Dr. Al-Gobory is the national medical officer for the International Medical Organization of Migration (IOM) -- one of the few international aid groups that continues its efforts in Iraq. Amidst the violence, Dr. Al-Gobory visits hospitals, clinics and rehabilitation centers looking for sick and wounded children in need of specialized care, such as transplants, prosthetics and special surgeries that can only be found outside the country and arranges for care abroad, funding the treatment with the help of NGOs and charities. As violence increased, many doctors left the country, but Dr. Al-Gobory has remained, risking her life, searching out children with special medical needs. Please join me in welcoming again, and thanking her. We're pleased to present the Secretary of State's International Women of Courage Award to Dr. Eaman Al-Gobory. (Applause.)

And also welcome the Ambassador from Iraq who's here today. Thank you so much for being here. (Applause.)

From Pakistan, we have Begum Jan. Dr. Jan was the first woman to receive -- (applause) -- she was the first woman to receive a medical degree from Jalalabad Medical College, and she's the chairperson of the Tribal Women Welfare Association. This is an NGO based in Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas. Extremist elements deem efforts to educate and improve the lives of these women as un-Islamic and a danger to traditional cultural values, but Dr. Jan resolutely carries on her struggle for basic human rights. In the face of these extraordinary dangerous conditions, the work of Dr. Jan and her NGO have been key to helping women in this isolated part of the world to begin to improve their economic and social standing. And as if all that weren't enough, she practices medicine at a clinic in the tribal areas. It's a great pleasure to bestow the Secretary of State's award for International Women's Courage on Dr. Begum Jan. Congratulations. (Applause.)

Our next honoree, Ms. Nibal Thawabteh is a Palestinian -- (applause) -- and a woman of courage in politics and journalism. After participating in U.S.-sponsored political campaign training courses in 2002, she mounted her own successful campaign for the council of her conservative community. Her success has been a model and has shown other women that they can indeed participate in politics if they choose to do so. She developed her own customized training manual for women in her community and volunteered to help other women mount election campaigns of their own. Most recently, she founded a monthly newspaper which covers various controversial political and social issues, such as honor killings, polygamy and the plight of the poor. Her investigative reports have led to threats of physical violence, but she resolutely continues her work. Please join me in congratulating the bestowment of the Secretary of State’s Award for International Women of Courage on Ms. Nibal Thawabteh. (Applause.)

Our next honoree, Ms. Cynthia Bendlin hails from Paraguay. (Applause.) Ms. Bendlin has exhibited outstanding courage and leadership in combating the trafficking of women and promoting women’s rights through her administration of the International Organization of Migration’s Prevention of Trafficking of Women in the tri-border area of Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay.

Her efforts have not been recognized by any of these governments, and she continues to fight this modern-day slavery despite forced relocation and repeated death threats to herself and her family by those who are continuing this trade in her country. It is a privilege to bestow the Secretary of State’s Award for International Women of Courage to Cynthia Bendlin. (Applause.)

Our next honoree is from Europe, Ms. Valdete Idrizi of Kosovo. (Applause.) She is an ethnic Albanian who lost her home in Serb-controlled north Mitrovica in 1999. She crosses frequently into Serb-controlled territory over a bridge that she has been warned is at times too dangerous to cross in order to run women and youth projects in the Serb north. She also counsels Serb widows and other displaced persons who have suffered, as has she. She has risked beatings, kidnappings and death, and has had to move from house to house to ensure her safety. She runs a local NGO that sponsors more than 200 multiethnic and grassroots level projects in the immediate region of Mitrovica. In the last six years, her NGO has been the only organization in Mitrovica to encourage reconciliation between both ethnic Albanians and Serbs. It is a privilege to bestow the Secretary of State’s Award for International Women of Courage to Ms. Valdete Idrizi. (Applause.)

UNDER SECRETARY DOBRIANSKY: Our next honoree is Ms. Virisila Buadromo. (Applause.) She is from Fiji and she is a strong grassroots advocate for women’s development and human rights. Challenging social norms is particularly difficult as Fiji has suffered a series of coups, including a military coup in December of 2006. In 2001, she became the Executive Director of the Fiji Women’s Rights Movement, lobbying for greater gender equality and legal and political reforms.

Following the 2006 coup, she was hauled into the military barracks on Christmas Eve and endured days of horrific abuse, followed by a two-month travel ban. She then proceeded to expand her group’s scope and reach in the community by developing the Emerging Leaders Forum. It is a year-long training program for young women and another key target program which is targeted – concentrates on Fiji’s family law. It is a privilege to bestow the Secretary of State’s Award for International Women of Courage to Ms. Virisila Buadromo. Congratulations. (Applause.)

UNDER SECRETARY DOBRIANSKY: We have one final honoree and she is from Africa and please welcome her, Ms. Farhiyo Farah Ibrahim. (Applause.) Ms. Ibrahim is a Somali refugee who has dedicated her life to women’s rights and fighting against female genital mutilation and forced marriage in the remote Dadaab refugee camp in northeast Kenya. Life in the camps is especially harsh for women, who have traditionally played a subordinate role in a conservative Somali society. In these most difficult surroundings, she has somehow found the personal strength to follow her own convictions.

Facing down threats against her and ostracism by her family and clan, she has resolutely advocated for condom use, promoted voluntary HIV/AIDS counseling and testing, and advocated for the rights of women, girls and refugees to resist forced marriages. It is a privilege to bestow the Secretary of State’s Award for International Women of Courage to Ms. Farhiyo Farah Ibrahim. (Applause.)

Before we close, I wanted to just say that we really are honored to have these women here with us today. Each and every one of you has really not only put yourself personally on the line, but you have been a trailblazer in terms of your own countries and communities. We really respect what you’re doing, and thank you for what you’re doing on the occasion of this International Women’s Day.

And I also want to say as I scanned across the room I see so many advocates, so many NGOs, very distinguished leaders and individuals and colleagues here in the Department who have really worked very hard for the cause of women’s rights and human rights. I want to thank you and I also especially want to thank also our distinguished group of Ambassadors who are here this morning. We really thank you for being here and for supporting the Secretary’s International Women of Courage Award. Thank you so much and this concludes our ceremony. Thank you. (Applause.)


Released on March 10, 2008

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