The U.S. State Department honored emerging women leaders from around the world on March 7 at the annual International Women of Courage Award ceremony. The awards went to 10 women who have shown exceptional courage in advocating for human rights, women’s equality and social progress, often at great personal risk.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he knows, “from a lifetime of experience, that women of courage exist everywhere and they’re needed everywhere.”
The awardees include a prosecutor, a member of a police force and a religious leader. They include women who fight poverty, terrorism, domestic violence and the persecution of religious minorities.
In addition to the 10 awardees, the event honored Iranian women who fearlessly and peacefully stood up to a corrupt regime during the past year, despite harassment, arrest, long prison sentences and even torture.
“Last year, right around this time, dozens of women across Iran took to city streets to protest the law requiring them to wear the hijab in public at all times,” Pompeo said. “In an exercise of their freedom, these courageous women removed their hijabs in front of cameras, their faces clearly visible. They did so knowing the brutality of their leaders.”
Defending the rights of Iranian women
Nearly every day — whether on social media, on the street or at work — there are women in Iran who take peaceful and legal action in an effort to win back basic human rights that the revolutionary regime has stripped from them.
Nasrin Sotoudeh, a human rights lawyer, was arrested and jailed in Tehran’s infamous Evin Prison in June 2018 for representing several of the Iranian women charged with removing their headscarves in public during the White Wednesday campaign. Sotoudeh was recently convicted of “national security” crimes.
“No amount of spin will be able to conceal the fact that Sotoudeh is being persecuted for her peaceful defense of human rights in Iran, including a woman’s right to choose whether to wear a hijab,” said Hadi Ghaemi, executive director of the Center for Human Rights in Iran.
Shirin Ebadi, an exiled Iranian lawyer, former judge and 2003 Nobel Peace Prize winner for her human rights activism, also continues to advocate for the courageous women of Iran in their daily struggle to take back their rights. “Women are always considered as being against the regime — and the enemy,” Ebadi recently told news outlet FRANCE 24.
Awardees ’empower women everywhere’
The State Department has recognized more than 120 women from more than 65 different countries since it began giving the International Women of Courage Awards in 2007.
“These women,” said first lady Melania Trump at the 2019 event, “are role models for the next generation. Through their work, they empower women everywhere.”