Each year the U.S. Secretary of State bestows the International Women of Courage Award on some of the bravest women anywhere — women who fight for human rights, for women’s equality and for social progress. Some have been imprisoned for their beliefs and their causes. None back down, even when their actions put their lives on the line.

Why does the State Department call attention to these heroes?

Because we all have a stake in empowering women.

“If public policies are to benefit everyone, they need to be informed by the broadest group possible,” says Stephenie Foster, a senior adviser and counselor in the State Department’s Office of Global Women’s Issues.

Here’s what happens when women are more involved in government, and in public life:

  • Public policy becomes more likely to address the social, economic and political challenges facing all disadvantaged groups — not just women.
  • Female participation strengthens efforts to resolve armed conflict and reconcile former combatants. As legislators, women are highly effective at consensus building and advancing new laws.
  • Empowered women with a voice in decisionmaking, are role models for the next generation.

“The 2016 International Women of Courage awardees and the thousands of women and girls they represent bring important issues to the forefront of their societies and communities. We need to listen to them, and decision makers need to listen to them,” Foster adds.

Join Secretary of State John Kerry and special guest first lady Michelle Obama to honor the 2016 Secretary’s International Women of Courage awardees for the live awards celebration on March 29. Tune in at www.state.gov.