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U.S. Honours 10 “Extraordinary Women” for Courage and Leadership

UNITED NATIONS, Mar 11 2015 (IPS) - Speaking at a ceremony to honour 10 “extraordinary women” from Asia, Africa, Europe and Latin America for their exceptional courage and leadership in advocating peace, justice, human rights and gender empowerment, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Heather Higginbottom cited the former president of Malawi Dr. Joyce Banda, recognised at the United Nations as a relentless advocate for women’s rights.

Amidst loud laughter, she quoted Dr. Banda as saying: “After all, we’re 50 percent of the population and we brought the other 50 percent into this world.”

Described as the ‘Secretary of State’s International Women of Courage Award’, the annual prizes recognise women’s roles as agents of change and leaders in many of the crises and challenges facing the world – from countering violent extremism to promoting security and recovery from Ebola.

The 2015 awards to 10 women from 10 countries were presented at a ceremony at the U.S. State Department last week.

This year’s awardees included: Captain Niloofar Rahmani, Afghan Air Force (Afghanistan); Nadia Sharmeen, journalist, women’s rights activist (Bangladesh); Rosa Julieta Montaño Salvatierra, Founder and Director, Oficina Jurídica para la Mujer (Bolivia); May Sabe Phyu, Director, Gender Equality Network (Burma); Béatrice Epaye, President, Fondation Voix du Coeur (Central African Republic, CAR); Marie Claire Tchecola, nurse, Ebola survivor and activist (Guinea); Sayaka Osakabe, Founder and Representative, Matahara Net (Japan); Arbana Xharra, Editor-in-Chief, Zeri (Kosovo); Tabassum Adnan, Founder, Khwendo Jirga (Pakistan) and Majd Chourbaji, External Relations Director, Women Now for Development Centers (Syria).

Since the inception of this award in 2007, the State Department has honoured 86 women from more than 50 different countries.

Higginbottom said: “We celebrate brave and heroic women who are changing their countries and this world.”

The journalist who writes stories about exposing corruption; the activist who stands tall for her beliefs, despite harassment; the pilot who flies not just for herself or her country but the promise of new horizons for women everywhere – these are the true faces of courage, she added.

“These honorees demonstrate to us what is possible when women stand up for their rights and freedoms, but they also demonstrate that we have a long road still to travel to achieve justice and equality for all.”

There is not a single country, including the United States, that has achieved full gender equality, she declared.

U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues Catherine Russell described the honourees as an amazing group of women who demonstrate the important role women play in changing their communities and their countries for the better.

She said U.S. embassies around the world, who are working day-in and day-out with women and their communities, understand the challenges and the important work that women are doing.

“Every year, they nominate candidates. It goes through a long process, because this is the State Department, where we have many meetings about trying to think through how we can best winnow down an amazing group of candidates.”

“And what you’re seeing here today are ten women – well, you’re actually seeing nine, because one had to leave already to get back to do some peace negotiations in CAR – but this is an amazing group who really represent as best we could all of the great work that women are doing around the world,” she noted.

The honourees are expected to travel individually to U.S. cities, including Atlanta, Chicago, Des Moines, Indianapolis, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Pensacola, Pittsburgh, and San Diego, to participate in professional meetings and events, and engage with American people through an International Visitor Leadership Program.

The women will reconvene in New York to participate in the current sessions of U.N. Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) scheduled to conclude Mar. 20.

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