The 2018 Secretary of State’s International Women of Courage Award recipients have been announced. These 10 women will be honored during a ceremony at the U.S Department of State featuring remarks by First Lady Melania Trump and State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert, on March 23, at 2:00 PM EDT.
The 2018 International Women of Courage Award Recipients
First established in March 2007, the annual Secretary of State’s International Women of Courage Award honors women around the world who have demonstrated exceptional courage, strength, and leadership in acting to bring positive change to their societies, often at great personal risk and sacrifice. Meet this year’s award recipients:
From the Bureau of African Affairs (AF):
L’Malouma Said (Mauritania)
L’Malouma Said was born into slavery in 1972 in the far south-eastern town of Boutilmitt in Mauritania. When she was seventeen years old, she was a leading activist at her school for the emancipation of Haratines. Before becoming one of only four Haratine women elected as deputy (Member of Parliament) to the Mauritanian National Assembly in 2006 and again in 2013, she was the president of a cooperative of women traders. She was also officer in charge of women within the El Hor movement (Movement for the liberation of Haratines in Mauritania) as well as a founding member of the Mauritanian anti-slavery organization S.O.S. Esclaves, currently led by her husband Boubacar Messaoud. Said is well known for speaking out on human rights issues and her powerful national and international advocacy for the improvement of prisons in Mauritania. She believes Mauritania’s prisoners suffer from a lack of social and educational opportunities, as well as poor safety and health conditions, leading to escape attempts and the spread of diseases among the prison population. Said has a long history of defending human rights and equality, as well as the fight against all forms of discrimination in Mauritania. She is a vocal leader on these issues within the Mauritanian Parliament. She has proven herself to be a courageous woman with a history of commitment, determination, and perseverance in defending human rights issues during her two terms in the parliament.
Godelieve Mukasarasi (Rwanda)
Godelieve Mukasarasi dedicated her life after the 1994 Rwandan Genocide to fighting for a culture of peace and non-violence in Rwanda, as well as promoting the rights of women and girls affected by sexual violence in conflict zones worldwide. Founder and Coordinator of the organizationSolidarité pour l’Épanouissement des Veuves et des Orphelins visant le Travail et l’Auto promotion/Solidarity for the Development of Widows and Orphans to Promote Self-Sufficiency and Livelihoods (SEVOTA), Mukasarasi works with communities across Rwanda to reset human, social, and economic relations destroyed during the Genocide. In 1996, she was approached by the United Nations team putting together the case against former Mayor of Taba Jean-Paul Akayesu for his role in the Genocide. Overcoming intimidation by community members and the murder of her daughter and husband, likely for her decision to testify at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, she mobilized four members of SEVOTA to testify against Akayesu. Although rape has been considered an international war crime since 1919, it had never been prosecuted as a war crime until the conviction of Akayesu. These women’s actions, through Mukasarasi’s leadership, changed the world of criminal justice forever, giving women who were sexually assaulted in conflicts a voice and access to justice. Since 1994, SEVOTA has reached over 300 genocide rape victims and helped them to reintegrate socially and economically into their communities. They have organized more than 1,300 households to participate in micro-savings clubs and 2,000 youth and children in peace and development clubs. Mukasarasi is truly a woman of courage, and has been an important figure in the peace and reconciliation of Rwanda and the protection of women and children across the globe. Mukasarasi received the John Humphrey Freedom Award by Law & Democracy (2004); the Outstanding Achievement Award for Rural Women’s Creativity Award from the World Women’s Summit Foundation in Geneva (1996); and, SEVOTA was honored with the Award for Human Rights for its contribution to the promotion of the rights of vulnerable women by Human Right International (2011).
Sirikan Charoensiri (Thailand)
In the immediate aftermath of Thailand’s May 2014 coup d’etat, lawyer Sirikan Charoensiri (known as June) co-founded Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR), a lawyers’ collective set up to provide pro bono legal services in human rights cases and to document human rights issues under the military government. TLHR has represented hundreds of clients since the military coup, often as the only alternative for those facing politically-motivated charges. Because of the political sensitivity of the organization’s work, TLHR lawyers and staffers, and June in particular, have been subjected regularly to harassment, intimidation, and criminal charges. As a consequence of her advocacy, June is currently facing three sets of criminal charges for her work as a lawyer, including a charge of sedition – the first for a lawyer under the military government. Nevertheless, June continues undeterred in her work.
Dr. Feride Rushiti (Kosovo)
Sister Maria Elena Berini (Italy)
From the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs (NEA):
Aliyah Khalaf Saleh (Iraq)
Aliyah Khalaf Saleh, known as Umm Qusay in Iraq, is 62 years old and was born in the Iraqi province of Salah al-Din, not far from Tikrit. Umm Qusay has become a national hero in Iraq despite early challenges such as not having had the opportunity to attend school and being married at the young age of 13. She is a volunteer humanitarian recognized for her bravery in rescuing young Iraqi military cadets ambushed by ISIS on June 12, 2014, the day of the Camp Speicher Massacre. Umm Qusay and her family saw the cadets jumping into the river to save themselves and although they were suffering from the recent loss of their own family members at the hands of ISIS, they had the presence of mind to take action. Umm Qusay rescued 58 recruits over a period of five months. She hid them in small groups, provided them with I.D. cards from the local university to hide their identities, and prepared their escape routes. She took care to teach the Shi’a how to pray as Sunnis to avoid coming to the attention of ISIS. Umm Qusay, a Sunni, believed strongly that each young boy deserved her care whether Christian, Kurd, Turkmen, Yezidi, Sunni, or Shi’a. Her selfless actions in the wake of ISIS’s terror have already been recognized in Iraq, including by the highest Shi’a religious authorities who bestowed on this Sunni woman the title of “Toa’a Al-‘Asr.” Toa’a today is used to describe women who place the wellbeing of others before themselves. In July 2015, Prime Minister Abadi presented her with Iraq’s Medal of the State. Four years on, Umm Qusay continues to receive tribal leaders, military officials, and citizens who want to meet and embrace the Iraqi woman who serves as a beacon of hope for their country in the wake of its liberation from ISIS. She regularly cooks for soldiers and visits the wounded in hospitals. Umm Qusay is a vivid embodiment of the message of a common humanity. In her own words, “We are all created by God. We are all the same”.
Roya Sadat (Afghanistan
Aiman Umarova (Kazakhstan)
Aura Elena Farfan (Guatemala)
Aura Elena Farfan is a fearless advocate for the families of the forcibly disappeared during Guatemala’s civil war (1960-1996), a bloody conflict that led to the killing and forced disappearance of approximately 200,000 civilians. Farfan has been a human rights activist since her brother disappeared in 1984. She received death threats throughout the years for her work and was kidnapped by armed assailants in 2001. In 2015, Time Magazine named Farfan as one of its 100 Most Influential People. In 2017, she was prominently featured in Finding Oscar, an award-winning documentary produced by Steven Spielberg. Despite the recognition she has received, Farfan has worked quietly over the years, and seldom appeared in the spotlight. Farfan’s 33 years of dedicated work in the quest for justice for families of the forcibly disappeared has inspired a generation of young activists and shines a light on transitional justice efforts in Guatemala.
Dr. Julissa Villanueva (Honduras)
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