Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo At the International Women of Courage (IWOC) Awards Ceremony

Department of State
Office of the Spokesperson
For Immediate Release
Remarks by Michael R. Pompeo, Secretary of State
March 7, 2019

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Thank you.  Thank you, Pam.  And good morning, everyone.  It’s truly my honor to host this International Women of Courage Awards for the first time, and I’m glad you’re all here to celebrate this incredible group of honorees.

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.  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.  And sure enough, a year ago tomorrow, on International Women’s Day, state police swarmed their protest.  Many women were arrested.  Some faced torture and beatings in jail.  At least one was sentenced to 20 years behind bars, and others were forced to flee abroad.  The plight of these Iranian women is just one example of the danger facing many women and of the courage so often shown in the face of it.

We’re here today to honor women of courage from all around the world who are standing tall in the fact of extraordinary adversity.  This year’s recipients include an anti-terror investigator from Djibouti who has put away numerous al-Shabaab terrorists; a Bangladeshi Rohingya lawyer who fights the abuse of trafficking of the Rohingya women and girls; an investigative journalist in Montenegro exposing corruption and organized crime who has been attacked multiple times, yet still continues her work; a Tanzanian lawyer who fights for human rights for women and girls and advocates for more female candidates for public office; a nun from Ireland who helped start a girls’ boarding school in South Sudan, which has become a beacon of hope for girls who might otherwise be denied education and forced to enter early marriages; a chief of the women’s police department in Jordan who’s been recognized for her work with victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse; a leader of a nationwide NGO in Egypt that serves the most impoverished urban slums and rural villages; an activist in Burma who has worked her entire life to support ethnic community displaced by the decades-long civil war; a crusader against child exploitation in Sri Lanka who offers pro bono legal services to child victims of crimes; and finally, Peru’s national coordinator for environmental prosecutors, who fights multibillion dollar criminal enterprises that fuel corruption, human trafficking, and destruction of natural resources in the Amazon.

Please join me again with a round of applause.  (Applause.)

It’s also important that we pause to recognize and honor those women who paid the ultimate price for their courageous efforts, women like Kateryna Handziuk of Ukraine, who dedicated her journalism career to uncovering and calling out corruption.  Even after a brutal acid attack, which ultimately claimed her life three months later, Kateryna refused to be silenced.  From her hospital bed, she demanded justice, setting a powerful example for her fellow citizens.

Here at the State Department, stories like these motivate and inspire us.  Our colleagues in the Office of Global Women’s Issues work to integrate women’s empowerment into our foreign policy, and our Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs assists in the push for inclusive, quality education for girls and women all around the world.  And at USAID, we’re working on a new plan with the goal to empower at least 50 million women across developing countries.  It’s called the Women’s Global Development and Prosperity Initiative.  We’re very proud of these efforts here at the State Department, but we acknowledge that work remains to ensure that participation of women exists in all spaces of public life and all across the world.

Women of courage exist everywhere.  Most will never be honored.  They face different challenges, but challenges that still matters.  I’ve personally, of course, had this experience as well.  I’ve witnessed women service in my time in the military and have been inspired by them in my personal life.  My mother, too, was a woman of courage.  She was born in rural Kansas.  She helped make ends meet while raising three kids.  She never managed to get to college, but made sure that each of us had enormous opportunity.  You all know women like this.  They’re strong.  She was dedicated to providing opportunity for me and my siblings, and we didn’t appreciate the sacrifices that she had endured.  And she also raised me to be really smart; I met another courageous woman, Susan, my wife, who’s here with me today.  (Laughter and applause.)

We all know – I know – from a lifetime of experience that women of courage exist everywhere and they’re needed everywhere.  That’s one reason I’ve appointed women to dozens of senior leadership roles here at the place I am privileged to work.  From under secretaries to assistant secretaries to non-career ambassadorships, we know here we can’t succeed without empowering women worldwide, and that means we need to make sure that we have women empowered at our department worldwide.

And now it’s my honor to welcome our distinguished guest speaker today, a woman of incredible power and courage, a woman who has been a powerful advocate in her own right.  Since becoming First Lady, she’s been increasingly outspoken against the enslavement of human trafficking and sexual abuse of women and girls all around the globe.  I know she will continue to be an influential leader, an influential voice who inspires future women leaders like herself all around the world.  Please join me in welcoming the First Lady of the United States of America, Melania Trump.  (Applause.)