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From Afghanistan to Bolivia, Women Brave Death to Fight for Rights


From Afghanistan to Bolivia, women are defying death threats to fight for the rights of their people, defending gender equality, freedom of expression and basic human rights.

On Friday, 10 of those women received this year’s Women of Courage Award from the U.S. State Department in Washington, D.C.

The award recognizes women who have shown exceptional bravery while fighting for peace and justice, even under the threat of physical violence and death.

From the front lines of the war in Syria to the streets of Myanmar and into northwest Pakistan, these women have struggled for change.

Here is a look at some of the winners:

Uncommon valor

Majd Chourbaji of Syria was tortured in President Bashar al-Assad’s jails. She now fights for prisoners’ rights, said Deputy Secretary of State Heather Higginbottom.

“For her persistence in championing the rights of political prisoners and her efforts to ensure that Syrian women are meaningfully included in resolving conflict, we honor Majd Chourbaji as a woman of courage,” said Higginbottom.

Chourbaji said prisoners were burned with acid. Women prisoners were raped. Many died. She still hears their screams in her mind.

“Through this award I hope that I will be able to convey the voices of the Syrian prisoners and the Syrian refugees. There is international silence towards the cause of the detainees, they are the forgotten ones,” said Chourbaji.

Staring down discrimination

May Sabe Phyu fights for the rights of women in Myanmar, where she says few people even admit that gender discrimination exists.

“If you are accepting what people want you to accept, your life will never change. If you would like to see a change you have to stand up and raise your voice so that change will come,” she said.

In the SWAT valley of northwest of Pakistan, where the Taliban still operates and where activist Malala Yousufzai was shot, Tabassum Adnan is leading a similar struggle.

Adnan says women need to speak out for their rights despite the threats they will face.

“I want the Pakistan women to get rid of the fear that they have, they need to raise their voices. Once Pakistani women raise their voices we can be sure together we will achieve the goals we need to achieve,” said Adnan.

Bangladesh journalist Nadia Sharmeen, who was beaten almost to death for reporting at a fundamentalist rally, spoke for all the women awarded.

“This award reminded us that we have much more to do for our society, for the peace of the world, and of course, for advancing the right of the women. And for the long struggle we have to go through, this award is just a beginning, not the end, of course,” said Sharmeen.

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    Sharon Behn

    Sharon Behn is a foreign correspondent working out of Voice of America’s headquarters in Washington D.C  Her current beat focuses on political, security and humanitarian developments in Iraq, Syria and Turkey. Follow Sharon on Twitter and on Facebook.

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