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US State Department to Recognize 9 'Women of Courage'

  • VOA News

The United States is marking International Women's Day by honoring nine female activists from around the world who have shown "exceptional courage and leadership" in advocating for women's rights and empowerment.

Secretary of State John Kerry and first lady Michelle Obama will preside over the "Women of Courage" ceremony Friday at the U.S. State Department.

Among those being honored are First Sergeant Malalai Bahaduri, the first female member of Afghanistan's National Interdiction Unit. The State Department says despite her achievements at the counter-narcotics law enforcement agency, the mother of three has experienced death threats, physical abuse, and social bias as a result of her career choice.

Prominent Tibetan author Tsering Woeser is also being recognized for speaking out publicly about human rights conditions for China's Tibetan citizens. Woeser is regularly under state surveillance and placed under house arrest by Beijing. She is not able to attend the ceremony because Chinese authorities denied her a passport.

Female human rights activists from Honduras, Nigeria, Russia, Somalia, Syria and Vietnam will also receive awards at the ceremony, which has been held every year since 2007.

Julieta Castellanos, rector at the National Autonomous University of Honduras, is being honored for her work on a reconciliation committee that helped her country recover from violent political polarization following a coup.

A Nigerian activist, Dr. Josephine Obiajulu Odumakin, is being praised for leading a campaign against state-sanctioned violence against women. She was arrested and detained 17 times during the rule of General Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida, who left office in 1993.

Russian investigative journalist Elena Milashina is also being recognized. The State Department says Milashina covered some of Russia's most controversial subjects, such as drug trafficking and the killing of journalists, with "passion, fairness, and dedication." She has also received death threats from government officials and corporations.

Somali peace activist Fartuun Adan is being cited for advocating education as an alternative to perpetual violence in her country. She and her husband are known for coining the popular Somali peace mantra "Put down the gun and pick up the pen."

Razan Zeitunah is not able to attend the ceremony. She has been in hiding for 22 months after the Syrian government accused her of being a foreign agent for reporting on violence against civilians during the country's civil war. She is a leading voice of the Syrian opposition and a founder of the Local Coordination Committees.

Vietnamese blogger Ta Phong Tan will also be unable to receive her award in person, as she is serving a 10-year prison sentence for criticizing her country's ruling Communist Party.

The 23-year-old Indian victim of who died in December following a brutal gang rape in Delhi will be honored posthumously. The woman, known to the world as "Nirbhaya" or "Fearless," inspired nationwide protests in India calling for the protection of women.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon mentioned Nirbhaya's case in a statement to mark the International Women's Day. Ban said the world must convert its outrage over such incidents into action to prevent violence against women. He said the issue of sexual violence must be a priority in all U.N. peacekeeping activities.

A joint statement by the World Food Program, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, and two other intergovernmental agencies highlighted the link between women, violence and food security. The statement urged the world to do more to protect women against gender discrimination and domestic violence, which it said often lead to malnutrition and disempowerment.

World Women's Day events

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