First Lady Michelle Obama said winners of the U.S. Secretary of State's International Women of Courage Awards are an inspiration to social activists everywhere. Obama said this year's Women of Courage Award winners
teach that if a woman can fight torture and oppression to get on the ballot in Tajikistan or fight domestic abuse in Saudi Arabia, then everyone can summon a fraction of that bravery to confront the daily injustices they see.
"While our circumstances may be different, in so many ways the solutions to our struggles are the same. So when we see these women raise their voices and move their feet and empower others to create change, we need to realize that each of us has that same power and that same obligation," said Obama.
In addition to the Tajik politician Oinikhol Bobonazarova and the Saudi family safety campaigner Maha Al Muneef, those recognized at this year's ceremony included the Georgian Baptist Bishop Rusudan Gotsiridze and the Guatemalan jurist Iris Yassmin Barrios Aguilar.
Fiji feminist Roshika Deo and Malian community activist Fatimata Touré were honored along with the director of Kabul's Malalai Maternity Hospital Nasrin Oryakhil who spoke on behalf of the winners.
"The hope of women around the world one day will be materialized when they find themselves in an environment that truly recognizes and appreciates the real essence of being a woman and a mother," said Oryakhil.
Ukrainian activist Ruslana Lyzhychko and Zimbabwean human rights lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa were recognized, along with a young women from India known only as Laxmi, who campaigns against acid attacks after her face was burned by a young man whose advances she rejected. At the State Department ceremony, she read from a poem to her attacker.
"You will hear about me in the darkness of confinement. The time will be a burden for you. Then you will know that I am alive, free and thriving, and living my dreams," she said.
The first lady said the work of these women is a call to action. "None of us can afford to just go about our business as usual. We can not just sit back and think this is someone else's problem."
The Women of Courage Award annually recognizes women who have demonstrated exceptional courage and leadership in advocating for peace, justice, human rights, gender equality and women’s empowerment, often at great personal risk.