THE United States Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken was at the 17th Annual International Women of Courage (IWOC) Awards Ceremony in Washington on Wednesday. He addressed issues salient to women’s rights. Excerpts:
International Women of Courage
For 17 years now, U.S. secretaries of state have recognized International Women of Courage who are leading the charge for progress around the world. This year, for the first time, we honor the awardees here at the White House – and that really is a reflection of just how highly President Biden, the First Lady, and this administration prioritize gender equality and human rights.
We’re joined today by ambassadors from across the globe, who are essential partners in all of our efforts to make sure that women and girls can reach their full potential.
We have senior leaders from across the United States Government here: Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, our champion, our voice, at the United Nations. Deputy Secretary of Defense Kath Hicks. Under Secretary of State Uzra Zeya, our advocate for human rights. Jen Klein, Kat Fotovat, who are leaders of our global gender policy. And of course White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, also such a powerful voice for our country and for this administration around the world. And I also want to point out our team from the Bureau for Educational and Cultural Affairs. We’re working with so many of you every single day in the work that you’re doing.
We’re also joined by members of the State Department’s Locally Employed Staff. They’re literally the lifeblood of our missions in every country in the world. To be here today, some of them have traveled from more than a dozen countries in Asia, Africa, Europe, South America, and the Middle East. It’s wonderful to be with you today as well. Thank you.
And in the audience we have several previous winners of the International Women of Courage Award, who are continuing their inspiring work. And the First Lady and I had an opportunity to greet them, to be able to say in person what we were not able to do the last couple of years, which is: Congratulations and thank you for the incredible work that you’re doing.
And, of course, last but not least, our guests of honor, this year’s International Women of Courage. Welcome to all of you.
In the beginning
When Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice launched this initiative in 2007, she did so to honor women creating brighter futures – for themselves, for their communities, and for generations to come.
Since then, this award has recognized more than 180 women from over 80 countries around the world.
And that includes this year’s honorees: 11 truly extraordinary people.
As you’ll hear, these women are reporting on Russian atrocities in Ukraine. They’re fighting for equal opportunities for women and girls in Mongolia. They’re defending democracy in the Central African Republic. They’re protecting indigenous land in Costa Rica. They’re advocating for the rights of refugees, people with disabilities, the LGBTQI+ community.
Because of their work, and even as they do it every single day, they are faced with extraordinary challenges that, as you learn about them, read about them, are humbling. They, their loved ones in many cases, have endured harassment. They’ve endured violence. Some have been imprisoned. Others have been subject of misinformation and online attacks day in, day out. And yet each and every one has refused to be intimidated.
In every region, there are other women doing this work who we can’t name individually – in some cases because the attention would put them at even greater risk. So we’ve found a new way to honor them.
This year, we’re launching a group award, named after a pioneer and champion of equality, the great Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. We have several members of the Albright family here today to help us celebrate. I like to think I’m an extended member of that family. For me, as I’ve told our friends, I hear Madeleine Albright’s voice in my head on a regular basis; the clarity with which she spoke and what she said continues to resonate and continues to inspire me in the work that I and my team are doing. But you honor us with your presence today. Thank you for being here.
Women around the world
Around the world, women – in all of their diversity – are often the ones on the front lines of change. And yet, at the same time, they face still greater obstacles to their political participation; they experience gender-based violence and human rights abuses; they hold less economic and social power. We are committed to changing that.
Defending the rights of women and girls is rooted in our democratic values of human rights and fundamental freedoms for all. And when we advance equality and defend the rights of women, we improve life for everyone. When peace is forged with the participation and the leadership of women, it’s more likely to last. We know this from experience. Closing the gender gap in the global workforce would add $28 trillion to the global economy. And as Secretary Albright once said, we simply cannot build the future that we want without the contribution of women.
Gender and foreign policy
President Biden has made gender equality and women’s rights a priority of our foreign policy. Some of you know we recently launched the first-ever, cross-government Strategy on Women’s Global Economic Security, to try to help reduce the enduring wage gap, to improve access to well-paying jobs, to dismantle barriers to women’s economic participation. In December, the United States also updated our strategy to prevent and respond to gender-based violence globally, including new efforts to expand access to programs for historically marginalized communities.
We’re also learning from – and teaming up with – governments, civil society, the private sector in other countries to work toward gender equality together, including, of course, the women that we’re honoring today. One of those women – Hadeel Abdel Aziz – noted that, when it comes to advancing this struggle, success is “not about one big act” – “not about one big act of heroism, but … one hundred small battles.”
To our honorees, the United States is proud to be by your side, as you and others wage those hundred small battles, day in, day out. And we will be there and be there with you for the long haul.
Comments are closed.