Tue. Apr 16th, 2024
2024 International Women of Courage Award Recipients Announced

On Monday, March 4, at 11:30 a.m. EST, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken and First Lady Jill Biden will host the annual International Women of Courage (IWOC) Awards ceremony at the White House.

The ceremony is invite-only, open to pre-credentialed media, and will be live streamed on whitehouse.gov/live  and www.state.gov.

Now in its 18th year, the Secretary of State’s IWOC Award recognizes women from around the globe who have demonstrated exceptional courage, strength, and leadership in advocating for peace, justice, human rights, gender equity and equality, and the empowerment of women and girls, in all their diversity – often at great personal risk and sacrifice.  Since March 2007, the Department of State has recognized more than 190 women from 90 countries with the IWOC Award.  U.S. diplomatic missions overseas nominate one woman of courage from their respective host countries, and finalists are selected and approved by senior Department officials.  Following the IWOC ceremony, the awardees will participate in an in-person International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) and additional programming in Los Angeles, during which they will engage with American counterparts on strategies and ideas to empower women and girls around the globe.  The 2024 awardees are:

Benafsha Yaqoobi – Afghanistan

Benafsha Yaqoobi, who is visually impaired, worked for years as an attorney defending the rights of women who faced violence; founded the Rahyab Organization in 2008 with her husband to provide education and rehabilitation to visually impaired people in Afghanistan; hosted a daily live television show to raise awareness about disability rights; and later served as a Commissioner for the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, where she focused on educating blind children.  Ms. Yaqoobi is living in exile but remains a tireless advocate for Afghans with disabilities, particularly calling for the international community to ensure that the rights of disabled persons are concretely incorporated in humanitarian response efforts undertaken by donors.  She is also working diligently to ensure that Afghan girls with disabilities are represented and continues to fight for their right to attend school.

Fawzia Karim Firoze – Bangladesh

Fawzia Karim Firoze is a Bangladeshi Supreme Court advocate who has fought for the rights of marginalized groups for more than three decades.  Ms. Firoze is currently the head of her own law chamber and serves as the Chairperson for the Foundation for Law and Development (FLAD).  Under her leadership, FLAD won a ruling determining that the Domestic Workers Protection and Welfare Policy of 2015 was inadequate to protect the rights of domestic workers.  Ms. Firoze has personally filed approximately 3,000 cases on behalf of garment workers against their employers and helped establish the Bangladesh Independent Garment Workers Union Federation (BIGUF) and the Domestic Workers Guidelines.  Ms. Firoze previously served as the President of the Bangladesh Women Lawyers Association from 2007-2018 and is a founding trustee of the Acid Survivors Trust.  In November 2023, the Bangladesh Supreme Court Administration elected Firoze to its five-member committee to review sexual harassment cases and make recommendations to the Court.

Volha Harbunova  Belarus

Volha Harbunova is a Belarusian human rights defender who has dedicated her life to advocating for the rights of women, children, the LGBTQI+ community, and other marginalized groups in Belarus.  In the wake of the fraudulent 2020 elections in Belarus, Ms. Harbunova was imprisoned by the Lukashenka regime after organizing women’s marches and, while in prison, suffered psychological torture from the authorities and death threats for helping abused women.  After her release, Ms. Harbunova fled Belarus, certain of continued repression, and in exile in Lithuania joined the cabinet of Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, leader of the Belarusian democratic movement.  As the Representative for Social Issues, her mandate includes advocating for the release of political prisoners, providing support to former political prisoners and their families, and promoting psychosocial support to the Belarusian community in exile.  As former head of the NGO Radislava, which was ultimately shuttered by the Lukashenka regime, Ms. Harbunova was a pioneering activist in support of victims of domestic violence and for twenty years operated one of the only shelters for children and women in Belarus.

Ajna Jusić – Bosnia and Herzegovina

Ajna Jusić is a psychologist and a feminist from Zenica, Bosnia and Herzegovina, who currently resides in Sarajevo.  In 2018, she founded the Forgotten Children of War Association, the first organization in the Western Balkans to advocate for the social and legal visibility of children born of rape during war and against the associated social stigma.  Following years of effort, in 2023, Ms. Jusić and her organization advocated successfully for the passage of the first such law in the world, which grants special rights to children born through acts of wartime sexual violence.  This law will help provide compensation to these marginalized individuals – who are now young adults – by providing increased social protection and countering years of stigmatization.  Having started the vital conversation to help children born of rape to slowly emerge from the shadows, Ms. Jusić and her organization have also assisted victims of other conflicts, including Rwanda and Ukraine, to address social stigma and to fight for equality.

Myintzu Win – Burma

Myintzu Win, a veteran criminal defense lawyer, champions the rights of marginalized communities in Burma in spite of significant obstacles in the legal landscape.  Her service extends to women, children, the indigent, persons with disabilities, and the LGBTQI+ community, where she tirelessly works to safeguard their fundamental rights and ensure fair trials.  To date, Ms. Win has defended – often pro bono – over 500 clients.  In her previous role as a legal advisor to International Development Law Organization, Ms. Win’s dedication transcended individual cases to strengthening judicial capacity and empowering legal professionals in Burma.  Today her journey to pursue societal equity and legal fairness continues.  Ms. Win spearheads a legal aid team, founded in 2017, to impart legal training to law students as pro bono lawyers and to promote public legal awareness of rule-of-law throughout Burma, all while collaborating with freelance lawyers in their efforts to help those in dire need of legal support.

Martha Beatriz Roque Cabello – Cuba

Martha Beatriz Roque Cabello has been a Cuban political dissident and leading proponent of human rights and religious freedom in Cuba for more than four decades, during which she has founded and led several prominent human rights and democracy organizations.  As the only woman among 75 persons imprisoned during the Black Spring in 2003, Ms. Roque was sentenced to 20 years in prison, serving a portion before being released for medical reasons.  Following her release, Ms. Roque continued to advocate for human rights by maintaining contact with political prisoners, documenting fraudulent court hearings, and providing material support to activists and their families.  As a result of her human rights work, the Cuban government has harassed and surveilled her daily for decades.  Ms. Roque is one of the longest-standing members of the historic opposition fighting for greater freedoms in Cuba.

Fátima Corozo – Ecuador

Fátima Corozo is a tireless, dedicated community leader and youth advocate in Esmeraldas—Ecuador’s most violent city.  Born in Isla Luis Vargas Torres, one of the most violent enclaves within Esmeraldas, Ms. Corozo is a staunch defender and protector of the city’s youth.  An Afro-Ecuadorian high school teacher, Ms. Corozo witnessed firsthand the rapidly evaporating opportunities for youth in Esmeraldas, as that city became a flashpoint for Ecuador’s rising violence.  Over decades as an educator, a youth advocate, and the president of her community association, Ms. Corozo has continually raised her voice in defense of the youth of Esmeraldas, putting her life on the line as she designs and implements youth development programs that provide safe alternatives for young people in one of the world’s most violent cities.  Ms. Corozo has also used her influence in Esmeraldas to establish strong networks of youth advocates and educators, which have directly provided hundreds of young Afro-Ecuadorians with safe spaces in which to develop their skills and interests, drawing them away from unprecedented violence and putting them on the path to becoming healthy and productive citizens.

Fatou Baldeh – The Gambia

As Gambian parliamentarians currently debate repealing the 2015 ban on female genital mutilation and cutting (FGM/C), Fatou Baldeh, a survivor of FGM/C, waded into this highly contentious and polarizing issue as an unwavering advocate, defending critical protections that can mean life or death for women and girls.  Ms. Baldeh documented women’s experiences during the Jammeh dictatorship, including murder, rape, forced labor, and witch hunts, where victims were tortured into giving false confessions.  Her findings were essential to The Gambia’s Truth, Reconciliation, and Reparations Commission’s (TRRC) final report.  Through her organization, Women in Liberation and Leadership (WILL), Ms. Baldeh tirelessly educates the public and private sectors about human rights and the dangers of FGM/C in a country where 75% of women have endured some form of it, despite the existing ban.  She says her proudest achievement, though humble, is profoundly impactful: saving her 11-year-old niece from FGM/C and breaking the cycle in her own family.

Fariba Balouch – Iran

Fariba Balouch is a London-based Iranian human rights activist.  She is from Iran’s Sistan and Baluchistan Province and a member of Iran’s marginalized Baluchi ethnic group.  She is outspoken about women’s rights and the human rights crisis in Sistan and Baluchistan, which has been disproportionately affected by regime violence, executions, and systemic discrimination.  As a result of her activism and in an effort to intimidate her, Iranian authorities have threated her life and detained her son and brother in Iran.  Yet, Ms. Balouch believes the only way forward is resistance, and she persists in her activism. Ms. Balouch continues to advocate for Iranian women’s rights and to draw attention to the Iranian regime’s gender-, ethnicity-, and sect-based discrimination.

Rina Gonoi – Japan

At the age of 11, Rina Gonoi and her family were victims of the tragic triple disaster in Japan.  When a female Japan Self-Defense Force (JSDF) officer assisted Rina and her family during the evacuation, Ms. Gonoi was inspired to follow in the officer’s footsteps and join the JSDF herself, which she did in 2020.  Despite fulfilling her dream of serving the nation, 18 months later, Ms. Gonoi was compelled to resign after enduring long-term sexual harassment and abuse by members of her own unit.  When her claims went unanswered, she launched a public campaign that thrust sexual harassment and accountability into the national discourse and shined a light on an otherwise taboo subject in traditional Japanese society.   Her bravery to take on social norms emboldened countless survivors of abuse to come forward with their own stories so that they no longer suffered in silence.  Based on Ms. Gonoi’s push for meaningful reform, the JSDF is building a more secure workplace so that Japanese of any gender can defend their country with dignity.

Rabha El Haymar – Morocco

Rabha El Haymar is a courageous Moroccan woman who successfully navigated her country’s legal system and fought to obtain, through a recourse provided by Morocco’s family code reform of 2004, recognition of her traditional marriage to spare her daughter a life of marginalization and discrimination as an undocumented child.  Ms. Haymar’s story became more than a personal triumph when she crossed paths with British film-maker Deborah Perkin and agreed for her story to be told in a documentary entitled “Bastards.”  Shown on Moroccan national television and film festivals around the world, “Bastards” raises awareness about the plight of mothers of undocumented children, and the Moroccan family laws allowing women like Ms. Haymar to seek justice.  Despite the heavy reputational cost of publicly sharing her story, Ms. Haymar believes doing so can encourage other women and lead to change. As King Mohammed VI calls for a new review of Morocco’s family code, Ms. Haymar’s case is now more relevant than ever.  She hopes that new reforms “will protect the rights of all women and children and empower them as full and equal citizens.”

Agather Atuhaire – Uganda

Agather Atuhaire is a renowned journalist, lawyer and social justice activist who advocates for human rights, public accountability, and the rule of law in Uganda.  Her work as a journalist has brought to light parliamentary abuse of process and excess, threats to multi-party democracy and governance, health sector abuses, sexual harassment in the NGO sector, and violations of students’ rights.  Ms. Atuhaire’s work has garnered her a reputation as a trusted voice on matters of governance, accountability, and social justice in Uganda.  Her dedication to alleviating suffering for others – sometimes at great personal risk – has brought change to Ugandan institutions such as Parliament, National Water and Sewerage Corporation (NWSC), Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA), Ministry of Health, and the Law Development Center to name a few.  As team leader at AGORA – a platform to foster public discourse, social justice, public accountability – her team continues to hold leaders accountable through evidence-based activism, reporting, and civic awareness.

Madeleine Albright Honorary Group Award

“Women Activists Among the 222 Political Prisoners Released February 9, 2023” – Nicaragua

Recognizing the nine women who were among the 222 political prisoners released from prison in February 2023 allows us to safely honor Nicaraguan activists who continue to fight for democracy and human rights under a repressive regime.  These nine women represent a wide swath of civil society. Before their arrests, these women worked as human rights defenders, journalists, politicians, and women’s rights activists to fight for basic freedoms in President Daniel Ortega and his wife Vice President Rosario Murillo’s autocracy.  All of them were exiled to the United States and stripped of Nicaraguan citizenship, rendering them effectively stateless.  They remain engaged, particularly with the diaspora.

Media outlets may send requests to interview the awardees to MediaRequests@state.gov and StateGWI@state.gov.  We also invite you to use the hashtags #IWOC2024 and #WomenOfCourage on social media for news and updates on this year’s awards.  For any IWOC inquiries, please contact the Secretary’s Office of Global Women’s Issues (StateGWI@state.gov). For any IVLP inquiries, please contact (ECA-Press@state.gov).

Official news published at https://www.state.gov/2024-international-women-of-courage-award-recipients-announced/

originally published at Politics - JISIP NEWS