Posts Tagged ‘International Women of Courage Award’

2020 International Women of Courage Awards by the U.S. State Department

March 4, 2020

Today, Wednesday 4 March 2020, Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo hosts the Annual International Women of Courage Awards at the U.S. Department of State to honor 12 women from around the world.  The First Lady of the United States Melania Trump will deliver remarks to recognize the accomplishments of these women. For more on this and 7 other international awards that have word COURAGE in their name, see: http://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/international-women-of-courage-award.

The 2020 announcement comes remarkably quickly on the heels of last year’s, see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/12/18/usas-international-women-of-courage-awards-for-2019/

This year will bring the total to 146 awardees from 77 countries. U.S. diplomatic missions overseas nominate one woman of courage from their respective host countries. The finalists are selected and approved by senior Department officials. Following the IWOC ceremony, the 12 awardees will participate in an International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) visiting various cities throughout the country, before reconvening in Los Angeles for the conclusion of their program on March 16. The 2020 awardees are:

Zarifa Ghafari (Afghanistan) After successfully launching and operating a women-focused radio station, Afghanistan’s Zarifa Ghafari became mayor of Maidan Shar, in conservative Wardak province, at the age of 26.  When she showed up to start work, a male mob appeared and she was forced to flee.  Despite death threats, Ms. Ghafari came back, defying her conservative critics and their narrative that a woman is unfit to lead.  She then withstood a walkout by all of the male members of her office.  She later demonstrated ability and courage in tackling her town’s problems.  Despite fierce opposition from vested interests, she successfully launched a “Clean City, Green City” campaign that reduced littering.  Ghafari’s courage has inspired girls and women not only in her community and the wider province, but across the country.  In her capacity as a trail-blazer and door-opener for a new generation of young women, she has helped empower the women of Afghanistan.

Lucy Kocharyan (Armenia) Using her platform as a journalist, Kocharyan has championed children with mental health issues and has emerged as a leading voice in the fight against psychological, physical, and domestic violence against women and children.  Through her dedication and resolve, Kocharyan became famous for launching “Voices of Violence” in August 2018.  She has become a spokesperson on gender-based violence in Armenia and has continued to speak out despite harsh criticism – from people on the street who yell “shame” as she passes by, to parliamentarians speaking out against her and threatening her with lawsuits.  She successfully started a conversation about domestic and sexual violence that is slowly leading to some action. Gender-based violence is a pervasive problem throughout Armenia, where traditional social norms regarding masculinity, femininity, gender equality, and the division of household tasks remain rigid, making her achievements and impact all the more impressive.

Shahla Humbatova (Azerbaijan) Shahla Humbatova has worked as a defense lawyer in Azerbaijan since 2013, and is one of a handful of legal advocates who have been consistently willing to defend individuals facing punishment for exercising their fundamental freedoms.  She has bravely defended human rights defenders, journalists, bloggers, youth activists, members of the political opposition, and others.  Her example has inspired other lawyers to better advocate for their clients in politically sensitive cases, and her courage in representing LGBT clients in a conservative culture has pushed civil society further down the path to tolerance.  She is one of only two female lawyers to take these cases on in a difficult environment in which human rights lawyers have regularly been harassed and threatened in social media, suspended from practicing law, and disbarred. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/01/20/annual-reports-2019-azerbaijan-in-review-muted-hope-for-2020/]

Ximena Galarza (Bolivia) Ximena Galarza is a Bolivian journalist with over 25 years of experience. She has worked as a reporter, a television presenter, and news editor on some of Bolivia’s most important news channels including Red UNO, Cadena A, and TVU. Across her extensive career, Galarza has interviewed hundreds of politicians, academics, intellectuals, artists, and experts. She has also trained journalists to better inform the public of their rights and obligations. Galarza’s work has supported democracy in Bolivia and exposed corruption and violations of democratic freedoms. Since 2015, Galarza has hosted the program Jaque Mate (Check Mate) on TVU, one of Bolivia’s most prestigious news programs. In 2019, two of Galarza’s interviews impacted Bolivia’s history by demonstrating fraud in the October 20 presidential elections.  The electoral irregularities were later confirmed by an independent analysis from the Organization of American States.

Claire Ouedraogo (Burkina Faso) Claire Ouedraogo is the President of the Songmanegre Association for Women’s Development (Association féminine songmanegre pour le développement), an organization she founded that focuses on eliminating female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) and promoting female empowerment through family planning education, vocational training, and micro-credit for women in the rural and underserved Center North region of Burkina Faso. She also serves as a senior advisor on the National Council to Combat Female Genital Mutilation. She is an active member of the Burkinabe Movement for Human and People’s Rights. In 2016, the prime minister of Burkina Faso nominated her as an Ambassador of Peace for her work in empowering rural women. Despite the increased threat of terrorist attacks and violent acts against civilians in Bam Province, Mrs. Ouedraogo continues her courageous work on behalf of vulnerable women threatened both by FGM/C and terrorism.

Sayragul Sauytbay (China) Sayragul Sauytbay was born in Ele Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture, Xinjiang, China.  She attended medical university and worked as a doctor, teacher, education director, and headmaster. In July 2016, Sayragul and her family attempted to move to Kazakhstan but the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) confiscated her passport and prevented her from going with her husband and children.  From November 2017 to March 2018, Sayragul was forced by the CCP to teach Chinese to ethnic minority people in a detention camp.  In March 2018, Sauytbay fled to Kazakhstan to avoid being sent back to the camps, where she feared she would die.  Subsequently, Sauytbay become one of the first victims in the world to speak publicly about the CCP’s repressive campaign against Muslims, igniting a movement against these abuses.  Her testimony was among the first evidence that reached the broader international community of the CCP’s repressive policy, including both the camps and the coercive methods used against Muslim minorities.  Sayragul and her family received asylum in Sweden, where they now live.

Susanna Liew (Malaysia) Following the February 2017 abduction of her husband, Christian pastor Raymond Koh, allegedly by state agents, Susanna Liew has fought on behalf of members of religious minorities who disappeared in Malaysia under similar circumstances—including Amri Che Mat, Joshua Hilmy, and Ruth Sitepu—or who face persecution for their beliefs.  Susanna actively pursued justice for her husband and others during the Malaysian Human Rights Commission’s (SUHAKAM) 2018-2019 public inquiry into enforced disappearances and continues to push the government to investigate these cases and prosecute those responsible.  Despite police harassment and death threats, she continues to advocate for her husband and others, not because of her faith or theirs, but because of their rights as Malaysians.  Susanna and Raymond founded Hope Community in 2004, a non-profit organization that works with the poor, needy, and marginalized.  She previously served as a school principal and educator.

Amaya Coppens (Nicaragua) Coppens is one of the leaders of the 19th of April Student Movement in Nicaragua. She participated in numerous protests against the Sandinista government and the violent, repressive tactics deployed by its security forces. In September 2018, she was abducted by Nicaraguan police from her residence after participating in a peaceful protest. She was released in June and continued to speak out against the regime in Nicaragua. She had the opportunity to repatriate to Belgium during her first captivity, but refused. On November 14, Coppens was imprisoned again when she and 12 other activists attempted to bring water to mothers of political prisoners on hunger strike. She and other political prisoners were released by the regime on December 30, 2019.

Jalila Haider (Pakistan) Known as the Iron Lady of Balochistan, Jalila Haider is a human rights attorney and founder of “We the Humans – Pakistan”, a non-profit organization to lift local communities by strengthening opportunities for vulnerable women and children. She specializes in defending women’s rights and provides free counseling and legal services to poverty-affected women. The first female attorney of her Hazara community, Haider led a peaceful hunger strike to recognize the right to life for the Hazara following a series of targeted attacks. Ms. Haider has taken up the cause of many other vulnerable communities. As Balochistan’s President of the Women Democratic Front and Balochistan’s branch of the Aurat (Woman’s) March, she fought against violence against women in public spaces, at work, and at home.

Amina Khoulani (Syria) Khoulani is a survivor of the Assad regime’s detention and torture centers, which have arbitrarily detained over 140,000 Syrians, and has dedicated her life to helping the families of forcibly disappeared Syrians.   A long-time civil society activist, she fled Syria in 2014 after her release from prison. She was imprisoned for six months for “peaceful activism” and her husband detained for two and a half years at the notorious Sadnaya Prison. They survived, but her three brothers died while in regime custody.  From this devastating experience, Khoulani rededicated her life to seeking information and justice for the families of the disappeared. She is a founding member of “Families for Freedom”, a women-led movement launched in 2017 by families who’s loved ones have been detained and disappeared in Syria. Forced from her home and country, living under constant threat as a refugee without government representation, she continues to advocate for human rights, democracy, and peace in Syria.

Yasmin al Qadhi (Yemen) After obtaining her journalism degree, Yasmin Al-Qadhi was one of the first women to write articles for local newspapers during the Arab Spring pro-democracy protests in Sanaa’a.  When the civil war broke out in Yemen in 2015, Yasmine and her sister Entisar established the Marib Girls Foundation.  Through the foundation, she works with senior army officials to combat child recruitment and obtained the military’s commitment to release any child recruited or detained.  She fostered support for women displaced by the conflict by coordinating with the local and international community.  She also raised awareness by co-producing a film about the negative effects of displacement on women and children. Yasmine still resides in Yemen, a tribal society where women are discouraged from working in public spaces. She is working to change social norms and has become a role model in her society.  Both at home and abroad, she encourages women’s empowerment and meaningful participation in civil society and the UN-led peace process.

Dr. Rita Nyampinga (Zimbabwe) Rita Nyampinga has been a human rights defender for more than 35 years, fighting for gender equality in the workplace since she joined a trade union in 1983.  She is also a trained mediator, and a mentor for girls and young women in leadership.  Her experiences during detention led her to form the Female Prisoners Support Trust to support women and children in detention and raise awareness of the appalling conditions they face. Dr. Nyampinga continues to serve on several boards including Women Coalition of Zimbabwe, Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, Women Academy on Political Leadership Excellence, and Women AIDS Support Network.  Her goal is to see a world that protects and respects the rights of prisoners through a just and fair legal system that is nondiscriminatory based on gender.  In 2010 she became the Social and Economic Justice Ambassador for Zimbabwe’s Coalition on Debt and Development.  Dr. Nyampinga won the Female Human Rights Activist of the Year in 2014 from Alpha Media House.

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2020 International Women of Courage Award Recipients Announced

USA’s International Women of Courage Awards for 2019

December 18, 2019

Stock Daily Dish on 16 December 2019 reports that Melania Trump made a rare public appearance to present 13 women with the 2017 Secretary of State’s International Women of Courage Award. The prize honors those who fight for women’s empowerment, often at great personal risk. “Together, we must declare that the era of allowing the brutality against women and children is over while affirming that the time for empowering women around the world is now,” Mrs. Trump said. She called on leaders to “continue to work towards gender empowerment and respect for people from all backgrounds and ethnicities,” and on the international community to fight all forms of injustice. For more on this award – and 7 more that have ‘courage’ in the title – see: http://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/international-women-of-courage-award.

Each US embassy can nominate one woman for the award. The 13 women honored this year are:

Malebogo Molefhe (Botswana), who used to play for the Botswana national basketball team, has served as an advocate for survivors of gender-based violence after she was attacked and shot eight times by her ex-boyfriend in 2009 and confined to a wheelchair,

Rebecca Kabugho (Democratic Republic of the Congo), has led peaceful anti-government protests calling for credible elections in the DRC, and spent six months in prison for her role as an activist

Major Aichatou Ousmane Issaka (Niger), currently the deputy director of social work at the Military Hospital of Niamey, was one of the first women to join the Nigerien army in 1996, and was one of the first to attend a military academy. She has served throughout Niger, including in the Diffa Region, a stronghold of the Boko Haram terrorist group.

Veronica Simogun (Papua New Guinea), the founder and director of the Family for Change Association, who works to help shelter and relocate women affected by violence,

Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh (Vietnam), a blogger and activist who promotes environmental and human rights issues under the nom de plum Me Nam or Mother Mushroom. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/10/18/vietnamese-blogger-mother-mushroom-released/]

Saadet Ozkan (Turkey) was a primary school teacher, who uncovered a “decades-long pattern of sexual abuse” and forced a criminal investigation of the principal; she still supports the victims and their case as a private consultant.

Jannat Al Ghezi (Iraq), helps Iraqi women escape violence, rape and domestic abuse, as well as Islamic State terrorism and occupation, and offers them shelter, training, protection and legal services through the Organization of Women‘s Freedom in Iraq

Sister Carolin Tahhan Fachakh (Syria), known as Sister Carol, runs a nursery school in war-torn Damascus for more than 200 Muslim and Christian children, as well as a tailoring workshop for internally displaced women.

Fadia Najib Thabet (Yemen) is a child protection officer who has dissuaded young boys from joining Al-Qaeda, exposed its Yemeni branch Ansar al-Sharia as a recruiter of child soldiers and reported on human rights violations for the UN Security Council.

Sharmin Akter (Bangladesh), a student who refused an arranged marriage at age 15, which resulted in the prosecution of her mother and her much-older prospective husband,

Sandya Eknelygoda (Sri Lanka), who fought for justice after the disappearance of her journalist husband in 2010 and who has served as a voice for the families of others who have disappeared during the country‘s civil war.

Natalia Ponce de Leon (Colombia), who has become a human rights activist for the victims of acid attacks after a stalker threw a liter of sulfuric acid on her in 2014,

Arlette Contreras Bautista (Peru), a domestic violence survivor and activist, who helped launch the Not One Woman Less movement, which aims to increase the social and political awareness of women‘s rights and gender-based violence in Peru.

The newspaper noticed that Mrs Trump did not mention her husband or his presidential administration during her 10-minute remarks.

Profile of Sri Lankan Marini de Livera: a lawyer and a ‘Woman Of Courage’

May 23, 2019

REBECCA ELLIS published a profile of Marini de Livera under the title “She’s A Lawyer … A Thespian … And Now A State Department ‘Woman Of Courage‘”

Marini de Livera’s plays are not for the faint of heart. In her home country of Sri Lanka, the pro bono lawyer has found that crimes against women and children often take place behind closed doors — in homes, orphanages and schools. With her traveling theater group, de Livera seeks to shed light on the human rights abuses in her country by putting the violence on stage, front and center. “There are beautiful laws in the law books,” she says. “But when I went out to the slums, to the rural areas, to conflict-ridden areas, I found what is in the law books is not a practical reality.”

A pro bono attorney with a degree in speech and drama from Trinity College London, de Livera has spent her career using theater to ensure that the lofty lessons she learned in law school can be used to assist Sri Lankans who are unlikely to ever see an attorney. Her dedication to helping women and child victims of crime has made her one of the 10 recipients of the 2019 International Women of Courage award [see https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/03/11/international-women-of-courage-awards-2019-given-out-at-the-us-state-department/ and https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/03/12/one-journalist-who-did-not-get-the-women-of-courage-award-but-almost/].

De Livera has served as the chairperson of Sri Lanka’s child welfare agency, the National Child Protection Authority, and now runs Sisters at Law, an advocacy group for impoverished women and children. She spoke with NPR about her creative approach to addressing human rights in her country, and why she’s focusing on using her theater training to better the situation of children in Sri Lanka’s orphanages.

What are some of the legal issues that women and children in Sri Lanka need help with?

Women and children are denied justice if they’re uneducated, and if they live in rural areas. They don’t enjoy the same basket of human rights that privileged people have because they don’t have access to lawyers.

What needs to happen to accomplish that?

There has to be legal literacy. These women and children have to know what the laws in the country are and what their human rights are. If they are educated about their rights, they can go to court and demand them.

You’ve often used theater to promote this legal literacy in Sri Lanka. Can you give me an example of how this works?

One of my favorite plays I put on was about corporal punishment. I went to a Catholic school where a priest was hitting boys every day. I explained to the school that there are different forms of violence – cultural violence, psychological violence, physical violence. Then I asked the boys to make a play about their experiences with violence. And one of the boys reenacted what the priest had done to him. [It helped] these boys find an outlet to say, “We don’t want to kneel down when we come late to school. We don’t want to be beaten by a cane.”

How did you come to see theater as a way to educate the public on their legal rights?

I had been a lecturer in law [in Sri Lanka], and one of the things I had to teach was U.K. law principles. And the students were bored to death. So I said, these are the books, you read, then you tell me what the rule of law and separation of powers are through a performance. I realized if I could use this in the classroom, why not in the village to simplify the law?

What is your theater group working on now?

I’m working on a street theater [program] to create awareness for parents [and encourage them] not to send their children to orphanages. I’m going to show that family is the place for the child. In Sri Lanka, we have a lot of “social orphans” where they have both parents, but the children are suffering in orphanages.

Past reports have found that over 80 percent of the 20,000 children in Sri Lanka’s child-care institutions, including orphanages, have at least one parent. These parents are often unable to provide for their children or the child has a disability and requires extra care. And sometimes the children are sent to such an institution because of a criminal offense.

Orphanages should be the last resort. So I’m promoting alternative care. Some of the mothers are capable of looking after their children, but they’ve handed over their child to an overcrowded orphanage. I’m thinking of giving parenting skills training to these mothers and economically empowering them, finding them a nice home and settling the children with them.

You mentioned earlier that this prize is the first time in your life you felt appreciated for “walking in the opposite direction” from others in the law profession. Do you have hopes other attorneys will follow in your path?

I’m very unhappy to say each time I go to court people come up to me like a swarm of flies and say, “We don’t have a lawyer to appear on behalf of us.” I want to take all the country’s young attorneys and train them to be another Marini – to clone myself. Because I have to hand this on to the younger generation.

https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2019/03/08/701212104/shes-a-lawyer-a-thespian-and-now-a-state-department-woman-of-courage

US State Department gives out International Women of Courage Awards 2016

April 8, 2016

Missing in action: Wheelchair-bound human rights advocate Ni Yulan failed to attend the awarding ceremony in the U.S. She told the BBC that her passport was withheld.Photo U.S. Department of State/Flickr

Human rights lawyer and activist Ni Yulan became one of the 2016 recipients of the International Women of Courage Awards conferred by the U.S. Department of State on 29 March. The wheelchair-bound human rights lawyer Ni Yulan from China was not present; she he told the BBC that her passport was withheld.  Yulan Ni won the Dutch Human Rights Tulip in 2011.[https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2013/10/06/chinese-human-rights-defender-ni-yulan-freed/]

She shares the 2016 recognition from the USA with 13 other women: Read the rest of this entry »

Saudi Arabia: Arrest and release of human rights defender Samar Badawi

January 13, 2016

 

US First Lady Michelle Obama (left) and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (right) pose with Samar Badawi (centre) as she receives the 2012 International Women of Courage Award

Having just posted a lot about China, I would be amiss not to report the action by another serial offender, Saoudi Arabia:  Samar Badawi, an internationally known human rights defender was arrested by Saudi Arabia police on Tuesday, 12 January 2016, according to a report by Amnesty International. Later on she was transferred to Dhaban prison. And just now (13 January) Human Rights Watch reports that after questioning she has been released from Saudi custody.[http://www.middleeasteye.net/news/sister-jailed-saudi-blogger-raif-badawi-released-rights-group-1434471164#sthash.ThiFt7xz.dpuf]

In 2012, she was given an International Women of Courage Award. In December 2014, a Saudi Arabian judge imposed a travel ban on Samar. “Samar Badawi’s arrest today is yet another alarming setback for human rights in Saudi Arabia and demonstrates the extreme lengths to which the authorities are prepared to go in their relentless campaign to harass and intimidate human rights defenders into silent submission,” said Philip Luther, AI’S Director of the Middle East and North Africa Programme. “Just weeks after Saudi Arabia shocked the world by executing 47 people in a single day, including the Shi’a Muslim cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, it has once again demonstrated its utter disregard for human rights. Samar Badawi has been arrested purely for peacefully exercising her right to freedom of expression, she must be immediately and unconditionally released.”

According to AFP, Raif Badawi’s wife, Ensaf Haidar, who lives in Canada as a refugee said in her Twitter account that her sister-in-law was arrested on the charge of directing a Twitter account named “the Monitor of Human Rights in Saudi Arabia @WaleedAbulkhair.

Samar is the sister of Raif Badawi, a well-known blogger who was awarded the EU’s Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought (https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2015/10/29/saudi-blogger-raif-badawi-awarded-europes-sakharov-prize/). Moreover, Waleed Abulkhair, who is Samar’s ex-husband, is also serving a 15-year jail sentence.

 

4 Human Rights Defenders kidnapped in Douma, Syria

December 13, 2013

On 9 December 2013, 4 human rights defenders [Ms Razan Zaitouna, Mr Wael Hamada, Mr Nazem Hamaadi and Ms Samira Khalil] were abducted by masked armed men and taken to unknown whereabouts in Syria. They were kidnapped from the offices of the Center for Documenting Human Rights Violations in Syria, located in Douma. Razan Zaitouna is an award-winning human rights defender who worked on the rights of political prisoners in Syria before the revolution, and continued her activities throughout the peaceful uprising in 2011, founding the ‘local coordination committees’. In 2011, she received the Anna Politkovskaya award “RAW (Reach All Women) in WAR” and in 2013 the International Women of Courage Award. Wael Hamada is an active human rights defender who had been kidnapped by the authorities in 2011 for his legitimate work in the defence of human rights in Syria, and Nazem Hamaadi is a well-known lawyer and poet, respected for his defence of detainees who were arrested in Damascus during the revolution. Samira Khalil is a human rights activist and a member of a peaceful political opposition party in Syria.Frontline NEWlogos-1 condensed version - cropped

US State Department sets out its actions to support Human Rights Defenders

March 10, 2013

On 8 March 2013 – probably timed to coincide with the debate in the UN Human Rights Council – the U.S. Department of  State published an overview of it support for Human Rights Defenders. It reads in part:

Protecting and supporting human rights defenders is a key priority of U.S. foreign policy. The Department’s objective is to enable human rights defenders to promote and defend human rights without hindrance or undue restriction and free from fear of retribution against them or their families. The work of these brave individuals and groups is an integral part of a vibrant civil society, and our investment in and support of them is likewise an investment in and support of the rule of law and democracy. Every day, around the world, many in civil society turn to us for assistance in emergency situations and to help them achieve longer-term goals that will make their countries more just and democratic.

After a short description of who are considered Human Rights Defenders and a quote from Hillary Rodham Clinton (as U.S. Secretary of State Krakow, Poland on July 3, 2010): When NGOs come under threat, we should provide protection where we can, and amplify the voices of activists by meeting with them publicly at home and abroad, and citing their work in what we say and do.” The webpage sets out the way in which the State Department protects and supports human rights defenders, including:
Read the rest of this entry »