Women of Courage Awardees Set Example for the World

Ten women have been honored by first lady Michelle Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton for their exceptional courage in advocating for women’s rights and empowerment, often at great personal risk. Here is a brief description of just one of the ten women who have made huge strides and lasting impacts in their communities:

*Ghulam Sughra of Pakistan
Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Marvi Rural Development Organization
Ghulam Sughra created the Marvi Rural Development Organization (MRDO), an NGO focused on creating community savings funds and raising awareness of education, health, human rights, and social development issues. While originally focused in her home village, Ms. Sughra has expanded to the rural areas of Sindh, Punjab, and Baluchistan provinces. Born in rural Sindh Province, Ms. Sughra was forced to marry at the age of 12. Six years later, Ms. Sughra became the first woman in her village to divorce, and consequently, became a social outcast. Severely beaten by her brothers when she tried to attend school, she pursued her studies at home. She later succeeded in becoming her village’s first female high school graduate and the first teacher at the first school for girls.
Age: 40
Languages Spoken: English, Urdu, Sindhi*

Since the inception of this award in 2007, the Department of State has honored 38 women from 27 countries. This is the only Department of State award that pays tribute to women activists worldwide. At an awards presentation at the State Department March 8, the first lady praised the Women of Courage winners for not standing silent in the face of violence, oppression, poverty or inequality.

“Time and again, these women have discovered a very simple truth: that courage can actually be contagious,” Obama said to an audience filled with diplomats, members of Congress and business people. The first lady used as an example Yoani Sanchez, a writer in Cuba whose blog “caught fire” on the Internet and was being downloaded onto computer flash drives and passed from person to person. When it was censored by the state, she distributed her blog through what she calls a “citizen network” – people outside of Cuba who helped publish her posts. Her writing is now translated into 15 languages.

This year’s Women of Courage awardees are:

• Roza Otunbayeva, president of the Kyrgyz Republic (Central Asia’s first female head of state and head of government in a traditional, majority Muslim country).

• Maria Bashir, prosecutor general for Herat province in Afghanistan (Secretly taught her sisters and local girls at home despite the risks of reprisal, and in 2006 was appointed Prosecutor General for Herat, the only woman to ever hold such a position in Afghan history).

• Nasta Palazhanka, deputy chairwoman for Malady Front (Young Front), a nongovernmental organization in Belarus (Advocates for civil society freedoms and promotes respect for fundamental human rights. Imprisoned repeatedly for her convictions yet prevails in her belief that a brighter future is possible).

• Henriette Ekwe Ebongo, journalist and publisher of Bebela, a weekly independent newspaper in Cameroon (Has spent a lifetime advancing press freedom, freedom of expression, human rights, good governance, and gender equality).

• Guo Jianmei, lawyer and director of the Beijing Zhongze Women’s Legal Counseling and Service Center in China (The country’s best-known female lawyer, a passionate activist, and pioneer of legal advocacy).

• Yoani Sanchez, innovator, writer and founder of the Generación Y blog in Cuba (Has been credited as the “founder” of the independent Cuban blogosphere).

• Agnes Osztolykan, member of parliament and the Politics Can Be Different Party in Hungary (Only female Roma Member of Parliament (MP) in Hungary).

• Eva Abu Halaweh, executive director of Mizan Law Group for Human Rights in Jordan.

• Marisela Morales Ibañez, deputy attorney general for special investigations against organized crime in Mexico (The first woman ever appointed to the position of Assistant Attorney General for Specialized Investigation of Organized Crime).

• Ghulam Sughra, founder and chief executive officer of the Marvi Rural Development Organization in Pakistan.

Clinton announced an initiative in partnership with Goldman Sachs Group Inc., a New York-based investment bank, to educate women in the business skills needed to be successful entrepreneurs. Lloyd Blankfein, chairman of Goldman Sachs, explained that the program will be an extension of Goldman Sachs’ “10,000 Women” program launched in 2008. That $100 million, five-year campaign has trained dozens of women from more than 20 countries.

The Women of Courage awards ceremony fell on March 8, the 100th anniversary of the first International Women’s Day. Clinton stated there are now more than 200 million women entrepreneurs worldwide and that women earn more than $10 trillion every year, most of which they invest in their families and communities. The United States is working to close the educational and income gap between women and men, the secretary said. Programs like the mWomen Initiative, which gives women access to mobile technology, the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), which helps women gain access to markets, and the Pathways to Prosperity Initiative, which helps women develop their business skills and economic opportunities, all fall into that effort.

“This is a central focus of my diplomatic outreach,” Clinton said. “Wherever I go around the world, I meet with governments, international organizations and civic groups to talk about economic policies that will help their countries grow by expanding women’s access to jobs and finance. “If we decide as societies, governments and businesses to invest in women and girls, we will strengthen our efforts to fight poverty, drive development and spread stability…When women thrive, families, communities and countries thrive,” she said, “and the world becomes more peaceful and prosperous.”

Follow here for “Biographies of the Secretary of State’s 2011 International Women of Courage Awardees”: http://www.america.gov/st/texttrans-english/2011/March/20110308111446su0.9021527.html#ixzz1GKI64gCu




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