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All Kinds of Courage

Introduced: April 05 2012

Report from the 2012 International Women of Courage Awards


“I want to hear all the men shout ‘Happy International Women’s Day’!” That is how Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Leymah Gbowee (from Liberia) began her remarks at the International Women of Courage Awards in Washington, D.C. on March 8. She was on the stage this year, not to win an award, but to show support for those who did and for all women throughout the world. (There were about eight men in the audience of 300, so the shout was not all that loud…)

Gbowee’s own prize-winning moment came last fall from the Nobel Prize Committee for her work in her native Liberia to rally women against the country’s dictator. (Also for 2012 International Women’s Day, she was interviewed by Tina Brown in New York and she had a few more messages for American women.

The winners on the stage at the event hosted in D.C. by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton came from 10 different countries. This was the second year I attended the event and wrote about some of those honorees in the item below. At a reception following the event, I met several of the award winners. The woman in the photo with me on the IWD homepage is Hana Ethebshi, a 26-year-old Libyan architect, who communicated with the outside media during the Libyan revolution so the world would understand the violent, tumultuous process her country was going through.

Other honorees were Safak Pavey, the first disabled woman elected to the Turkish Parliament; Priscilla de Oliveira Azevedo, a Major in the Rio de Janeiro military police who works in the city’s slums to shut down drug dealing and improve health care; and Jineth Bedoya Lima, a journalist from Columbia, who was interviewing prison inmates about an arms smuggling network, when she was kidnapped, driven to another location and repeatedly gang-raped. Her attackers said, “We are sending a message to the press in Columbia,” but even after that experience, she continues her investigative reporting, as well as working to see that victims of sexual and gender-based violence find justice.

These women stand out for their heroism – but there were 10 here this year, and 10 the year before that, and 10 more the year before that. I asked Secretary Clinton how they identify these women and she answered that the embassies in these countries keep watch over events taking place. And sometimes being recognized for an award in the U.S. actually provides these women with a measure of safety because their enemies know the world is watching.

If it helps these women, it seems the least we can do – and it’s an eye-opener for those of us who never face conditions these women face. And a reminder that courage comes in many forms – whether it’s standing up to a repressive society…or working two jobs to feed your family…or finding the strength to leave an abusive marriage…or advocating for a sick child through the health care system. All kinds of courage count.