U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, First Lady Michelle Obama, Reese Witherspoon, Andrea Jung, and the honorees listen as Ambassador Verveer speaks at the 2010 International Women of Courage Awards at the U.S. Department of State, Washington, D.C. March 10, 2010. [State Department Photo/Public Domain]
Shukria Asil of Afghanistan "serves as one of four female members of the Baghlan Provincial Council. Her work advocates for increased accountability and responsiveness of the government to women’s needs. Her portfolio includes issues that have no other advocate, such as the rights of the mentally disabled, and her approach draws upon innovative tools and ideas, such as starting a networking group for professional women, or pushing to launch a driving school for women."
Colonel Shafiqa Quraishi of Afghanistan "is the Director of Gender, Human, and Child Rights within the Ministry of the Interior. She began her career in the Afghan National Police. She created and led a working group on Afghan National Gender Recruitment Strategy, with the goal of increasing the number of women working in the Ministry of the Interior to 5,000 and of improving the quality of the Ministry’s service to the women and of Afghanistan."
Androula Henriques of Cyprus "has fought for years against the buying and selling of women, pushing for long-term institutional change by lobbying government officials at the highest levels to take action against trafficking and to increase protection for its victims. She has created her own anti-trafficking network, made up of people in the media, NGOs, the diplomatic corps, and others."
Sonia Pierre of the Dominican Republic "is the founder and leader of MUDHA (Movement of Dominican-Haitian Women). The organization works to address the problems that Haitians and their children born in the Dominican Republic face, and tries to reform the problems in documenting people in both Haiti and the Dominican Republic that give rise to a class of people unable to reap the benefits and protections of nationality and citizenship. Pierre has used a campaign of public education and legal action to reform the Dominican Republic’s birth registration system and to build awareness of how statelessness deprives people of access to crucial human rights such as healthcare, education, and safe housing and working conditions."
Shadi Sadr of Iran "is a lawyer, journalist, and expert on women's legal rights and has written extensively about the status of women in Iran. Until it was closed down by the Iranian government, she was the director of Raahi, a legal advice center for women. She founded Zanan-e Iran (Women of Iran), the first website dedicated to the work of Iranian women's rights activists."
Ann Njogu of Kenya "was co-convener, in 2008, of the Civil Society Congress, which worked with other civil society organizations to avert total political collapse in the aftermath of the violence that tore Kenyan society apart after the December 2007 elections. Her organization, the Centre for Rights Education and Awareness (CREAW), documented sexual and gender based violence during the post election period, providing essential data for national and international investigations of possible criminal conduct by Kenyan leaders. Njogu was also instrumental in passage of Kenya’s Sexual Offences Act, as a co-drafter and lobbyist."
Dr. Lee Ae-ran of the Republic of Korea spent 8 years as a prisoner at a North Korea labor camp, eventually defecting to South Korea with her baby, but leaving behind her husband and family. She "is the first North Korean defector to run for the Republic of Korea’s National Assembly, and the first female defector to earn a doctoral degree. To help others in the refugee community reach the levels of achievement that she’s earned, she’s spearheaded a variety of initiatives. In 2005, she founded the Global Leadership Scholarship Program, which has provided more than a thousand North Korean students with scholarships to study English. In January 2009, she founded the Hana Defector Women's Organization, an NGO with more than 200 members that provides North Korean women in the Republic of Korea with job training, child care, educational support, and human rights training. This year, she also opened the first North Korea Traditional Culinary and Culture Institute to provide North Korean women with practical entrepreneurial and culinary arts skills."
Jansila Majeed of Sri Lanka "is the Managing Trustee of Community Trust Fund in Puttalam province. The Trust oversees a number of programs on minority and women’s issues, including women’s rights, peace building, relief work, working with young people, and mine-risk education in the North and East. Majeed’s own particular focus is on uniting the Muslim and Tamil communities in her province."
Sister Marie Claude Naddaf (a.k.a. Sister Marie Claude) of Syria "assumed the role of Mother Superior at the Good Shepherd Convent in Damascus in 1994, when Syria did not offer social services for women suffering domestic violence, homelessness, or trafficking. Women trafficked into prostitution were imprisoned for months on end, held in jail with criminals until they could be deported. Sister Marie Claude set out to create a range of services for women through her Damascus Convent, and, in so doing, gradually created a partnership with the Syrian government on tackling violence against women."
Jestina Mukoko of Zimbabwe "is the Executive Director of the Zimbabwe Peace Project (ZPP), an NGO that monitors human rights abuses throughout the country. ZPP's reports provide the international community with accurate assessments of human rights abuses, including violence against women and politically-biased distribution of food, and were particularly crucial during the violent 2008 election period."
I'd encourage everyone to read more about these women, as a number of them have been imprisoned and are working against great odds to accomplish their goals and to better the lives of women. Inspiring.