This has been a bad week for the women of America. A shell-shocked wife with red-rimmed eyes stood grimly by her man during a couple of excruciatingly embarrassing public moments. A former female vice-presidential candidate, with little political savvy, managed to make a female candidate’s contentious race for a presidential nomination even more contentious.
But some women in Washington this week put a lot of the rest into some perspective, though they got far less attention then those involved in scandals and gaffes. On this year’s International Women’s Day, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Under Secretary Paula Dobriansky gave Women of Courage Awards to eight inspiring women from around the world. The winners, who come from various countries including Afghanistan, Iraq, and Kosovo, were chosen from a group of 95 women nominated by American embassies worldwide.
At the State Department award ceremony Secretary Rice said:
In too many parts of the world, unfortunately, women still struggle for basic rights and liberties in places where discrimination and exploitation and violence against women is all too common and all too often accepted or tolerated…Despite seemingly insurmountable challenges and often at great risk to their own lives, today’s honorees have made a conscious decision to remain committed to the cause of equal justice for women.
There were four winners from Middle Eastern countries. They included Suraya Pakzad who founded Voice of Women, an organization now based in Herat in western Afghanistan, which managed to protect and counsel women even during the Taliban’s misogynistic reign.
Another winner, Dr. Eaman Al-Gobory, from Iraq, arranges care abroad for children with special medical needs. Dr, Al-Gobory found out the night before she received her award that a close colleague, a doctor in Iraq, had been killed. Another doctor, Begum Jan, who cares for women and children in Pakistan’s dangerous tribal areas, was also a recipient.
Others included Nibal Thawabteh, a politician, editor and author from the Palestinian Authority was the fourth Middle Eastern honoree. The newspaper she founded has taken on controversial issues such as polygamy and honor killing. At a Press Club forum held the day after the award ceremony she said, “I always knew I wanted to be useful. I wanted to be famous. Most of all, I wanted to give something back to my country.”
The youngest award winner was Farhiyo Farah Ibrahim from Somalia who lives in the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya and has worked on behalf of women, girls, and refugees. As well, she has campaigned as well against practices like female genital mutilation. Her honesty about her own experience as a victim of abuse was especially impressive.
Additionally, Virisila Buadromo who heads the Fijian Women’s Rights Movement and Cynthia Benden of Paraguay was commended for her fight against the trafficking of women. She told the audience at the forum she felt that after meeting the other honorees she had accepted her award not only for the women in her country but for all women globally who help other women.
The final winner, Valdete Idrizi of Kosovo, was an ethnic Albanian who lost her home in Serb-controlled north Mitrovica in 1999. Now, she crosses frequently, and perilously, into Serb-controlled territory in order to run women and youth projects in the Serb north. She risks beatings, kidnappings, and death, and her work has forced her to move from house to house to ensure her safety.
All of these women courageously face challenges that American women fortunately escape. As Andrea Bottner, the State Department’s senior coordinator for international women’s issues, who helped create the awards and hosted the women in Washington said, “They were a terrific group. They were warm, smart, funny and dedicated. Best of all they said they are going to keep in touch long after they leave our country. Just think of what combining all that courage could do!”
— Myrna Blyth, long-time editor of Ladies Home Journal and founding editor of More, is author of Spin Sisters: How the Women of the Media Sell Unhappiness — and Liberalism — to the Women of America. Blyth is also an NRO contributor.