International Women of Courage Award Ceremony

Debbi Miller with Natalia Ponce de Leon, winner from Colombia

On March 29, 2017, AAFSW was represented at the 10th International Women of Courage Award Ceremony. Under Secretary for Political Affairs Thomas A. Shannon was the host, and introduced First Lady Melania Trump, who gave a very nice speech praising the 13 awardees. Then each winner was introduced by Under Secretary Shannon with a brief description of why she was chosen, and pictures were displayed on a big TV screen while he was talking. After this, First Lady Trump gave each awardee a little “statue” and posed for pictures with each one. The winners were:

Sharmin Akter, Bangladesh: An activist against early and forced marriage who dreams of becoming a lawyer to help other young girls resist this form of slavery.

Malebongo Molefhe, Botswana: A former national basketball player now confined to a wheelchair after a shooting attack by her deranged ex-boyfriend, she is an activist against gender-based violence.

Natalia Ponce de Leon, Colombia: A survivor of about 20 surgeries after a vicious sulfuric acid attack by a stalker, she started a foundation to defend, promote, and protect the human rights of acid attack victims, and helped create a law (which bears her name) with stiff penalties for such attackers. She is active in establishing additional burn units in hospitals throughout Colombia for victims of acid attacks.

Rebecca Kabugho, Democratic Republic of the Congo: At peaceful, non-violent demonstrations against government corruption and calling for credible elections, she was imprisoned at the age of 22 for inciting civil disobedience and calling for the government to abide by the Congolese Constitution.

Jannat Al Ghezi, Iraq: She risks her life running shelters and legal services for battered women and potential victims of “honor killings” and sex trafficking and runs the Organization of Women’s Freedom which offers education and work skills such as sewing to help them escape lives of domestic and tribal abuse.

Maj. Aichatou Ousmane Issaka, Niger: The Deputy Director of Social Work at the Military Hospital of Niamey, she was one of the first women to attend a military academy and join the Nigerian army. Deployed with the UN in Mali to integrate gender perspectives into peacekeeping activities, she was awarded the first UN World Peace Prize for Military.

Veronica Simogun, Papua New Guinea: She founded Family for Change Association and works to prevent family and gender-based violence. She also has worked in Civil Aviation.

Arlette Contreras Bautista, Peru: An activist and lawyer focusing on gender-based violence. Her rapist got a one-year suspended sentence for “assault” with the charges for rape and attempted murder dismissed, and she refused to accept that. She launched a huge grassroots movement against domestic violence called “Not One Woman Less,” including a protest march in downtown Lima with over 100,000 participants.

Sandya Eknelygoda, Sri Lanka: An activist for the families of hundreds of disappeared persons, including her husband, a journalist. She seeks to restore the rule of law at great personal risk and expense.

Sister Carolin Tahhan Facakh, Syria: She runs a nursery school of Muslim and Christian children traumatized by war, as well as a tailoring workshop for displaced women. She also provides medical and food assistance through her Daughters of Mary Help of Christians.

Saadet Ozkan, Turkey: She became a champion for victims of child abuse after uncovering a decades-long pattern of sexual abuse in a village school, is involved the police and the Izmir Bar Association, and was targeted in a serious car accident which left her bedridden for months, and hopes to form an NGO that will fight child abuse.

Fadia Najib Thabet, Yemen: She risked her life to protect children from recruitment as child soldiers by Al Qaeda and Ansar al Sharia, documented for the UN Security Council cases of child abuse in mining, abduction, rape, and other human rights violations. She works with the American Refugee Committee on behalf of dispossessed and uprooted children.

Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, Vietnam: She is a blogger and activist on environmental and human rights issues in Vietnam, arrested on October 10, 2016 and held incommunicado since then on the charge of “conducting propaganda against the state.” Unfortunately, she was not present at the ceremony.

Two of the women spoke, sharing their incredible stories. The women will now tour around the U.S. telling their stories to others. It was a wonderful and very inspiring event.

Debbi Miller

AAFSW Membership Chair