2011 International Women of Courage Awards Ceremony
Secretary of State
Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women's Issues
AMBASSADOR VERVEER: Good morning. (Applause.) Good morning everybody, and welcome to the State Department. We’re so pleased that you could join us for our celebration of the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day. And we have come together – (applause) – we have come together to honor some remarkable women of courage. And we are thrilled, once again, to have our First Lady with us. Welcome. (Applause.)
And we have many distinguished guests here this morning, all of our friends and colleagues here from the State Department, particularly Under Secretary Otero and Hormats and some many leading members of Congress – Congresswomen Louise Slaughter, Nita Lowey, Eddie Bernice Johnson, Lynn Woolsey, Carolyn McCarthy, Jen Schakowsky, Gwen Moore, Karen Bass, and Sheila Jackson Lee. (Applause.) And we want to thank Senator Shaheen and Congresswomen Schakowsky for introducing resolutions commemorating this historic centennial. (Applause.) We also want to welcome the many members of the diplomatic core who are with us this morning.
And now it is my happy task to turn the podium over to the woman who is recognized around the world as a champion for women and girls, a woman who has used her voice and her platform over many years to lift up those whose voices have too often been silenced or marginalized, a woman who never ceases to remind us that progress for women and girls and progress for nations go hand in hand. Please welcome a tireless advocate, a woman of courage in her own right, our own Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. (Applause.)
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you. (Applause.) Thank you all. Thank you and welcome to the State Department. We are so pleased to be hosting this 100th anniversary celebration and to have so many distinguished guests. I want to start by thanking Melanne. As most of you know, Melanne Verveer is our Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues. (Applause.) I want to recognize that she has been a woman of courage almost every day of her life, but she also deserves an award as a “Woman of Stamina.” (Laughter). She travels on behalf of the Obama Administration almost endlessly, Mrs. Obama, and she just keeps going year after year, chipping away at the problems that affect women and girls and that affect national security, economies, peace, and stability.
It is a great pleasure once again to be able to celebrate this day with the First Lady of the United States, Michelle Obama. (Applause.) Ms. Obama has done so much to support, inspire, and challenge women and girls here at home and around the world. You see her in our schools with American children, you see her in the schools of India and elsewhere with schoolchildren there. And everywhere she goes, she sends an unmistakable message that she and her husband, who happens to be the President of the United States, have two daughters that they love and support and are providing the direction and discipline that is needed to raise children. And they hope, as we all do, that every child would have the same opportunity to live up to his or her God-given potential.
I’m also delighted to welcome the first woman prime minister of Australia, Julia Gillard. (Applause.) The prime minister is a wonderful partner in our global efforts to advance the important issues that Australia and the United States share in common. And in particular, she is focused on improving opportunities for women and girls. And when her visit with President Obama was scheduled and she learned that it would coincide with this occasion, she quickly said she wanted to be here. And I was lucky enough to spend time with her last year in Melbourne, and now we’re cooperating on everything from solar power to security, but with a special attention paid to the daily lives of women and girls.
We’re also honored to have with us Cherie Blair, who has started a wonderful foundation to help women entrepreneurs. And we are working together on the mWomen initiative to tap the power of mobile technologies to empower women, and I’m delighted that you could be here with us as well, Cherie. (Applause.)
And finally, I want to thank our token man – (laughter) – Lloyd Blankfein, CEO and Chairman of Goldman Sachs. He has helped to support and pioneer a program you’ll hear more about in a minute that really does go into developing countries and work to improve the economic and business opportunities of women. And we’re pleased that Lloyd is here and will have an important announcement to make.
Now, in addition to these remarkable women who are sitting up here on the stage with us, we also have the participants from the 100 Women Initiative that we launched yesterday. These are established and emerging leaders from business, academia, civil society, media, medicine, from every region of the world. They are fearless advocates for the rights of women and for fundamental human rights and democracy, and they are going out around our country, not only to work with Americans in various fields of their interest, but also to exchange ideas about how do we empower people to build their own futures and to do so with skills and support from the rest of us.
And then finally, I want to welcome this year’s 10 winners of the International Women of Courage awards. Each and every one of these women is remarkable. I have known some for many years, some I’m meeting for the first time today. Now, I have to say, we’ve never before given an award to a head of state, but we were so inspired by the tremendous courage, leadership, and tenacity shown by the first woman to lead a Central Asian nation – President Roza Otunbayeva of the Kyrgyz Republic. (Applause.) In the face of a collapsing government, regional divisions, economic privation, she emerged as a unifier, someone who kept Kyrgyzstan whole after tragedy and upheaval. She is a president who knows how to lead, but she also knows how to let go. Because she has set an extraordinary example of what it means to relinquish power. She decided early on she would help to set up a new government, have a new constitution; and when the time came, after the elections were finished, she would turn over powers to the new prime minister and that government.
In so doing, she has offered an invaluable lesson to fledgling democracies everywhere, because we know, of course, that elections alone do not produce democracies. It is that willingness to share power with other elected officials, to build democratic institutions, to hold a second and a third free and fair election, to transfer power peacefully – that’s what allows true democracy to take hold.
And this is a woman who I think can stand as an example to many leaders around the world about what democracy and power should be used for: to help the people that you are supposed to serve. (Applause.)
Now, for anyone raising children in today’s world, it seems that there are not enough heroes and heroines, so I am particularly privileged to honor nine other women who have truly done heroic work to advance freedom, equality, opportunity, and dignity for all. They have risked their lives. They have served in prison. They’ve been harassed and oppressed. Sometimes their own children’s lives have been at risk. They have been insulted, beaten, and tortured.
And yet, each of these women has found the strength to persevere in the face of fear, isolation, or repression. And they’ve done so not just one day or one year, but day after day and year after year.
Now, two of our honorees, Nasta Palazhanka from Belarus and Yoani Sanchez from Cuba, could not be here because their governments would not allow them to travel here. But we are with them in spirit and we salute them for everything they are doing on behalf of their countries and their people. (Applause.)
Now, as you hear more about each of these women from Mrs. Obama and from me and from the citations, you will understand that each has pushed the envelope of what was considered permissible. And they have been inspirations, and I believe they can inspire generations of women and girls who follow after.
Now, I was struck to learn the other day that our planet that we all share is now host to the largest generation of girls and women every born. There are now more than 850 million girls and young women age 10 to 24. What kind of world will they inherit? What kind of world will their children inherit? How will they lead the next generation? Who will they look to as models?
The women in this room all know how to lead by example: Henriette, who is working for good governance in Cameroon: or Jianmei, fighting sexual harassment cases for women in China; Eva, seeking to stop so-called “honor killings” in Jordan; Marisela, who is starting a federal witness protection program so cartels can be prosecuted in Mexico; Maria, insisting on defending women brutalized by domestic abuse even after her own home was set afire in Afghanistan; Agnes, defending the rights of Roma women from a seat in Hungary’s parliament; or Ghulam, insisting that every girl in her rural Pakistani village deserved to be enrolled in school.
Each of these women – and I mention them in a personal way because this has been a personal mission for them. They have reached down deep and done what was necessary. And I often wonder how many of us, including myself, under those circumstances, could have done the same. Their courage, their compassion, their commitment, their quiet moral authority has come from putting the well-being of others before their own.
Now, we have seen similar tales of courage from women across the Middle East in recent weeks. They have insisted that their voices be heard. And in the coming months and years, the women in Egypt and Tunisia and other nations have just as much right as the men to remake their governments – (applause) – to make them responsive, accountable, transparent. (Applause.)
The United States will stand firmly for the proposition that women must be included in whatever process goes forward. No government can succeed if it excludes half of its people from important decisions. We saw women out in force in Tahrir Square in Cairo. They were clearly saying they expected to have a voice and a vote in the future.
And I noticed that last week a group of Egyptian women wrote to the Constitutional Committee of Egypt asking why none of Egypt’s distinguished women legal experts had been invited to join in drafting constitutional amendments for the transition to democracy. We will certainly be watching and the world will watch. And it’s not just the rest of the world, but the women themselves who deserve to be at that table making those choices that will affect their lives and the lives of their daughters and their sons no matter what government emerges.
It will take more than democracy to create real opportunity and stable societies. It will take jobs and economic growth. So I am delighted to announce that we are launching a new partnership designed to help businesswomen in developing countries make the most of their talents. The Goldman Sachs Foundation’s 10,000 Women Department of State Women’s Entrepreneurship Partnership – it’s a mouthful – (laughter) – but it’s a really critical effort to provide scholarships for 100 women entrepreneurs over the next two years. (Applause.) And we intend, working with Goldman Sachs, to make sure that these scholarships help women receive world class business and management training. The first women will come from Indonesia and Haiti. And I’m delighted that Lloyd Blankfein is with us to announce this partnership, which will supplement the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Women program, which has already been such a success. It has already educated more than 3,500 women in more than 20 countries.
And the evidence shows that these women have been growing their businesses, boosting their profitability, creating new jobs for others. Women-run small and medium-sized businesses drive GDP growth all over the world. In fact, they are one of the highest-yield investments we can make.
So I thank Lloyd and I thank his creativity and vision for this exciting venture, and I invite him to share a few words with us. Lloyd. (Applause.)
MR. BLANKFEIN: Well, thank you, Secretary Clinton. This is one of the greatest honors I’ve ever had, to share the podium with these very courageous women.
The people in front here, the people behind me, are some of the most important advocates for women in the world. And few have been more persuasive advocates than First Lady Michelle Obama. Your support for women in this country and around the world will help countless families and communities for years to come.
Three years ago today, Goldman Sachs launched 10,000 Women, a $100 million investment to provide business and management education to women entrepreneurs. Our investment in women is anchored in ours and the World Bank’s research that showed how investing in women can have a real impact on GDP growth, particularly in developing economies. Today, more than 3,300 women have gone through the program in more than 20 countries. After graduation, more than 50 percent of the surveyed graduates from 10,000 Women have added jobs, and 70 percent have increased their revenues. And I’m proud to say the program will reach 5,000 women by the end of this year.
Investing in women is one of the most effective ways to stimulate growth in emerging markets. But equally important, it has a huge effect on these women’s families and on their communities. Children are healthier, homes are more stable, and communities are more vibrant. And that is why we’re especially honored to partner with the State Department to extend this initiative to new countries. This public-private partnership establishes a training program for 100 female entrepreneurs in new countries identified by Secretary Clinton and her team. Over the past two years, the Office of Global Women’s Issues and Ambassador Verveer have been vital partners for 10,000 Women. I want to especially acknowledge Melanne’s support and guidance when 10,000 Women was just getting off the ground. There is no better example of these programs’ impact than in the graduates themselves. I’m humbled by their passion and resolve every time I meet with them.
Today, we’re fortunate to be joined by two graduates, Divya Keshav from India and Christine Tour from Liberia. Divya empowers women by hiring them as machine operators at her label factory and providing opportunities for promotion. Christine, against all odds, returned to Liberia after the civil war to train women and create jobs at her beauty salon. Both of them demonstrate the power of investing in women, and we are proud to be a very small part of their success. Thank you very much. (Applause.)
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you very much, Lloyd. And now it’s my great pleasure to present to you the prime minister of Australia. She will have to leave early, but I am so glad she could be here to share a few words.
PRIME MINISTER GILLARD: Thank you very much. It is a tremendous privilege to be able to join you here today, and happy International Women’s Day to each of you. I come as the first female prime minister of Australia, wearing a scarf given to me by the first female governor-general of Australia, a courageous woman herself who has fought for women’s equality in our nation. And I am very honored to be here today with First Lady Michelle Obama and Secretary of State Clinton, and to join so many women of courage who have done remarkable things in our world. I know today at this event, Secretary of State Clinton is going to say some things about these women of courage, so I want to say – take the opportunity to say something about her, to say something about her courage and how she has been an emblem and an inspiration for women around the world.
And in honoring Secretary of State Clinton, I would like to use words that she said in 2008. She applied them to others, but I believe that they apply to her. She said that the bravest and most remarkable achievement is what you make unremarkable – female leadership. Secretary of State Clinton, you’ve made female leadership an image around the world. I don’t think we can say female leadership is unremarkable yet, but you have made the journey so much easier for others. Thank you very much. (Applause.)
And as we celebrate International Women’s Day, we celebrate the courage of women who have shaped our world – women like Susan B. Anthony in your own country and Jessie Street in mine, women who are publicly noted for shaping events that led to a world where we better recognize women’s equality and women’s rights. Now, there are so many women who contributed to that story whose names we do not know. Indeed, today, we honor every brave mother who ever raised a strong daughter and helped us get here. Those women worked for more than political rights. They worked for the opportunity for women to hold high office, but they worked for so much more.
They worked to make sure that they had the right to vote, the right to equal work and equal pay, the right to proper services, the right to physical safety. Perhaps more important than anything else, they worked for the ultimate right, and that is a right to an education. I am absolutely passionate about education because I believe it gives everybody the opportunity to shape their own lives for the future. And wherever I encounter women and girls, I know what can change their lives is the ability to have a great quality education.
And I’d like to leave you with one message today, and that message is: Education takes courage as well. It takes moral courage to learn to read. It’s an adventure for every child. It’s an adventure that never ends. Yesterday, President Obama and I were pleased to see some women who are on that adventure, some girls at Wakefield School in Virginia. But today, I want to say to you there are women and girls around our world who need physical courage in order to get an education, physical courage in order to learn to read. And I believe a great symbol for hope in our world is that there are women now who are able to learn to read in countries where that basic right was denied to them.
Let’s look at the Indonesian school which is providing modern education in the most populous Islamic country. Let’s look at the school in Uruzgan province in Afghanistan, where female literacy of less than 1 percent is now being met with the freedom to learn to read. And Australia is proud to be providing $36 million over four years through the Save The Children Fund to help those girls learn to read.
I’ll say to you today this is the next part of our journey, ensuring that we are working together as women to make sure women around the world get access to a decent quality education. I know we’re up to it and I know we’re going to achieve it together. Thank you very much. (Applause.)
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you so much, Prime Minister, for stating with such passion and reminding all of us of the importance of fighting for education for all girls and boys. And some of my former colleagues in the Congress have been on the frontlines of that fight for many years.
It is now my great personal privilege and just absolute delight to introduce the First Lady of the United States. Now you know I have a soft spot for all first ladies. (Laughter.) It is really one of the most difficult roles I’ve ever had, and I have watched with great admiration as Michelle Obama has taken on such important work. She’s been a leader in tackling the epidemic in childhood obesity, and I have to thank you for that because it is one of the critical health challenges that is facing us and increasingly not only here in the United States, but around the world. She has not been afraid to get her hands dirty, quite literally, by planting an organic garden at the White House to demonstrate what it means to eat healthy. She even got the White House staff to give out apples and seeds at the Annual Easter Egg Roll, something I never could have accomplished. (Laughter.)
I also greatly appreciate her tireless advocacy for America’s military families. Too often those who are left behind also serve but without the support that is needed and she has recognized that and has rallied our public for greater support and awareness of family service and sacrifice. And she has continually found new ways to reach out to women and girls around the world. She’s given internationally a role model for so many not only here at home, but from all walks of life everywhere, to help each person see what could be, how obstacles could be overcome, and she has certainly encouraged with her championship of educational experiences abroad for young Americans to develop a deeper understanding of the world. And so for those and many other reasons, it is such an honor to ask you to join me in welcoming Michelle Obama. (Applause.)
[First Lady Michelle Obama delivers remarks.]
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you. Thank you so very much, Michelle Obama. And I know that the women around the world who are watching today in many different sites and settings know that they have a champion in the White House. And I love the phrase that courage is contagious, so we’re going to see how we can propagate that in many different lands.
It is now my honor to present the International Women of Courage Awards. And what we’ll do is I will announce the citation, and I think that Mrs. Obama and I will then pose for a picture. Is that how it’s going to work? Good. I always have to ask the chief of Protocol because we find in these jobs that the chief of Protocol runs our lives. (Laughter.)
So with that introduction, let me begin. Let me first ask Maria Bashir of Afghanistan to join me. (Applause.) I thank you for that strong response for Maria, because she needs our support and she needs to have her own country understand how important the work she is doing is for them.
For defending those who have no legal voice, fighting corruption, and bringing hope to women survivors of violence, disfigurement, and child marriage, we salute you.
(The Award was presented.) (Applause.)
SECRETARY CLINTON: Henriette Ekwe Ebongo of Cameroon. (Applause.) For a lifetime of selfless dedication to the pursuit of justice, the rule of law, human rights, and freedom of expression, at great cost to herself, her physical safety, her family, her acceptance by her society, she has never wavered. And for that, we give you this award.
(The Award was presented.) (Applause.)
SECRETARY CLINTON: I have known Jianmei Guo of China for 15 years. I have watched this extraordinary lawyer create space for actions that defend those who are in desperate need of support for her fearless and unwavering legal advocacy in defense of the rights of the vulnerable and marginalized, standing against injustice, and her groundbreaking work to improve the status of women.
Unfortunately, over those 15 years, I have seen her government try to narrow that space and prevent her from doing this critical work on behalf of women who are robbed of their wages, women who need to get a divorce, women who have nowhere to live, and so many other cases. Her daughter is here somewhere, and I know how proud her daughter is of her mother, and so are we. (Applause.)
(The Award was presented.) (Applause.)
Agnes Osztolykan of Hungary is, as you heard the First Lady say, the first Roma woman ever elected to the parliament in Hungary. For overcoming racism and discrimination to emerge a leader in elected office, serving as a proud defender of the Roma people and culture, and tirelessly pressing for equal rights and the inclusion of minorities in society, we thank you for your work, we thank you for your example, and we will stand with you.
(The Award was presented.) (Applause.)
Eva Abu Halaweh of Jordan has taken on one of the most sensitive of issues. She has provided a legal outlet for victims of torture, abuse, and so-called honor crimes. She has been a relentless advocate on behalf of human rights and women at risk. This has been a challenge that she has embraced. And she never stops thinking of those who are in need of support, not only from her but from governments like ours. And we thank you. (Applause.)
(The Award was presented.) (Applause.)
Her Excellency, Madam President – I love saying that – (applause, laughter). When I visited the president just a few months ago, I was so impressed by her command of the issues and her understanding of what it will take for her country that she loves so much to have the kind of future that the children deserve to have. For visionary leadership and tenacity to end conflict and to keep her country intact, and to empower all of her citizens through meaningful elections and democratic advancement, she stands not only as a great leader of her own country but as a challenge and an example for leaders everywhere. And we thank you for that, Roza.
(The Award was presented.) (Applause.)
Marisela Morales Ibanez of Mexico – (applause). The work that she is doing is dangerous. It is among the most important work that can be done in her country. President Calderon and the Government of Mexico are committed in the fight against violence and the drug traffickers and criminal organizations. And she has shown an unfailing drive to combat organized crime and corruption, and a valiant dedication to the protection of citizen security and human rights. And as President Obama told President Calderon when he visited last week, we are with you, we will be there for you, we stand by your side as you do everything you can to protect the good people of Mexico from this scourge of criminality.
(The Award was presented.) (Applause.)
Ghulam Sughra of Pakistan – (applause). She has lived a life that demonstrates unequivocally that one person can make a difference. In her village, she stood up for her own rights and, as the First Lady said, became the first woman to get a divorce. And then she decided she wanted to fulfill her own dream and to become educated. And then she decided she wanted to help others have the same opportunities. So for sheer determination and strength to overcome poverty and gender discrimination, and to help other rural women in your village and far beyond have a chance to be educated and to educate their children and to provide a better future to transform their own their lives, we are so proud to present you with this award.
(The Award was presented.) (Applause.)
I also want to honor the two special women who were unable to join us here today because their governments would not permit them to come. They also are true women of courage and conviction, and I regret they cannot be here with us in person, but let us remember and acknowledge them.
Nasta Palazhanka of Belarus – she has been living through such a difficult time. A country right in Europe that is still oppressing its people, rigging elections, jailing political opponents in the most brutal and oppressive ways, is an intimidating force. But, she has stood up and spoken out. So for her resolute commitment to promoting civil society and youth political activism, and braving – bravely helping to chart a peaceful path toward democratic society, we applaud her. (Applause.)
And finally, Yoani Sanchez of Cuba. She is the young blogger that Mrs. Obama referenced. She has used technology to promote positive change. She has created an interactive space for the exchange of ideas and free expression. She has given voice to the concerns and aspirations of her fellow citizens. And, as governments are learning around the world, you cannot stop the internet. (Laughter.) And so her words, despite her government’s best efforts, are being translated into other languages, are being picked up and spread around because freedom knows no boundaries. And she deserves our thanks for demonstrating that again and again. (Applause.)
Let me now invite President Otunbayeva to come and express the reactions and feelings of the award winners and to perhaps say a few words on behalf of herself and her country.
Madam President. (Applause.)
PRESIDENT OTUNBAYEVA: Madam Secretary, dear Mrs. Obama, ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much for your kind words and attention. Secretary Clinton, I accept this award on behalf of all women of Kyrgyzstan who struggle from the day to day to make their voices heard. This award belongs to those who, despite their condition, rise above and demand respect to their human dignity. In big politics, when a woman stands up to dictator or it is a domestic situation when she refuses to accept violence and humiliation, what do we have celebrating today? The courage is one of the same quality and scale. Many millions of women do not have the fame and publicity that I enjoyed in my political career. It is so to these nameless, but truly heroic women that I dedicate this award and mostly humbly pledge to continue my work for the cause of social justice and the rule of law.
It is also great honor to share this award to this distinguished group of women activists from around the planet. It is really inspiring to be here and hear your amazing stories. Madam Secretary, a year ago today on March 8th, International Women’s Day, I stood in a square of Bishkek near the monument of Urkiya Salieva, a heroine of Kyrgyz women emancipation. I had invited several members of parliament, civic activists, human rights defenders, and youth leaders to that square to mark the International Women Solidarity Day. The idea was simple to come to a public space together on a public holiday. What could be less threatening than a group of women, some with their children in strollers, coming together to celebrate?
A year ago in my country, it was very dangerous. You were risking a lot to initiate or participate in anything resembling a public protest. When less than a dozen activists showed up, I could not blame any of my friends and colleagues who chose to stay home that day. We all lived in fear. The usual news in my country was about political killings, attacks against journalists, jailing, persecution of opposition leaders, shutting down of the independent newspapers and websites. It was on April 7 last year that the youth of the country said enough to silently watch the very meager national resources be stolen by the corrupt dictatorial family. We paid a very dear price to liberate our nation; more than 80 young people choose to die rather than to continue to live in fear.
The interim government that was formed by the opposition on that day focused on efforts not to squander the liberty that we achieved. We knew that it was not enough just to depose the dictator. We had to rebuild the country on the principles of rule of law and democracy. Within three months, we held a national referendum to approve the new constitution that transformed the country into the first parliamentary democracy in the region. (Applause.) We then provided for political parties, including those that were opposed to us or even directly represented interests of the past regime compete freely in the parliamentary elections. For the first time in our history, the people of Kyrgyzstan elected its own government.
While the difficulties remain and we have many challenges ahead of us, we remain proud and optimistic, yes. When you are a dictatorship, it is very easy to create the artificial picture of stability and harmony. When you have a democracy, you must learn to accept many voices, some of them very critical, some even insulting. To the outsiders, it looks like you are about to collapse every minute. (Laughter.) But it is via this active dialog and public debate that we can find compromise and pursue what is best for the national interest. We may look more in disarray today when we were a year ago, but most certainly we are much stronger as a state and as a people.
Madam Secretary, dear friends and colleagues, I want to share with you one or two ideas of the occasion of today’s International Women Solidarity today. This day was pronounced 100 years ago by social democratic women leaders in Europe. I was named after one of them, Rosa Luxemburg. Although, some of their – (applause) – although, some of their theories may have been flawed, it is through their idea of liberating and empowering women that I owe my education and the fact that I was blessed with so many opportunities in this life. What I am concerned with today is that we see a lot of achievements in the area of women rights being eroded now and scaled back. It breaks my heart to see young women and girls in the region not to have the same rights and the opportunities that we, their mothers, had.
Yes, we can see a lot of progress in public awareness from the time 15 years ago when I saw you, Secretary Clinton, famously declaring in Beijing human rights are women rights. (Applause.) Women rights are human rights. (Applause.) However, when it comes to the reality, the reality in many places of the world remains disappointing and even worsening.
I think I’m talking about the same fundamental that was discussed by President Obama in his book “The Audacity of Hope,” how Indonesia of his childhood has become a very different place now. Why’s that I ask you? There is a lot of talk about export of democracies. Your most (inaudible) discuss how the developed West is supposedly trying to impose its own values on the rest of the humanity. However, nobody talks about the different kind of export, how billions of dollars are spent by some powerful and obviously very rich outside forces for programs that aim to re-enslave women, to deny them their rights and freedoms. Ideology of religious extremism disseminates intolerance towards representatives of other religions and ethnicity. It refuses to see women as equal important and rightful members of the society. The time has come that we stop shying away from confronting those in our own countries and internationally who declare women as inferior creatures. (Applause.)
The historic times that we are witnessing in the Middle East and elsewhere should really serve as a call for action. Young girls everywhere, not only in such countries as Kyrgyzstan or Afghanistan, should have equal access to education, employment, full-scale of political and social rights. They deserve nothing less than that. It is not enough to liberate societies. Without liberating and empowering every individual’s of that society, there won’t be any justice. (Applause.)
Madam Secretary, dear Mrs. Obama, in many languages – I can talk most certainly in the Kyrgyz and in Russian, the notion of courage has very strong masculine terms. Historically and culturally for much of the recent history, only men supposedly could be brave. Of course, these men who wrote the history books prefer to forget about the period – (laughter) – of matriarchy when we know that it was the women who ruled the planet.
I want to thank you, Secretary Clinton, for continuing these awards that redefines the word courage in very feminine terms. I’m very proud to be a woman, a mother, a daughter, and a sister. I’m very proud to be here today and receive this award. Happy March 8th. (Applause.)
SECRETARY CLINTON: Oh, my. Well, now you know why we all just admire and have such great feeling for her. I want now to invite our Cameroon winner, Henriette Ekwe Ebongo. Please come and say a few words. (Applause.)
MS. EBONGO: Mrs. Obama, Secretary Clinton, distinguished invitees, today is a great day for us. The sun is brightly shining in our hearts. Each of us is waging a fierce battle for the ideals and unshakable convictions she stands for. Each of us does it, whatever the price to pay, the loneliness of (inaudible), repression, torture, and (inaudible) from everywhere the violence of those who (inaudible) humiliations. We tried to achieve our goals, making our country the best place to live where you enjoy freedom, (inaudible) in democracy, development, gender equity, and good governance.
Our societies still suffer so many diseases that we could not just fold our arms and wait. Our commitment to changes likely to improve our citizens’ lives was and still is our life’s missions. We did not think about becoming heroines, but it just happened that we were there and had to fulfill our historical duty.
We do appreciate this award of International Women of Courage as a wonderful umbrella and shield to protect us in our daily activities. We welcome this precious award as a tremendous (inaudible) tool for younger generation to stand up and fight and pave the way for the future, a better future. The International Women of Courage Award represent for all of us a new beginning and a good reason to stand firm. This country has done a lot in shaping the mentalities and contributing to building a modern, democratic society. Only half of my (inaudible), let me express our deep and sincere gratitude. Thank you. (Applause.)
AMBASSADOR VERVEER: And now to close the celebration, we have a very special surprise. Grammy Award-winning composer and lyricist Tena Clark has written a song for today, a song to honor the International Women of Courage and the women they represent around the world and to honor Secretary Clinton and the First Lady.
Judith, can you come up please? “I Believe” will be performed now for the first time, and here is Judith Hall to do so. (Applause.)
(Song is performed.)
AMBASSADOR VERVEER: Judith, thank you so much. Tena, thank you so much for composing that.
At this time, we ask that all of our guests hold while the First Lady, the Secretary, and the honorees take photos and take leave of the room. And then we invite all of you to join us for a reception upstairs in the Ben Franklin Room. As the President said, Happy March 8th. Thank you all again. (Applause.)