International Women of Courage Award

March 8, 2015

International Women’s Day

On International Women’s Day we celebrate the courage and contributions of women and girls around the world.

The fundamental truth is that no society can reach its full potential if it leaves 50 percent of its people behind.

The State Department highlighted this fact last week when it honored 10 extraordinary leaders with our International Women of Courage Award.

They are peacemakers bringing together warring sides to work for reconciliation. They are nurses treating Ebola patients despite the risks. They are journalists exposing corruption and countering violent extremism. And they are activists taking a stand against violence and discrimination in the workforce, the home, and the city square.

Every day these leaders are out there advocating for universal rights and aspirations. They are standing up and fighting so that every woman and child can lead full, healthy, and productive lives. Unfortunately, this extraordinary work sometimes puts a target squarely on their backs. By fighting for others’ safety, they jeopardize their own.

So while we honor these women’s courage, we reaffirm our commitment to achieving gender equality. It’s a commitment we will, and we must, keep as the global community shapes the Sustainable Development Goals for the next 15 years.

Our path forward is clear. We must prevent and respond to gender-based violence. That’s not only essential for our collective humanity; it’s critical for our collective security.

We must open the doors for women to fully participate in society – as farmers, entrepreneurs, engineers, executives, and leaders of their countries.

And we must invest in the next generation of women by making sure girls can go to school in a safe environment. They should be able to graduate – empowered to be part of their community, diploma in hand.

I will never forget the story of a young woman named Haleta Giday, who I met last year at President Obama’s Summit of the Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders. She had graduated from one of the best schools in Ethiopia. She could have had her pick of jobs. She chose to represent women and children who were the victims of violence. And when Haleta saw how many widows went bankrupt after they lost their husbands, she began a campaign to educate women about their legal and financial rights.

Women like Haleta, women like the ones we honored last week, they are pushing forward progress for gender equality.

Today of all days, the United States reaffirms our commitment to ensuring that this vital progress continues – that women and girls everywhere enjoy the same freedoms and rights as anyone else.