First Lady Melania Trump and Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Thomas A. Shannon Honor 13 Women of Courage
03/28/2017 05:10 PM EDT
Office of the Spokesperson
Department of State
March 28, 2017
First Lady Melania Trump and Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Thomas A. Shannon will present the 2017 Secretary of State’s International Women of Courage Award to a group of extraordinary women from around the world tomorrow at the U.S. Department of State.
The Secretary of State’s International Women of Courage Award annually recognizes women around the globe who have demonstrated exceptional courage and leadership in advocating for peace, justice, human rights, gender equality, and women’s empowerment, often at great personal risk. Since the inception of this award in 2007, the Department of State has honored over 100 women from more than 60 different countries.
The 2017 awardees are:
- Sharmin Akter, Activist Against Early/ Forced Marriage, Bangladesh
- Malebogo Molefhe, Human Rights Activist, Botswana
- Natalia Ponce de Leon, President, Natalia Ponce de Leon Foundation, Colombia
- Rebecca Kabugho, Political and Social Activist, Democratic Republic of Congo
- Jannat Al Ghezi, Deputy Director of The Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq, Iraq
- Major Aichatou Ousmane Issaka, Deputy Director of Social Work at the Military Hospital of Niamey, Niger
- Veronica Simogun, Director and Founder, Family for Change Association, Papua New Guinea
- Cindy Arlette Contreras Bautista, Lawyer and Founder of Not One Woman Less, Peru
- Sandya Eknelygoda, Human Rights Activist, Sri Lanka
- Sister Carolin Tahhan Fachakh, Member, Daughters of Mary Help of Christians (F.M.A.), Syria
- Saadet Ozkan, Educator and Gender Activist, Turkey
- Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, Blogger and Environmental Activist, Vietnam
- Fadia Najib Thabet, Human Rights Activist, Yemen
On April 1, the honorees will travel to cities across the United States to engage with the American people through an International Visitor Leadership Program. They will visit Atlanta, Denver, Des Moines, Minneapolis, New York, Pensacola, Pittsburgh, Portland, San Diego, and Tampa on their individual programs. The women will reconvene in Los Angeles to reflect on their visit and discuss ways to work together to improve the lives of women and girls around the world.
Below are the three African winners
Malebogo Molefhe is a former National Basketball player who narrowly escaped death after being brutally attacked and shot eight times in 2009 by her deranged ex-boyfriend. She survived the attack but uses a wheelchair due to extensive spinal cord injuries. Since her attack Malebogo has felt led to advocate for herself and other women and girls that are survivors of gender-based violence (GBV). She began speaking out against domestic abuse and GBV on national radio, facilitating workshops and trainings on organizational wellness with leading state organizations and non-governmental organizations in Botswana. She also volunteers in communities across the country to bring awareness to these issues and shine light on cultural norms that promote the continuation of GBV in Botswana. Malebogo has dedicated her life to teaching young girls about self-esteem and self-respect to fight against gender oppression and domestic abuse. She is currently working with the Ministry of Education to develop a program for school-age children to help them understand the implications of violence in the home. Malebogo also advocates for the advancement of women in sports with a particular focus on women with disabilities. Having played professional basketball from age 18 until the incident in 2009 at 29 years old, she is passionate about promoting active rehabilitation for women who are disabled, especially those whose disability comes as the result of domestic violence.
Rebecca Kabugho is an activist in the LUCHA (Struggle for Change) citizen movement in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Despite great repression, everyday threats and the risk of arrest, Rebecca bravely played a key role in a series of peaceful and non-violent demonstrations demanding that the Congolese government hold credible elections in 2016 as required by the Congolese Constitution. In February 2016, Rebecca and five of her male colleagues were arrested and convicted of inciting civil disobedience while planning a peaceful demonstration calling on President Kabila to abide by the Constitution. Rebecca and her colleagues were sentenced and spent six months in a prison in Goma. During her detention, she was lauded by social media and the international press as the youngest prisoner of conscience in the world—she was only 22 years old when she was arrested. On December 19,2016, Rebecca and 18 of her colleagues were arrested again in a peaceful demonstration demanding the resignation of the unconstitutional government before being released a week later. Through her courage, Rebecca has become one of the main activists of LUCHA and an inspiration for many young girls in her country. The organization continues to advocate for positive change in the Congo through non-violent resistance.
Major Aichatou Ousmane Issaka is currently Deputy Director of Social Work at the Military Hospital of Niamey. In 1996, she became one of the first women in Niger to join the army. She is also one of the first women in Niger to attend a military academy. While being a wife and mother of three, Major Ousmane Issaka finds work-life balance between her daily responsibilities and her military tasks which often demand her to deploy on the ground. Danger does not stop Major Ousmane Issaka who has served throughout Niger, most recently in the Diffa Region, where the Boko Haram terrorist organization continues to threaten the population. Major Ousmane Issaka has taken a proactive leadership role in both Niger and most recently Mali where she was deployed within the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali to integrate gender perspectives into peacekeeping activities. Due to her contributions, she received a distinction award from the United Nations (UN). She was also awarded the UN’s first World Peace Prize for Military for gender equality in peacekeeping work within the UN force. Major Ousmane Issaka is a bright ray of hope for the Sahel. Her advocacy to raise awareness about gender sensitivities in conflict areas serves a positive example to Niger’s military and civil society.