AWIU was once again privileged to honor the women chosen by the United States Department of State as their 2009 International Women of Courage Awardees. These women, selected for their extraordinary humanitarian efforts in their countries from over 90 nominations from US Embassies worldwide, are courageous and unbelievably brave. They work very hard, often at great personal risk, to help the women of their countries to have freedom of speech, freedom from slavery and abuse and to protect their children. The same rights that we, in the United States enjoy as a matter of course and take for granted: freedom of course and take for granted: freedom, the right to be heard, safety in our everyday endeavors and, perhaps most of all, the right to make choices that affect our lives and our families. In listening to these women we become more aware that these rights are in fact privileges not to be taken lightly. Only seven of the eight women were able to attend. Reem Al Numery (Yemen), was unable to come because of personal safety issues. You will find these women’s stories on the following pages. Each honoree was given a monetary award from AWIU.
The evening also included, as AWIU guests, the following outstanding women: Panel Presenters, Award Recipients and Remarks for the Times. The Panel Presenters included: Shamim Jawad, wife of Afghanistan Ambassador to the United States. A member of the U.S.-Afghan Women’s Council and Co-Chair of the Afghan Children’s Initiative, Mrs. Jawad is actively involved in issues relevant to Afghanistan, with a special emphasis on the rights of women and children.
Charlotte (Charlie) Pontecelli, former Deputy Under Secretary for International Affair, U.S. Department of Labor. In this capacity she provided policy and negotiating expertise and leadership in all major areas of the Department’s international responsibilities. Previously she was Senior Coordinator for International Women’s Issue’s with the U.S. Department of State. Colleen Graffy, LLM. Law Professor and Director of Global Programs, Pepperdine University School of Law. Formerly, she was the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Public Diplomacy for Europe and Eurasia and prior to that, the Academic Director and Associate Professor of Law for the London Law Program, Pepperdine University School of Law.
Clare Crawford Mason, former NBC senior producer and a founding editor of People Magazine. Clare was White House reporter during the Kennedy and early Reagan years. The author of 2 best selling books, Clare is the winner of the Peabody Award, several Emmys, and has been nominated for a Pulitzer prize.
At the Women of Courage Banquet on March 10th, each awardee was presented a certificate of appreciation, a red rose in honor of the beauty and grace they represent and $1000 grant to further their work in their country. A special guest was Cynthia Bendlin, a 2008 International Women of Courage winner from Paraguay.
Dr. Mary Pat Seurkamp, President , College of Notre Dame of Maryland closed the beautiful evening of celebration with the following excerpts (only a part of her address): A quote from Eleanor Roosevelt “You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face… You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”, Other thoughts from Dr. Seurkamp: “To those honored tonight, thank you so much for all that you have clone for our world and for sharing this evening with all of us. It has been a true honor to meet you and to be here with you.” “This evening’s honorees demonstrate triumph over adversity and a steadfast determination to create real change in the world. They were able to do those things which others, and maybe even they themselves, thought at one time were not possible.”
As I close with a prayer of gratitude, I am reminded of some other courageous women, the School Sisters of Notre Dame. Caroline Gerhardinger, now Blessed Theresa, traveled to the United States with five other sisters from Germany in the mid 1800’s – not knowing a word of English. They came to teach immigrant children, primarily girls and young women. In founding schools in America, including College of Notre Dame. Their stories remind us to dream of what could be. They remind us not only to fight what is wrong, but also to build up what is truly good. May we always remember that individual acts of courage, carried out by people of strength and integrity, will indeed, transform the world.”