“Together, we need to speak up,” Roya Sadat, a filmmaker, founder of the Afghanistan International Women’s Film Festival and 2018 Secretary of State’s International Woman of Courage Awardee, told the capacity crowd at the 11th International Women of Courage Celebration at the Jonathan Club in downtown Los Angeles. The Celebration was hosted by the American Women for International Understanding in collaboration with the U.S. Department of State and the International Visitors Council Los Angeles. Ms. Sadat is a creative thinker who refuses to be silenced in the face of threats from conservative elements within Afghan society. Using cinema and television as platforms for advocacy, she is promoting positive change by telling the untold stories of Afghan women and girls. “Together, we need to tell our stories.”
Fellow International Woman of Courage Awardee Dr. Julissa Villanueva, echoed those sentiments when she spoke about her work in Honduras. Dr. Villanueva serves as the Director of the Honduran Attorney General’s Forensic Medicine Department, overseeing 650 forensic experts. Dr. Villanueva has fundamentally changed the nature of criminal accountability in Honduras, especially regarding violent crimes perpetrated against women and children. She thanked her team in Honduras for their courage in fighting for those who no longer have a voice. Then she turned to her fellow honorees from around the globe and said, “We are all sisters now.”
Since 2007, the Secretary of State’s International Women of Courage (IWOC) Award honors women who have exemplified exceptional courage and leadership in advocating for human rights, women’s equality and social progress around the globe. Awardees traveled to the U.S. for an award ceremony at the State Department in Washington, DC on March 23, 2018 and had an opportunity for cultural exchange through the International Visitors Leadership Program. The honorees completed their stay in the United States at AWIU’s International Women of Courage Celebration at the end of March. The Celebration provides an evening for the IWOCs to connect with AWIU members from around the country and Los Angeles- based patrons who support women’s global issues. In addition, AWIU provides each honoree with a grant to continue her vital work in her home country.
Pamela Pryor, Senior Advisor, The Office of the Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy and Human Rights, US Department of State, introduced the 2018 International Women of Courage. Also in attendance, Marie Royce, Assistant Secretary of State Educational and Cultural Affairs Designate, US Department of State.
This year’s honorees attending the Los Angeles celebration were Godelieve Mukasarasi (Rwanda), L’Malouma Said (Mauritania), Dr. Julissa Villanueva (Honduras), Dr Feride Rushiti (Kosovo), Aiman Umarova (Kazakhstan), Roya Sadat (Afghanistan). Additional honorees who could not attend the Los Angeles event were Sirikan Charoensiri (Thailand); Sister Maria Elena Berini (Italy); Aliyah Khalaf Saleh (Iraq); and Aura Elena Farfan (Guatemala)
Others in attendance from the State Department included; Rahima Kandahari, Senior Advisor and Director of Operations, Secretary’s Office of Global Women’s Issues, US Department of State; Emily Brown, Policy Advisor, Secretary’s Office of Global Women’s Issues, US Department of State; Nazgul Toktosunova, Program Officer, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, US Department of State; Catharine ONeill, Staff Member, The Office of the Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy and Human Rights, US Department of State; Elaine Clayton, Public Affairs, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, US Department of State; Westley Eldredge, Public Afairs, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, US Department of State; and Goli Ameri, Former Assistant Secretary of State Educational and Cultural Affairs
Onma Lwin, the IWOC Celebration Chair said, “We were honored to have hosted the 2018 International Women of Courage Awardees and to introduce them to the Los Angeles community. The Awardees were applauded for their many achievements and we were equally proud to show our honored guests the warmth and welcoming nature of our Los Angeles sponsors and patrons. All left the evening feeling humbled yet inspired and energized.” The evening was emceed by AWIU member and IWOC committee member Cynthy Moffatt. Journalist Lisa Ling was the Honorary Chair of the event.
AWIU also presented the 2018 Internationalism Award to Ana C. Rold, the founder and publisher of Diplomatic Courier, a global affairs media network. Ms. Rold was honored for her work as an international conflict mediator, an advocate for women’s global issues and a mentor to women leaders at home and abroad. She spoke of the importance of “pie-sharing” in diplomacy and international relations by cooperation and building partnerships and coalitions. Ms. Rold cited the honorees as prime examples of change makers who understood the concept of cooperation on both a micro and macro scale, “We make progress by talking, listening, and coming together. Honoring those who do great things; honoring people who set a towering example through reconciliation, respect, and dignity. Such as the wonderful Women of Courage being honored here tonight. They’re not defined by struggle, heroic though that’s been. They’re defined by success. Not where they’ve come from; but where they’ve reached. And where they’re going next.”
The Bernice Behrens Founders Award was presented by AWIU president Maria Schory to Marsha Niazmand, a longtime AWIU member who has reshaped the AWIU Grant Program over the last few years. Ms. Schory lauded the honoree, “Under her leadership, our Grant Program changed its focus from supporting US- based individuals to be a vibrant, internationally-focused source of microgrants for women across the globe.” Ms. Niazmand accepted the award by saying, “When I retired as a social worker, a colleague told me that her life had become smaller after retirement. Mine became bigger thanks to AWIU because of my contact with so many women throughout the world.”
The Presenting Sponsor of the International Women of Courage Celebration was Deloitte. A leader on the global stage, Deloitte is committed to what the International Women of Courage represent: exceptional achievement, women in leadership, selfless philanthropy, and a culture of diversity and inclusion. Terri Cooper, Chief Inclusion Officer, Deloitte who attended the event commented, “We are thrilled to sponsor the International Women of Courage Celebration for our eighth consecutive year. At Deloitte, we work to foster a culture of courage and inclusion, and these extraordinary women and their powerful stories serve as an inspiration to us all.” Additional sponsors include: Nestlé; The Walt Disney Company; Wells Fargo; Ariel Investments; CBRE; Madison Partners; UCLA Anderson School of Management; and US News & World Report.