IWOC Celebration 2016: An Electric Evening for the “Sisters of Courage”

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“I call on you, my Sisters of Courage, to find five girls to mentor and through these girls, we will build a better world,” Vicky Ntetema, an International Women of Courage honoree from Tanzania, challenged her fellow honorees and the audience of 300 at the Jonathan Club in downtown Los Angeles on April 7th. Her stirring speech was one of the highlights of the American Women for International Understanding’s 9th Annual International Women of Courage Celebration. The inspired crowd rose to its feet after Ms. Ntetema, a journalist- turned- human rights advocate, concluded. The standing ovation underscored the warm, supportive and electric atmosphere of the evening.

This year marked the 9th annual Celebration for American Women for International Understanding and the first time the event was held in Southern California in collaboration with the U.S. Department of State and the International Visitors Council Los Angeles. The International Women of Courage 2016 represented 14 countries with 11 IWOCs in attendance for the Celebration. The women were honored for their advocacy and activism in a broad range of fields supporting women’s issues around the globe, from human rights advocacy to interfaith activism to mental health support.

The International Women of Courage Award was established by the U.S. Department of State in 2007 to honor women who are making a substantial difference in the lives of other women around the globe. Honorees traveled to the U.S. for an award ceremony at the State Department in Washington, DC in late March and then traveled as a group to different states on an International Visitors Leadership Program. The IWOCs ended their stay in the United States in Los Angeles. Catherine Russell, the U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for the Secretary of State’s Office of Global Women’s Issues was on hand to introduce each of the women at the Celebration and Deputy Assistant Secretary Karen Richardsonl spoke about the importance of working on women’s empowerment issues in terms of overall global stability.

Other highlights of the night included the presentation of the Bernice Behrens Founders Award to former AWIU president Carole Lewis by current president Carol Robertson Lopez. Harriet Fulbright was honored with the Internationalism Award for her commitment to education and the arts. Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who created the International Women of Courage awards in 2007, sent a video message to the IWOCs, congratulating the women on their bravery and courage and encouraged them to keep in touch with one another after they returned home and to find other women to mentor. Honorary Chair Lesley Stahl of CBS News, who also sent a video for the event, called the IWOCS “fearless and dauntless” and commented, “It’s important that these women know that we are listening.”

As part of AWIU’s mission to build bridges of international understand and support women’s causes, the organization provided each honoree with a grant. Certificates were awarded on the night of the Celebration. Event Chair Sarah Shelton thanked the guests and sponsors from the stage for their vital support, “It is the privilege of AWIU to award every International Woman of Courage with a monetary grant so that she can return back to her native country and continue her important work. We believe the difference we make by providing grants to these extraordinary women allows them to make differences that change lives and change the world.”

Leslie Schweitzer, an AWIU member and Chairman and President of the Friends of the American University in Afghanistan, emceed the event and said afterwards, “AWIU truly does make a difference in addressing women’s issues worldwide. I am so honored to be part of it year after year. Traditionally the Celebration has been held in DC and holding it in LA this year was a wonderful change. There was so much energy in the room and the support for the incredible awardees was extraordinary.”

The event was made possible through the support of sponsors committed to global issues, including a number of AWIU members. A special thanks to Madvi Raya for committing at the Freedom & Equality Level and members Carole Lewis, Cynthy Moffatt, Margaret Heflin Sabbag and Jane Mursener Wetzel for contributing at the Empowerment through Education level.

Deloitte who was the presenting sponsor for the sixth consecutive year and provided volunteers to staff the event. Other sponsors included Nestle; The Walt Disney Company; CBRE; Davidoff Hutcher & Citron; Georgetown University; Friends of the American University in Afghanistan; National Geographic; Providence Foundations; Satellite Sisters; UCLA Anderson School of Management; USC Marshall School of Business; US News & World Report and Wells Fargo.