Highlights from AWIU’s 8th Annual International Women of Courage Celebration
2015 International Women of Courage with (standing left to right) AWIU Awardees Jane M. Wetzel and Laurie Garrett, AWIU President Diane McGlinchey, and IWOC Celebration Chair Cynthy Moffatt
American Women for International Understanding (AWIU), in partnership with the U.S. Department of State, presented The 8th Annual International Women of Courage Celebration on March 4th, 2015 at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. The evening honored ten extraordinary women from around the globe for their courageous and selfless efforts in advocating for peace, justice, human rights and women’s equality, often in the face of great personal risk.
The IWOC Award and AWIU’s IWOC Celebration
The U.S. Department of State established the International Women of Courage (IWOC) Award in 2007 to honor those who make a substantial difference in the lives of women around the globe. Nominated by U.S. Embassies and NGOs, the candidates are selected by the State Department for their inspiring and impactful work.
American Women for International Understanding, which has promoted woman-to-woman interaction and global understanding since 1968, first partnered with the State Department in 2008 to support their outstanding program by hosting an annual celebration dinner for the honorees. Each of the IWOCs also receives a monetary grant from AWIU to support her continued efforts in her home country.
Since inception of the award, the State Department and AWIU have honored more than 80 women from 49 countries.
2015 IWOC Celebration
Award-winning journalist and TV personality Katie Couric chaired the Honorary Committee for AWIU’s 2015 International Women of Courage Celebration. In a message to the IWOCs, Couric stated, “Your courage, commitment and tireless work advocating for women and social progress inspire, motivate, and empower all of us to believe that change is possible. You give us the courage to fight for justice, to fight for equality and, ultimately, to fight for a better world.”
The IWOC Celebration began with a reception to welcome the honorees and guests, comprising nearly 200 State Department officials, dignitaries, sponsors, and AWIU members. The atmosphere of the evening was warm, supportive and inspiring, and was set against the backdrop of International Women’s Day.
During the dinner program, Catherine M. Russell, U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues, introduced each of the awardees by highlighting their bravery and contribution to the global struggle for women’s rights. “These women have a faith in the future that is inspirational to us all,” said Ambassador Russell, identifying why the IWOC Celebration and the work of the honorees is so meaningful.
The introduction of these extraordinary women inspired a prolonged standing ovation from the crowd. Speaking on behalf of all the honorees, IWOC Arbana Xharra, a journalist whose early reporting contributed to Kosovo’s nascent democracy, humbly stated, “It is an honor to be recognized for our work and for our struggle. We all share the same concerns.”
In addition to honoring the IWOC awardees at the Celebration, AWIU recognized the significant contributions of two American women. The AWIU Internationalism Award was presented to Laurie Garrett, Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist and Senior Fellow for Global Health at the Council on Foreign Relations. Ms. Garrett is an expert on global health systems and the spread of deadly viruses, from AIDS to Ebola.
While accepting her award, Garrett brought the crowd to their feet when she spoke about the human cost of outbreaks like Ebola in terms of discrimination against the victims instead of focus on the microbe. Her rousing speech resonated with many in the audience who work in the health field in their countries, especially the IWOC from Guinea, Marie Claire Tchecola, herself a nurse and Ebola survivor.
The AWIU Bernice Behrens Founders Award was presented to Jane Mursener Wetzel for her outstanding leadership and contributions to AWIU. In her acceptance remarks, Ms. Wetzel poignantly observed, “These 2015 International Women of Courage represent what is best in a world that sometimes reveals ugliness and the worst of humanity. Their refusal to accept the unacceptable impacts us all. Everything that is found in the world can also be found on this stage tonight: grace, joy, fear, beauty, tenaciousness, loss, heroism, intellect…and hope.”
The State Department Award Ceremony
On March 6th the honorees attended the U.S. Secretary of State’s International Women of Courage Award Ceremony and Reception at the State Department. Ambassador Russell and Deputy Secretary of State Heather Higginbottom presented each of the 2015 International Women of Courage with her award.
During the ceremony, IWOC Nadia Sharmeen, a groundbreaking journalist from Bangladesh, spoke about the impact of receiving the award on her and her fellow IWOCs: “[B]efore coming here we were alone, but now we know we’re not alone. We have a lot of women like us all around the world. And here, as we see, together we can be a great force that can bring justice, end the violence, and change the world.”
At the White House the next day, First Lady Michelle Obama personally thanked each of the awardees, stating that, “These women refuse to believe the false comfort that other people’s suffering isn’t their problem, and they refuse to listen to those who tell them that one person can’t possibly make a difference. Instead, they listen to the relentless moral voice inside themselves that drives them toward justice, compassion and truth.”
After their visit to Washington D.C., many of the IWOCs travelled to other cities in the U.S. as part of a cultural and educational exchange. In Los Angeles, the International Visitors Council and AWIU hosted a reception for Burmese IWOC May Sabe Phyu. Attendees, including former U.S. Congresswoman Diane Watson, were captivated by her stories of the struggle for women’s rights in Burma and were inspired by her untiring efforts to affect needed change.
In San Diego, IWOC Niloofar Rahmani, an Air Force Captain and Afghanistan’s first female fighter pilot, compared notes with U.S. fighter pilots during a visit with the Blue Angels.
2015 marked the 5th year for Deloitte as Global Leadership Sponsor of the IWOC Celebration, and its 7th year of sponsorship overall. Deloitte was recognized for its commitment to inclusivity and diversity and for being a progressive leader in promoting the talents of women in the work environment.
Following the IWOC Celebration, Beth Thiebault, Chief Inclusion Leader of Deloitte and 2015 Celebration Honorary Committee member, reflected, “[Attending this event] really puts in perspective the potential and impact all of us as individuals can have on the world with passion and persistence. Deloitte is lucky to have the opportunity to have a part in such a great program.”
Raco Industrial Corporation co-founder Martha Atherton was recognized for her exceptional support and for providing AWIU with its first matching grant.
AWIU thanks all its generous sponsors of the 2015 International Women of Courage Celebration:
Global Leadership Sponsor: Deloitte
Bridges of Understanding Sponsor: Raco Industrial Corporation
Freedom and Equality Sponsor: Nestle
Media Sponsor: Satellite Sisters
Empowerment Through Education Sponsors:
Friends of the American University of Afghanistan, The National Geographic Society,
One Global Mediation, Pactolus Private Wealth Management, U.S. News & World Report