Highlights from AWIU’s 11th Annual International Women of Courage Celebration
IWOC Honorees and AWIU Members at the 2018 IWOC Celebration
American Women for International Understanding (AWIU) presented The 11th Annual International Women of Courage Celebration on Thursday, March 29th, 2018 at the Jonathan Club in Los Angeles. Ten extraordinary women from around the globe were honored for their courageous leadership in advocating for peace, justice, women’s equality and human rights, often at the risk of their own safety and freedom.
The IWOC Award and AWIU’s IWOC Celebration
In March 2018, the U.S. Department of State hosted the 12th annual International Women of Courage Award ceremony in Washington, D.C. The State Department established the International Women of Courage (IWOC) Award in 2007, under the leadership of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, to honor women who are making a substantial difference in the lives of women and girls around the world.
AWIU, which has promoted woman-to-woman interaction and understanding worldwide since 1967, has collaborated with the State Department since 2008 to support this outstanding program by hosting an annual celebration dinner for the honorees.
AWIU also presents each IWOC awardee with a monetary grant to support her continued efforts in her home country. The 2018 grants from AWIU will help IWOC awardees to advance positive change in their home countries of Afghanistan, Guatemala, Honduras, Iraq, Italy, Kazakhstan, Kosovo, Mauritania, Rwanda and Thailand.
Since 2007, the Department of State and AWIU have honored over 120 women from over 65 countries. As the U.S. State Department’s Office of Global Women’s Issues states: “Women offer unique contributions to making and keeping peace in countries around the world – and those contributions lead to better outcomes not just for women, but for entire societies.”
2018 IWOC Celebration
AWIU’s 11th annual International Women of Courage Celebration was held on Thursday, March 29th at the Jonathan Club in Los Angeles. The event was a collaboration between the State Department’s Office of Global Women’s Issues and Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs, the International Visitor’s Council of Los Angeles and AWIU’s IWOC Celebration Committee.
The evening began with a cocktail reception for over 270 guests, including State Department officials, foreign dignitaries, sponsors, and AWIU members. Attendees had the opportunity to meet the International Women of Courage awardees and personally congratulate them.
After the guests were seated for dinner, Onma Lwin, 2018 IWOC Celebration Chair, greeted everyone and specifically thanked the sponsors and attendees for their support which allows AWIU to award each honoree a monetary grant. Lwin then addressed the honorees: “We look to you with respect, admiration and gratitude for your work for the betterment of women, not just in your homeland, but globally. Our hope is that we can support you and fuel you to continue the fight. Thank you in more ways than we can count.”
Award-winning journalist, author, TV Presenter and women’s advocate Lisa Ling chaired the Honorary Committee for the Celebration. Ling declared that the International Women of Courage “provide us with desperately needed inspiration.” In a message to the IWOCs, she said: “You have all given us the courage to do what we otherwise may have thought impossible. You have fought. You have persevered. You have triumphed! Your stories inspire us and propel us to live our more courageous selves. Thank you for risking so much for what you believe.”
During the program, Pam Pryor, Senior Advisor in the Office of the Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy and Human Rights, introduced each of the 2018 International Women of Courage. Pryor highlighted each awardee’s bravery and her contribution to the global struggle for women’s rights. Also in attendance were Marie Royce, Assistant Secretary of State Educational and Cultural Affairs Designate, and Goli Ameri, Former Assistant Secretary of State Educational and Cultural Affairs.
A highlight of the evening was hearing directly from two of the IWOCs: Roya Sadat of Afghanistan and Dr. Julissa Villanueva of Honduras. “Together, we need to speak up. Together, we need to tell our stories,” urged Roya Sadat, a filmmaker and founder of the Afghanistan International Women’s Film Festival. Ms. Sadat discussed her refusal to be silenced in the face of threats from conservative elements within Afghan society. Using cinema and television as platforms for advocacy, she works to promote positive change by telling the untold stories of Afghan women and girls.
Dr. Julissa Villanueva echoed those sentiments when she spoke about her work in Honduras. Dr. Villanueva is 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.”
In addition to honoring the IWOC awardees, AWIU recognized the significant contributions of two American women.
The 2018 AWIU Internationalism Award was presented to Ana C. Rold, founder and publisher of Diplomatic Courier, a global affairs media network. Ms Rold celebrated the IWOC honorees as examples of change makers: “We make progress by honoring those who do great things, by honoring people who set a towering example through reconciliation, respect, and dignity, such as the International Women of Courage being honored here tonight.” 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.
The Bernice Behrens Founders Award was presented to Marsha Niazmand, a longtime AWIU member who has reshaped the AWIU Grant Program.
AWIU president Maria Schory lauded the honoree, “Under her leadership, our Grant Program changed its focus from supporting U.S.-based individuals to being a vibrant, internationally-focused source of micro grants for women across the globe.”
The State Department Award Ceremony
On March 23rd, the honorees attended the U.S. Secretary of State’s International Women of Courage Award ceremony at the State Department in Washington, D.C. First Lady Melania Trump and Acting Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs & Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert presented each of the International Women of Courage with her award.
At the ceremony, Rwandan IWOC Godeliève Mukasarasi, who has dedicated her life since the 1994 Genocide to fighting for a culture of peace and non-violence in Rwanda, spoke about her work to promote the rights of women and girls affected by sexual violence in conflict zones worldwide.
The First Lady spoke of the bravery and resilience of the honorees: “The women of courage we honor here today are heroes. They’re heroes in the countries they call home and they’re heroes in the entire world. In recognizing them, we stand for what is right. In telling their stories, we can teach young women and girls all over the world what it means to have courage and to be a hero.”
Following the award ceremony in D.C., the IWOCs traveled individually to cities throughout the United States on the International Visitor Leadership Program. The IWOCs reconvened in Los Angeles, where the International Visitors Council of Los Angeles hosted a panel at L.A. City Hall entitled “Perseverance Through Adversity: 2018 Women of Courage.”
IWOC Aiman Umarova, a human rights lawyer from Kazakhstan, described her work providing legal assistance to women and girls who are victims of sexual violence. Dr. Feride Rushiti, a medical doctor from Kosovo, talked about the Kosovo Center for the Rehabilitation of Torture Victims which she founded and where she pioneered a multi-disciplinary approach to address the needs of victims of conflict.
AWIU’s 11th Annual International Women of Courage Celebration was the culminating event for these extraordinary women’s visit. The evening Celebration provided a fitting and final opportunity for the IWOCs to be honored, appreciated and celebrated.
AWIU acknowledges and deeply appreciates Deloitte’s eighth consecutive year as the Global Leadership Sponsor of the IWOC Celebration, and its tenth year of sponsorship overall. In addition, AWIU is grateful for the essential support provided by the team of helpful Deloitte volunteers the night of the Celebration and beyond. During the program that evening, 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.
AWIU thanks all its generous sponsors of the 2018 International Women of Courage Celebration:
Global Leadership: Deloitte
Bridges of Understanding: Nestlé
Freedom and Equality: The Walt Disney Company, Wells Fargo
Empowerment Through Education: Ariel Investments, CBRE, Madison Partners
Women for Others: UCLA Anderson School of Management, U.S. News & World Report
Media: Shaman Design