First Lady Michelle Obama Honors International Women of Courage

Secretary Clinton:
Good morning and welcome to
the State Department once again. I am so grateful that all of you
have joined us here today for what has become, in our view,
one of the most important and special occasions of the
year here in Washington. I want to thank my
friend and colleague, Ambassador Melanne Verveer
who has been, as you know, a tireless champion for
women and girls for decades. (applause) Melanne and her team have not
only made this event such a special occasion
year after year, but they have helped put women
and girls at the center of everything we do here at the
State Department and in the Obama Administration. So thanks again, Melanne. Although, it was left out of her
mention of the 7th grade girls that one of them is
her granddaughter. So — (laughter) — she is very committed
to the next generation, and I thank you for everything
you have done and will do. Now, why is this a
special occasion? Well, for one thing, it is
the way we mark International Women’s Day, to gather
leaders and activists, and particularly our honorees
here in Washington to recognize their remarkable achievements. And for the fourth year, we are
so honored to be joined by the First Lady of the United
States, Michelle Obama. (applause) Now, I do take a point of
personal privilege in talking about the First Lady, because I
have just an inkling of what her life is like every day — (laughter) — and I want to publicly thank
her for being an inspiration for women and girls and families and
communities here in the United States and around the world. It’s always an honor to
share a stage with her, and I think it’s also a
reminder that we have a lot of work to do. It is, of course, about the
leadership and the voice of a first lady or a secretary
of state, but it is much, much more than that. And what Michelle and I have
tried to do in our own ways is to lift up the voices of
others, because we want a great crescendo of voices, an
international chorus that says clearly and unequivocally that
women and girls deserve the same rights and opportunities
as their fathers and brothers and sons. And today, we will hear
remarkable stories from our honorees. They come from diverse
and distant places, but in one important way
they all walk the same path. They, too, are working
tirelessly for justice. They are working
for accountability. They are working for freedom,
and they are working tirelessly to improve the lives
of women and girls. Whether pushing for change in
the halls of government in the Maldives, the courts
of Saudi Arabia; whether making sure women have
a voice in Libya’s future and a role in Pakistan’s government;
whether enduring imprisonment or abuse for trying to assist
other women and girls at risk, these women, who
you will meet today, are all making a difference
in the face of adversity, often under the threat of
violence that is sometimes hard for those of us here in
Washington or across our great country even to imagine. And while we honor them today,
we know that tomorrow their work will and must continue so that
every woman and girl someday will have the opportunity
to live up to her own God-given potential. As I often say, this isn’t
just the right thing to do; it is also the
smart thing to do. Improving the lives of women
improves the lives of their families, strengthens
their communities, and does create more
opportunities for economic growth and prosperity. We know that investing in
women’s employment, health, and education levels leads to
greater economic growth across a broad spectrum. It also leads to healthier
children and a better educated population overall. We know that political
systems that are open to full participation by women produce
more effective institutions and more representative governments. And we know that the work that
so many of you do will be done day after day as it moves us
closer and closer to realizing the vision of equality. As long as you are on the
front lines of this struggle, the United States
will be with you, and we will use every tool
at our disposal to help you. That’s why next week when all of
the United States ambassadors from around the world
gather here in Washington, I will be issuing the first ever
Secretarial policy directive on gender. This guidance — (applause) — this guidance, which
complements the recently released USAID gender policy,
will instruct our embassies and bureaus to implement specific
steps to promote gender equality and advance the status of women
and girls in all of our work in order to further both our
national security and our foreign policy goals. Now, this issue is not just
a priority here at the State Department or at USAID, but
across the Administration, and that is why we are so
pleased that the First Lady is here lending her support. She and President Obama have
made it absolutely clear that women and girls will be a focus
of what we do here at home and around the world. Last year, Mrs. Obama traveled
to South Africa and spoke at a forum for young women
leaders from across Africa. And she told those bright, young
women that now is the time for their voices to be heard. For them and for so many others,
she said that the power was in their hands to help usher in an
era when women would no longer be second-class citizens, and
they would be able fully to participate in open and
accountable government. I cannot think of anyone better
to carry that message and to signal America’s commitment
to advancing the rights and opportunities of
women and girls, and I’m so grateful to both
President and Mrs. Obama for all they have done to
make this a priority. So please join me in welcoming
our First Lady, Michelle Obama. (applause) Mrs. Obama:
Thank you. (applause) Thank you so much. Good morning, everyone. To say it is a pleasure to be
here with all of you today would be an understatement. This is truly an
important opportunity, it is an uplifting opportunity,
and I am happy to be a part of it every single year. And I have to start by thanking
Secretary Clinton not just for that very kind introduction, but
she has been an outstanding — should I say that again? — an
outstanding Secretary of State. (laughter and applause) And she has been an
inspiration to women and girls around the world. She is a role model
for me in so many ways. I don’t think she realizes how
what she has done has made what I am doing partially possible. So with all the respect and
admiration that I can give to her, I will be wherever
she needs me to be, whenever she needs
me to be there. (applause) I also want to join in
recognizing our special guest, First Lady Mills,
who is a dear friend. We enjoyed our visit to Ghana. (applause) And she is going to have
a productive stay here in Washington, so she’s
going to be busy. Just take it easy. (laughter) And of course,
Secretary Vanda Pignato, who is a dear friend as well. We are honored to have
you with us as well. I also want to thank them
for taking the time to be here today. It means so much to us
all for you to be here. I have to thank Ambassador
Melanne Verveer for her terrific work she is doing —
what she is doing for — (applause) — for Global Women’s Issues. This event is top-notch, and it
wouldn’t happen if not for her. We are so grateful. And of course, I want to
recognize most of all the ten Women of Courage that
we’re honoring here today. These women come from all
different corners of the globe. They have taken very different
journeys to this moment. But they are all here today
because somewhere along the line, they decided they could
no longer accept the world as it is. And they committed themselves to
fighting for the world as they know it should be. They saw corruption, and
they worked to expose it. They saw oppression, and
they worked to end it. They saw violence,
poverty, discrimination, and inequality — and they
decided to use their voices, and risk their lives, to
do something about it. And day after day, these women
have stood up and said the things that no one else
could say, or would say. Year after year, they endured
hardships that few of us could bear. At the age of 22, Zin Mar Aung
was imprisoned for 11 years simply for writing a letter
demanding that the elected civilian government
take power in Burma. When she was freed, she
went right back to work, fighting for the rights of
women and ethnic minorities and political prisoners. Shad Begum founded a
women’s NGO in Pakistan, and she ran for
district council. When she won, she intended to
use her position to improve health care and education. But when the council met, she
was forced to sit in a separate side room, behind a locked door. The microphone that was
supposed to allow her to participate never worked. But undeterred, she decided to
run for an even higher elected office, saying — and
this is her quote — “Whatever it takes, I
will make them hear me.” And then there is
Jineth Bedoya Lima, an investigative
journalist in Colombia. Back in 2000, when she was
writing about an arms struggling [sic] network,
she was kidnapped, brutally assaulted for hours by
those who wished to silence her. But instead of backing down,
she moved from her regional newspaper to a national one,
and despite continued threats against her life,
she kept reporting. She became a spokeswoman for
a global campaign against sexual violence. And for 12 years, she’s
fought to hold her attackers responsible for their crimes. (applause) She has even taken her case all
the way to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights,
seeking justice not just for herself, but for women
across her country. And that is why, despite
the risks they face, despite the hardships they
endure, these women carry on — because they know that they are
fighting not just for their own rights and freedoms, but for
the rights and freedoms of so many others. That is why, despite
daunting physical obstacles, Safak Pavey didn’t just win a
seat in parliament in her own country; she traveled to
countries across the globe, winning support for the U.N.
Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. She lives her life
by a simple motto — these are her words: “Whatever
you experience is an example to others.” Whatever you experience
is an example to others. The same can be said of
Pricilla de Oliveira Azevedo. Despite being one of just a few
women in the Rio de Janeiro military police, she has
risen through the ranks, commanding more than
100 male officers. We love that. (laughter and applause) Working in one of the toughest
communities in the city and even arresting a gang of
criminals who kidnapped her. Women of all ages have been
inspired by her leadership, and of them she says
— again a quote — “They see me as an example of
the fact that any woman can work in any type of activity. It’s just a question
of wanting to do it.” And that is why each year we
invite young people to join us at this event. It is so important because we
want them to learn from and be inspired by the example
of these women of courage. We invite them because
we want them — we want to say to them and to
boys and girls across America that if, despite all the
obstacles these women of courage face, if they are still
running for office and running organizations and serving their
communities and their countries, then surely you can find a
way to follow your dreams. Surely, you can find a way to
give back to your community and to your country. If these 10 women can endure
death threats and horrifying violence and years behind bars
to stand up for what they believe in, then surely our
young people can find a way to stand up for what
they believe in. Surely, all of you can overcome
the obstacles you face in your own life. And I’m thinking particularly of
Jineth Bedoya Lima and what she endured on that
day 12 years ago. As her attackers assaulted
her, they said to her, “Pay attention. We’re sending a message
to the press in Colombia.” Well, today, with every story
she writes and with every public appearance she makes, Jineth is
sending her own message that she will not back down, that
she will not give up, and she will never, ever allow
her voice to be silenced. And it is the same message that
all of these women are sending with every act of
courage they commit — the message that
injustice will not stand, that inequality will
not be tolerated, and that they will not stay
silenced in the face of evil. And to all of those who are
oppressed and abused and left out and left behind,
they are saying: I am standing with you. I am fighting for you. You are not alone. And on this International
Women’s Day, that is the very message I wish
to send to these 10 women and others like them in every
corner of the globe. On behalf of my husband
and our country, I want you to know that
you are never, ever alone. (applause) The United States of
America stands with you. And we are so incredibly
proud of everything that you have achieved. And we will continue to fight
with you for the causes to which you have devoted your lives. So thank you all so much. Enjoy this day. Congratulations. God bless. (applause) Now, before I sit down, I
have one important honor. I get to introduce two more
women of courage who have received the highest
honor for their work — – our 2011 Nobel
Peace Prize laureates, Leymah Gbowee and
Tawakkol Karman. Please, let’s welcome
them to the stage. (applause) Ms. Gbowee:
Thank you. Please have your seats. Thank you. Tina Brown has a way — not
Tina Brown, Oprah Magazine — (laughter) — did something on
Abby and I, Abby Disney, and they said “the
rabble rouser.” And I hate to come to places
like this and see everyone trying to be so neat. (laughter) Today is International
Women’s Day and it’s a day of celebration. Can the men in the room just
shout Happy International Women’s Day to all of
the girls in this room? (laughter) If you don’t, we’ll put you out. (laughter) I’m listening. Shout Happy International — Audience:
Happy International Women’s Day! Ms. Gbowee:
Thank you! We deserve it. (applause) In 2003, we were in a crowd
protesting the wars in Liberia. Someone came and brought
me a book, Living History, Secretary of State
Clinton’s book. And as I flipped through
the pages of that book, there was a quote in there
that I’ve used over time, a quote from the great African
American freedom fighter here, Harriet Tubman. “If you’re hungry, keep walking. If you’re tested, keep walking. If you want a taste of
freedom, keep walking.” Today, as we celebrate
International Women’s Day, the 10 Women of Courage here
have shown to us that regardless of wherever they
find themselves, they’ve been walking —
Walking for justice, walking for human rights,
walking for maternal health, walking for every other thing. One of the things
I’ve seen, sadly, even as we celebrate
all of the milestones — Beijing 1325, 1820, 1888, and
all of those policies and international protocols
on women’s rights, over time we’ve mellowed. The women’s movement of
this world has mellowed. Our issues and our conversation
has become issues for men. I get angry when
I think about it. No woman should sit down and
allow a man to speak about her reproductive rights. (cheers and applause) Until you’ve gone
through that process, I’ve come from Africa to
tell you, you don’t qualify. (laughter) Issues of peace and security
should not be left to men alone to work on. (applause) When it comes to
conflict situations, women know their context,
they have greater analysis, and they know what to do. I didn’t come here to preach;
I don’t have a lot of time. What I’ve come to say to
my sisters as we celebrate International Women’s
Day, Secretary of State, Ambassador Verveer,
and First Lady Obama, I think it’s time for us to
really start to move forward with our issues. Gone are the days for us to sit
and say we’ve gotten policies, we’ve gotten this,
we’ve gotten that. It’s time for us to get out
there, roll up our sleeves, and connect the dots. These women are
working very hard. And yes, we can give them
all of the verbal support, we can give them
all of the honors, but until we continue to make
it possible for them to work through resources, their issues
will continue to be issues for politicians to use to make
themselves look good when it’s elections time. It’s time for us to
stand up, rise up, fight for the rights that
we know how to fight for. It’s time for us to
support our sisters. (applause) I’ve been an activist all of my
life and I know what it is and what it takes to get to
where you want to get to. I know what it is when you need
to do something for little girls today as we celebrate
International Women’s Day here. We’re celebrating International
Women’s Day in Acrah, Ghana with little girls
at the La Palm hotel. I tell you, as
beautiful as it sounds, getting resources to get those
girls to that place is a difficult thing. Let’s honor them, but not just
leave them with the honor. Let’s support their work,
support their efforts, and continue to make
their issue our issue, and not a politician issue. Thank you all very much. (cheers and applause) (audio difficulties) Ms. Karman:
— after Leymah — (laughter) And also, it’s hard to talk in
English, so I will do my best. Ladies and ladies — (laughter) — happy birthday. (applause) Ladies and gentleman, really
I am so proud to be here to celebrate with you on
International Women’s Day. This is special day,
special day for all of us, special day for all the
women around the world, for all the women especially
in Arab countries after Arab Spring. (applause) Yes, this is a year
without bin Ladin. This is a year without Qadhafi. This is a year without Mabarak. This is a year
without Ali Saleh. And this is a year, inshallah,
without Bashar al-Assad. (laughter, cheers, applause) So this is nice morning,
good morning for all of us, morning of freedom and
dignity and courage. To all the women
around the world, you have to trust yourself. You have to know that
without you, you can’t — and your society, your community
couldn’t achieve their goals and their dreams. To all women in the world, you
must know that you have to be in the front line. You have to refuse
any seats back. You have to be in the front and
you have to struggle for all the rights, not just women rights. (applause) Greetings, big greetings to all
women who are fighting for help or for their participating in
public and political rights. Public and political field, this
is a very important field for every woman and
for every society. I want to say also big
greetings to all the women, all women in Syria who
are fighting for her — for their freedom. (applause) Big greetings to all women who
are struggling and suffering and sacrificing their
life, their bloods, for making their country best
for freedom, for dignity, and for happiness. To all people around the world,
you have to know that without women, you can’t
achieve everything. Especially men, men
has to be with women. They have to work hand by hand
for solving all problems around the world, for making peace
spread around the world. To all of them, I want to tell
them that we will not make the holiday or the ceremony
for women just one day. We will make it 365 days. Thank you very much. (applause) Secretary Clinton:
Wow. Well, I have to tell you,
whenever I hear Leymah or Tawakkol, I’m just so inspired. These two women have made such
a difference in the lives of their country. For those of you who haven’t
seen Pray the Devil Back to Hell, which talks about what
Leymah and her Liberian sisters did to end a vicious civil war
and bring peace to Liberia, I highly recommend it. And to my friend, Tawakkol,
who’s been on the front lines of the struggle for freedom
and democracy in Yemen, it is so humbling to see the
progress that you are making. It is now my honor to present
this year’s International Women of Courage Awards, and I would
ask each of the honorees to join the First Lady and me one at a
time after I read the citations. And before I begin with the
individual presentations, I want to say that the call to
action we heard from our two Nobel Laureates is one I
hope everyone will remember. Sometimes the women we honor
come here against great odds and in the face of danger. Sometimes shining this bright
spotlight on their work protects them. But they all come with a
commitment to continuing that we have to embrace and support. Because each of them
can use our help. So with that, let me begin. While it’s a struggle for many
women in Afghanistan to have their voices heard, Maryam
Durani is working to make sure that women’s voices
aren’t only heard, but amplified and broadcasted. She owns and manages the only
local radio station that focuses on women’s issues. Kandahar province,
where Maryam lives, is one of the most dangerous
areas of Afghanistan, but that has not stopped her
from speaking out for women’s rights and representing those
ideas from her seat on the provincial council. Airing such bold ideas in
public is not always popular, and she is with us today having
survived several attempts on her life. Yet she pushes
forward undeterred, ensuring that those voices and
the message of equality and inclusion is heard
loudly and clearly. So to you, Maryam: “Director
of the Khadija Kubra Women’s Association for Culture Kandahar
and Provincial Council Member: For striving to give a voice to
women through the power of the media, government,
and civil society, despite innumerable security
and societal challenges.” We honor and applaud you. (applause) Major Pricilla de Oliveira
Azevedo joined the Rio De Janeiro Police Force in 1998
and went to work in police battalions, cracking down on
the criminals who plagued the beautiful, lively
streets of Rio. She was eventually kidnapped by
a gang seeking to undermine the rule of law in Brazil. Eventually, she was released,
and the mayor demonstrated her duty and also extreme courage
and commitment by going after and arresting the gang of
criminals who had kidnapped her. (applause) Today, she is a prominent leader
in the police force in Rio de Janeiro, and she continues to
work with local governments to improve services and expand
access to education and vocational training. So to Pricilla, to Major:
“General Coordinator for Strategic Programs, Rio de
Janeiro State Secretariat of Public Security, Major of Rio de
Janeiro State Military Police: For courageous and dedicated
service to Rio de Janeiro State’s innovative ‘Favela
Pacification Program’ as the first female commander of a
Pacification Police Unit, and as coordinator of that in
the State Security Secretariat, where she is integrating
previously marginalized populations back into the larger
Rio de Janeiro community.” Thank you, and God
bless you for your work. (applause) Eleven years in a Burmese prison
could not silence Zin Mar Aung. Her life’s work has been
promoting democracy, women’s rights, and conflict
resolution in Burma. Today, she leads a self-help
association for female ex-political prisoners
as well as a school of political science. Her efforts have allowed former
prisoners to take advantage of rebuilding their lives, even
when her activism jeopardized her own freedom. She continues to raise awareness
of issues affecting ethnic minorities in this evolving
environment for civil society and democracy activists. So, Zin, you are a
democracy activist, and so: “For championing democracy,
strengthening civil society, and empowering individuals to
contribute meaningfully to the political transformation
of your country, we thank you and salute you.” (applause) Jineth Bedoya Lima built
her career in Colombia as a reporter seeking out tough
assignments and going to great lengths to uncover the truth. But in 2000, she got too close
to uncovering an arms smuggling ring involving government
prison officials and imprisoned paramilitary leaders. When she traveled to the prison
to interview some of those involved, she was kidnapped,
driven two hours out of Bogota, raped, bound, and thrown
into a garbage dump. “Pay attention,” she
was told by her abusers. “We are sending a message
to the press in Colombia.” Despite the most horrific
treatment any woman can imagine, Jineth would not be silenced. Instead, she built on her work
as an investigative journalist and demanded justice
in her own case. She has become an
outspoken advocate, shining a light on issues of
sexual violence and denouncing criminals who think they
can operate with impunity. So to you, Jineth: “Journalist,
Spokeswoman of the ‘Rape and Other Violence: Take my Body
Out of the War’ Campaign: For your unfailing
courage, determination, and perseverance while fighting
for justice and speaking out on behalf of victims of sexual
violence in Colombia, all women and girls
are in your debt.” Thank you. (applause) As the dust of the Libyan
revolution settles, the details of those tumultuous
months are coming to light. We honor today Hana El Hebshi,
a 27-year-old architect who was one of the people who
documented that history while it was unfolding. Writing under the
pseudonym Numidia, her reporting not only showed
the world what the people of Libya were enduring, but let the
people of Libya know that the world was standing with them. She remains a strong voice
for freedom of expression and women’s inclusion as the Libyan
people chart the course for their country’s future. So, Hana: “Human
Rights Activist: For courageous advancement of
the cause of freedom and the freedom especially
of expression, and for the promotion of women’s
rights during times of conflict and transition in Libya, we
thank you and we thank all of Libya’s daughters and sons who
have made their country free. (applause) Even though the topic of
domestic violence was taboo in the Maldives, Aneesa Ahmed,
the Deputy Minister of Women’s Affairs, was unafraid to
speak out and take action. She brought together citizens
and stakeholders to build new partnerships to produce a series
of documentaries to raise awareness about this issue and
to begin the process of changing the way people think about it. As a government official, she
pushed for legislation to curb domestic violence. And since leaving
the government, Aneesa has founded her
own NGO, Hope For Women. Her group works to ensure that
domestic violence issues are part of the public discourse and
in the debates in government. When religious leaders got on
the radio and said that female genital mutilation was an
acceptable religious practice, Aneesa fought right back,
telling the public about the harmful effects of this practice
and calling on the government to intervene to stop it. She is inspiring others to speak
out about these once hidden problems, urging students and
police officers and activists to confront these
issues in the open. So Aneesa: “Founder, member and
chairperson, Hope For Women NGO, for your courageous and
continued advocacy for women’s rights throughout government and
civil society as well as the protection of women
from domestic violence, we thank you for improving the
lives and sending the message that domestic violence is
not a cultural practice, it is a crime.” (applause) Shad Begum encouraged women in
her community to participate in the political process by voting
and running for office herself. Now she lives in one of the most
conservative areas of Pakistan, so this was a very tall order. Nevertheless, she did, herself,
run for office against candidates who wanted to ban
women from participating in elections altogether. Despite that sort of resistance,
she won a seat on her district council in 2001 and 2005. She continues her work creating
opportunities for women beyond government. She also founded the
Union of Women’s Welfare, which is providing women the
skills and knowledge they need to get involved in
the political process, as well as offering
microcredit, primary education, and human services
for women in need. So Shad: “Executive Director,
Anjuman Behbood-e-Khawateen Talash, thank you for fearlessly
championing Pakistani women’s political and economic rights,
and working to empower the disadvantaged and oppressed. You are making a difference and
setting an example for women and men in your country.” (applause) Samar Bedawi is standing
up against two of the most significant challenges facing
women in Saudi Arabia: women’s sufferage and a system
in which women cannot marry who they want, get a job
of their choosing, or travel outside the country
without permission of a male guardian. She is demanding that her voice
be heard and justice delivered in the Saudi courts. Samar was the first woman to sue
her guardian because she hadn’t been allowed to marry the
person she wanted to marry. She is also the first woman to
file suit against the government for the right to vote
in municipal elections. Samar has translated her
personal efforts into broader campaigns, encouraging more
women to speak out for their rights, and her efforts
are making a difference. A recent royal decree will allow
women to vote and run for office in future elections as
well as be appointed to the consultative council. So Samar: “You are a
Human Rights Activist, a monitor of human rights in
your country of Saudi Arabia, and you have demonstrated
significant courage in your activism while becoming a
champion in the struggle for women’s suffrage and legal
rights in your country. And you are making a difference,
and we thank you for that.” (applause) Hawa Abdallah Mohammed Salih
has spent much of her life surrounded by conflict. Nine years ago, she and her
family were forced to flee their home to escape the fighting
between Darfuri rebels and the Sudanese Government. Years in a camp for displaced
persons ignited within her the drive to demand basic human
rights for so many suffering in the Darfur region. She went to school — the
University of Al-Fashir — and began working with the
United Nations Development Program on issues of human
rights, rule of law, and governance. Her aim now is to continue
working to strengthen the rights of women and children in Sudan. So, Hawa:
“Human Rights Activist, thank
you for giving voice to the women and children of Darfur and
for your fearless advocacy for the rights of all
marginalized Darfuris. And we hope and pray with you
that peace will finally come to Darfur.” (applause) Safak Pavey has tireless passion
and she has brought that energy to work on behalf of the UN
Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Her advocacy around the world
is helping to protect so many people. When she was elected last June,
she became the first woman with a disability to sit in
the Turkish Parliament. (applause) But she has transformed her
disability into a strength. Wherever she travels, and
she’s traveled quite a lot, she is bringing attention to the
issues that affect persons with disabilities, vulnerable
populations, women, children, and minorities. I am very grateful
to you, Safak, grateful for your advocacy,
grateful for the courage it took to run for the parliament,
grateful for your personal dignity and your determination
not only in overcoming physical disabilities, but in emerging
as such an effective local and global champion for the
rights of women, refugees, persons with disabilities,
and so many others. We really honor you because
you are going beyond the expectations that were
set for you in your life, and by doing so you are breaking
down barriers not only for your fellow Turkish citizens but
for women and men everywhere. (applause) Well, I don’t know about you,
but I always come away from this event not only inspired, which
I think you’d have to be brain dead not to be inspired — (laughter) — but also challenged. Because after all, we must ask
ourselves, “What are we doing? What are we doing to further
justice and dignity and freedom, human rights and women’s rights? What more can we do? And we have different talents. We are at different
stages in life. But each of us can
make a contribution. And I hope that when you think
about what is possible for you, you will remember these
women and their stories. So we wish to
congratulate our honorees, to thank our Nobel Laureates, to
thank Mrs. Obama for once again joining us and giving so much
emphasis to the concerns and needs of women and girls
here and everywhere. But I also have to say I would
hope someday within my lifetime to see that we no longer
had to do events like this, that we no longer had to honor
women for taking the actions they have taken — (applause) — because we would continue
advancing on the great unfinished business
of human history, that women and girls are
respected and are given the right to fulfill their
own God-given potential. That is my hope, and that is
what each of these women in her own way is working toward, to
be accepted for who she is, to be respected for
the work she does, to be a contributor to that
better future that we all hope and pray for. So let’s leave from today with a
new resolve to do everything we can to hasten the
arrival of that future. Thank you all very much. (applause) Ambassador Verveer:
And now to say a few words on
behalf of all of the Women of Courage, our awardee from
Burma, Zin, come on up here. And I know you all
want to hear from her. (applause) Ms. Aung:
Good morning, everybody. First of all, I would like to
start by thanking the Secretary of State Mrs. Hillary Clinton,
the Department of State, and we are honored to be with
the First Lady Mrs. Obama. And also, I am very pleased as I
am here getting an opportunity to speak on the behalf of the
Women of Courage awardees. Though we are from different
parts of the world, we meet and we came here
with the same shared goals, that is to stand for
justice, peace, and freedom. I dare to speak that this award
encouraged not only for us but also for all of the women who
want to change the unjust and unreasonable practice
of their society. For Burma, it is now very
critical time for democratic reform, and it is also the
time to ask the questions: What is the role of women
in democratic reform, and how much we can do? Fortunately, we already have
an inspiring women leader, Aung San Suu Kyi. In traditional society, the
(inaudible) of the role of the women is that women
just became wives, which means women are
objectives of choice of men. Actually, the ability to
choose is the only significant differences between human
and other creatures. We women are human and so we
much choose what we want to become or what we want
to have in our lives. Those women of courage are now
here and it is great pleasure for me to be in front of them. And we are here to appreciate,
to initiate the sisterhood of the future leaders. Finally, I would like to
appreciate the hospitality of the United States and I would
like to appreciate the United States Embassy in Burma because
of their great effort to get my passport so that — (laughter) — I am here right now. (laughter and applause) Let me stop by saying that
when we dream a single dream together, dream comes true. Let’s dream together for our
future for the better world. Thank you. (applause) Ambassador Verveer:
And so everyone, as Zin
said, and thank you for that, the sisterhood of future and
present leaders, they are all. I want to thank on
behalf of all of us, all of you for joining us
today, and I want to thank our colleagues throughout the State
Department and particularly in our embassies around the world
who did so much to make this day possible. Now if you could all just stay
seated for a few moments as we take a group photo, and allow
the guests to leave the stage, and then you can
head for the doors. Thank you all so much. (applause)

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