By Katie Zitzer
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo hosted the 14th Annual International Women of Courage (IWOC) Award ceremony in Washington, D.C., March 4. First Lady Melania Trump delivered special remarks along with Ambassador-at-Large for the Office of Global Women’s Issues Kelley Currie, and Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs Marie Royce.
Since 2007, the Secretary of State has recognized more than 144 women from 77 countries with the IWOC award. These extraordinary women have demonstrated exceptional courage and leadership in advocating for peace, justice, human rights, gender equality, and women’s empowerment—often at great personal risk and sacrifice. This year, the IWOC award recognized 12 incredible women, many of whom were imprisoned, tortured, and threatened with death for standing up for their rights and the rights of others. This year’s IWOC awardees are as diverse geographically as they are professionally. They work on issues from eliminating genital mutilation of girls in Burkina Faso, to exposing political corruption in Bolivia, to advocating for religious freedom in Malaysia.
Amina Khoulani, one of this year’s IWOC honorees, survived months of arbitrary detention and torture at the hands of the Assad regime in Syria. After successfully escaping Syria with her husband, Khoulani became one of the founding members of “Families for Freedom.” A women-led movement, Families for Freedom fights for the rights of those who have been detained or have forcibly disappeared in Syria.
Lucy Kocharyan, another one of this year’s IWOC honorees, is an impassioned advocate against physical, psychological, and domestic violence against women and children in Armenia. As a result of her activism, Kocharyan faced harsh criticism, harassment in the streets, and was even criticized by members of the Armenian parliament. Despite these hardships, she continues her campaign to change the way women and children are treated in Armenia.
Following the award ceremony and meetings in Washington, D.C., the awardees embarked on an International Visitor Leadership Program to meet with U.S. counterparts in 12 different cities across the United States. The IWOC Award is just one of the ways the United States continues its legacy as a champion for gender equality, as well as women’s and girls’ right at home, and around the world.
Katie Zitzer is a regional policy advisor with the Secretary’s Office of Global Women’s Issues.