The 11 women who received the 2023 International Women of Courage Award on March 8 fight for different causes but have one thing in common: They refuse to be intimidated.
The award, given annually by the U.S. secretary of state, honours women around the world advocating for human rights, rule of law and gender equality - which is often at great personal risk. This year’s ceremony was held at the White House for the first time and hosted by first lady Jill Biden.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said: “To our honourees, the United States is proud to be by your side, as you and others wage those hundred battles, day in, day out. And we will be there and be there with you for the long haul.”
Among the awardees are two women calling attention to the human toll of the Russian government’s unprovoked full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Yuliia Paievska, a paramedic and volunteer from Ukraine, filmed and distributed videos of Russian forces’ atrocities in Mariupol. Russian forces detained her on March 16, 2022, as she helped evacuate women and children from Mariupol. She was imprisoned for three months and endured torture and beatings.
Since her release, Paievska has persisted in advocating at home and abroad for Ukrainian democracy and independence.
“I am using this voice of mine to counteract Russia’s activity,” Paievska told ShareAmerica through a Ukrainian interpreter. “Because of my health issues [from imprisonment], I cannot take care of the wounded soldiers at the front lines, which is what I’ve done in the past; therefore, I am sharing with the world the truth.”
Polish humanitarian and journalist Bianka Zalewska hosts a popular morning show in Poland. She has documented Russia’s aggression in Ukraine since 2014, despite life-threatening injuries suffered when her press car came under fire from Russian proxy forces in Luhansk oblast in 2014.
Despite threats targeting Zalewska and her family, Zalewska continues to supply evidence of atrocities.
“I will show it because someone has to and I know this country, I know how to move during the war, I know how to protect myself, I know how to act when I hear sirens, so I have to go there,” Zalewska said.
Also honored with the 2023 International Women of Courage award are:
- Zakira Hekmat, who works to ensure Afghans, especially women, girls and members of marginalized communities, receive refugee protection and asylum in Türkiye.
- Alba Rueda, Argentina’s special envoy for sexual orientation and gender identity, and the driving force behind the nation’s Transgender Labor Quota Act executive order.
- Professor Danièle Darlan, former president of the Central African Republic’s Constitutional Court, who defended that nation’s constitution and protected judicial independence.
- Doris Ríos of Costa Rica, a Cabécar Indigenous leader and member of the China Kichá indigenous community who works to improve indigenous lives.
- Meaza Mohammed, an independent Ethiopian journalist who has covered gender–based violence and human rights violations during Ethiopia’s northern conflict, despite repeated arrests.
- Hadeel Abdel Aziz, a human rights activist helping some of the most marginalized persons in Jordan, including refugees, migrants and survivors of sexual and gender-based violence.
- Bakhytzhan Toregozhina, an activist in Kazakhstan who helped survivors and documented human rights violations during her country’s unrest in 2022.
- Senator Datuk Ras Adiba Radzi, who has devoted her life to supporting the rights of people with disabilities in Malaysia.
- Brigadier General Bolor Gandbold, the first woman general in the Mongolian Armed Forces and a champion for women’s leadership in security and peacekeeping operations.
The State Department also bestowed the inaugural Madeleine Albright Honorary Group Award on the Women and Girl Protesters of Iran, who have spent months protesting the death of Mahsa (Zhina) Amini in the custody of Iran’s morality police, despite violent crackdowns by Iranian authorities.
All told, the State Department has honoured more than 180 women in 80 countries since 2007. As part of this new sisterhood, the awardees will join an in-person International Visitor Leadership Program exchange to meet with American counterparts and boost global networks of women leaders.
“Know that the enormous good you’ve done has no end,” first lady Jill Biden told the awardees. “It touches every person who hears your story. It transforms us with new hope. As you seek justice, speak out, and pursue peace, you inspire others to find the courage within us, and rise to the same call.”