WASHINGTON, DC: US first lady Michelle Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry have honoured nine women the annual US award for women around the globe who have shown courage in advocating women’s empowerment and Delhi rape victim Nirbhaya (name changed) was exceptional as the audience stood up and observed a moment of silence at the State Department presentation ceremony on International Women’s Day on Friday.
Secretary Kerry praised the determination of “a woman known simply as Nirbhaya – brave heart, fearless…Nirbhaya boarded a bus in Delhi last December where she was brutally gang raped, tossed away, left to die. But she kept fighting. As Nirbhaya fought for her life, she fought for justice and gave detailed accounts of her attack used to arrest her rapists.”
“Nirbhaya’s fight survives her. With great sadness, we honour Nirbhaya as a woman of exceptional courage,” Kerry said. “Nirbhaya’s bravery inspired millions with simple message: No more looking the other way when gender-based violence happens.”
Nirbhaya “Fearless,” champion for justice (India) “has become the foundation of a popular movement to end violence against women in India,” the State Department said in its citation of the award. “For millions of Indian women, her personal ordeal, perseverance to fight for justice, and her family’s continued bravery is helping to lift the stigma and vulnerability that drive violence against women,” it said.
Nirbhaya was among 10 extraordinary women honoured by First Lady Michelle Obama, and Secretary of State John Kerry at the Dean Acheson Auditorium of the U.S. Department of State.
The Secretary of State’s International Women of Courage Award annually recognizes women around the globe who have shown exceptional courage and leadership in advocating for women’s rights and empowerment, often at great personal risk. Since the inception of this award in 2007, the Department of State has honored 67 women from 45 different countries.
In naming her to the award, the State Department says the courageous 23-year-old physiotherapy intern whose brutal gang rape on a moving bus in Delhi in December inspired widespread protests, “has become the foundation of a popular movement to end violence against women in India.”
For millions of Indian women, her personal ordeal, perseverance to fight for justice, and her family’s continued bravery is helping to lift the stigma and vulnerability that drive violence against women, it says. Nirbhaya bravely recorded two police statements while in the hospital, repeatedly called for justice against the six attackers, and stated her will to survive to see justice done.
Like many Indians inspired by her struggle, she was born into a working class family that invested their hopes and life savings into her dream to pursue medicine. She had just graduated from a physiotherapy program when her life was cut short. In the wake of her death just two weeks after the attack, India’s active civil society began advocating heavily for legislation and social programs to stem gender-based violence in all its forms and to ensure higher rape conviction rates and
gender-sensitive law enforcement and justice systems.
“Thanks to these efforts, the Indian government has begun to take action to follow through on those demands,” notes the State Department.
The other 2013 awardees are: Malalai Bahaduri, First Sergeant, Afghan National Interdiction Unit (Afghanistan); Samira Ibrahim, Coordinator, Know Your Rights (Egypt); Julieta Castellanos, Rector, National Autonomous University of Honduras (Honduras); Dr. Josephine Obiajulu Odumakin, President, Campaign for Democracy (Nigeria); Elena Milashina, journalist, human rights activist (Russia); Fartuun Adan, Executive Director, Elman Peace and Human Rights Centre (Somalia); Tsering Woeser
(Wei Se), Tibetan author, poet, blogger (China); Razan Zeitunah, human rights lawyer and Founder, Local Coordination Committees (Syria); and Ta Phong Tan, blogger (Vietnam). The last three women will be absent from the awards ceremony.
The attending honorees begin their visit to the United States in Pittsburgh, where they will participate in an open to the press forum at Chatham University, as well as in meetings with organizations such as the Women and Girls Foundation and Gwen’s Girls. They arrive in Washington on March 6 for meetings with Department of State and White House officials, Members of Congress, and NGO leaders.
Following the award ceremony, the honorees will travel separately to cities across the United States to engage with the American people through an International Visitor Leadership Program.
They will visit Indianapolis, Jackson Hole, Portland, San Francisco, and Tampa. The women will reconvene in San Diego to reflect on their visit and discuss ways to work together to improve the lives of women and girls around the world. (With inputs from GIN)