Skip Global Navigation to Main Content

Women of Courage Send a Message to the World

08 March 2012
Michelle Obama, Hawa Abdallah Mohammed Salih, Hillary Rodham Clinton (AP Images)

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and first lady Michelle Obama present the 2012 International Women of Courage Award to Hawa Abdallah Mohammed Salih of Sudan.

Washington — In 2000, when a gang of thugs kidnapped and raped journalist Jineth Bedoya, they told her, “Pay attention. We are sending a message to the press in Colombia.”

But Bedoya, who had been investigating an arms smuggling network, was not deterred. She continued her work as a journalist while pushing for justice in her own case and other unsolved cases of sexual and gender-based violence.

Years later, on March 8, Bedoya stood on a stage at the U.S. Department of State before first lady Michelle Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, officials of U.S. and foreign governments, lawmakers and community leaders, and Nobel Peace Prize winners Leymah Gbowee and Tawakkol Karman, to receive the Woman of Courage Award. Obama, who helped present the award, remarked: “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.”

Bedoya was among 10 women to receive the secretary of state’s award that 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 46 women from 34 different countries. This year, for the first time, included an honoree from Burma. Zin Mar Aung was imprisoned by the Burmese regime for 11 years because of her political activism in the 1996 and 1998 pro-democracy student uprisings. Upon her release, she founded a self-help association for female ex-political prisoners and a political science school in Rangoon that teaches and empowers civil society activists.

All the honorees, the first lady said, are sending a message 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.” 

In addition to Bedoya and Zin, these are the other 2012 award winners: 

  • The Honorable Maryam Durani, Kandahar Provincial Council Member (Afghanistan).
  • Major Pricilla de Oliveira Azevedo, police officer, Rio de Janeiro Military Police (Brazil).
  • Hana Elhebshi, architect and political activist (Libya).
  • Aneesa Ahmed, gender-based violence (GBV) activist and former deputy minister of women’s affairs (Maldives).
  • Shad Begum, human rights activist and founder/executive director of Anjuman Behbood-e-Khawateen Talah (the Union of Women’s Welfare) (Pakistan).
  • Samar Badawi, political activist (Saudi Arabia).
  • Hawa Abdallah Mohammed Salih, human rights activist (Sudan).
  • The Honorable Safak Pavey, member of Parliament (Turkey).

In her remarks, Clinton called for an “international chorus” of women and girls claiming the same rights and opportunities as their fathers, brothers and sons. And she vowed that the United States would use every tool at its disposal to help them. 

Following the awards ceremony, the International Women of Courage traveled to 10 different U.S. cities to engage with their American counterparts through the State Department’s International Visitor Leadership Program.

Clinton also announced that she will be issuing the first secretarial policy directive of its kind to promote gender equality. The guidance, she said, “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.”

The full biographies of this year’s honorees are available on the State Department website.