First lady Jill Biden honored a group of 11 recipients of the International Women of Courage Awards ceremony Wednesday, recognizing their advocacy for women’s rights, justice and peace in their respective countries.
Coinciding with International Women’s Day, the event marked the first time the celebration has been held at the White House, with honorees gathering under the decorative chandeliers of the East Room.
“Today, we’re here to tell girls everywhere the truth that they need to hear: Yes, you matter. Yes, you can make a difference,” Jill Biden said. “That’s why we wanted to bring the leaders we’re honoring today, and the stories that they share, to the biggest stage we could: The White House.”
The first lady thanked each of the honorees for their bravery and encouraged men around the world to uplift the voices of women and support those female activists fighting for their rights worldwide.
“As much as we need women who are willing to speak up,” she said, “We need more men who are willing to listen and act.”
Secretary of State Antony Blinken joined the first lady in hosting the event, which has historically been held at the State Department.
“This year, for the first time, we honor the awardees here at the White House. And that really is a reflection of just how highly President Biden, the first lady and this administration prioritize gender equality and human rights,” Blinken said.
The 11 women honored this year were Zakira Hekmat of Afghanistan, Alba Rueda of Argentina, Danièle Darlan of the Central African Republic, Doris Ríos of Costa Rica, Meaza Mohammed of Ethiopia, Hadeel Abdel Aziz of Jordan, Bakhytzhan Toregozhina of Kazakhstan, Sen. Datuk Ras Adiba Radzi of Malaysia, Brigadier General Bolor Ganbold of Mongolia, Bianka Zalewska of Poland and Yuliia Paievska of Ukraine.
The honorees are journalists, activists, political and military leaders, humanitarians and peacemakers in their countries, each risking their own safety and overcoming immense obstacles to promote human rights.
Additionally, the Madeleine Albright Honorary Group Award, a new award honoring the first female former secretary of state, was presented to the women and girls protesting Iran’s state-sponsored violence against women following the death of Iranian woman Mahsa Amini in 2022.
“It is fitting that this award recognizes not just one woman, but the bravery, the fortitude and collaboration of a whole movement,” said Linda Thomas-Greenfield, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. “To all the women and girls across Iran, know this: we will continue to stand with you in your fight for women, for life and for freedom.”
The State Department has recognized more than 180 women from over 80 countries since the inaugural International Women of Courage Awards in 2007. Several honorees from 2021 and 2022 whose ceremonies were unable to be held in-person were in attendance at the White House Wednesday.
The 11 women honored this year will participate in the State Department’s International Visitor Leadership Program, giving them each the opportunity to visit various parts of the country to meet with American counterparts.