WASHINGTON -- A police officer from Afghanistan and a journalist from Russia were among nine women honored by the U.S. State Department as “International Women of Courage.”
First lady Michelle Obama said the awards, which have been handed out since 2007, are “a call for all of us to open our eyes to the injustices around us.”
“When these women witnessed horrific crimes or the disregard for basic human rights, they spoke up, risking everything they had to see that justice was done. When they saw their communities, or their countries were ignoring issues like sexual violence or women’s rights, they gave those issues a face and a voice," Obama said.
"And with every act of strength and defiance, with every blog post, with every community meeting, these women have inspired millions to stand with them and find their own voices and work together to achieve real and lasting change.”
Afghan mother-of-three Malalai Bahaduri was the first woman to become a member of the Afghan National Interdiction Unit (NIU).
She decided to embark on a career in law enforcement after the Taliban fell from power, in 2002. When her uncle found out, he attacked her, breaking her nose, for aspiring to do work not typically done by Afghan women.
Undeterred, she now holds the rank of first sergeant and is an NIU instructor. “She is committed to the professional development of the Counter Narcotics Police of Afghanistan,” according to the State Department.
Secretary of State John Kerry presented Bahaduri with her award.
“So, for courageous and dedicated service to drug law enforcement and training in Afghanistan, as the first sergeant in the counternarcotics police in Afghanistan’s national interdiction unit, we name Malalai Bahaduri a ‘woman of courage,’“ Kerry said.
Russian investigative journalist and human rights activist Elena Milashina was chosen for “shining a light on events others shy away from,” the State Department said.
Her subjects include drug trafficking, terrorist attacks, military disasters, and the killings of fellow journalists. She has also fought against extrajudicial kidnappings and torture. Kerry said.
“She bears the scars of physical and verbal assaults, but she also carries the confidence of the many whose lives she has made better through her commitment," Kerry said.
Other 2013 “Women of Courage” honorees
include Nigerian democracy activist Josephine Obiajulu Odumakin, Syrian human rights lawyer Razan Zeitunah, Tibetan author, poet, and blogger Tsering Woeser (Wei Se), and the woman known only as Nirbhaya -- which means “fearless” -- who died after being gang raped and beaten on a bus in New Delhi.
Following the award ceremony, the honorees are set to travel to cities across the United States “to engage with the American people through an International Visitor Leadership Program,” according to the State Department.
The U.S. 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 its inception in 2007, the State Department has honored 67 women from 45 different countries.