A Week of Events Honoring Women
In honor of International Women’s Day on March 8, events were held throughout that week around the globe to shine a spotlight on challenges facing women and girls. In the United States, President Barack Obama established a White House Council on Women and Girls, Afghani women briefed congressional leaders about the plight of women in their country, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton bestowed the 2009 Secretary of State’s International Women of Courage Awards, and more.
Tackling Women’s Issues
President Obama established the White House Council on Women and Girls with a ceremony at the White House on March 11. The new Council will establish a coordinated federal response to issues that affect the lives of women and girls, and seek to ensure that federal programs and policies take into account their concerns, with a focus on women of color and women with disabilities.
The Council will focus on four main priorities during its first year: improving women’s economic security; ensuring that the administration evaluates and develops policies that establish a balance between work and family; finding new ways to prevent violence against women at home and abroad; and building healthy families and improving women’s health care.
“I sign this order not just as a President, but as a son, a grandson, a husband, and a father, because growing up, I saw my mother put herself through school and follow her passion for helping others,” President Obama said at the ceremony. “These issues are not just women’s issues. When women make less than men for the same work, it hurts families who find themselves with less income, and have to work harder just to get by. When a job doesn’t offer family leave, that also hurts men who want to help care for a new baby or an ailing parent.”
White House Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett will head the Council. It includes Cabinet Secretaries and high-level administration officials. The Council will be responsible for providing recommendations of the effects of pending legislation and executive branch policy proposals; suggesting changes to federal programs or policies to address issues of importance to women and girls; reviewing and recommending changes to policies that have a distinct impact on women in the federal workforce: and assisting in the development of legislative and policy proposals of special importance to women and girls. It acts only in an advisory capacity.
President Obama also named Melanne Verveer the nation’s new Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues. This appointment “is unprecedented and reflects the elevated importance of global women’s issues to the President and his entire Administration,” a White House statement said. Verveer was an aide in former President Clinton’s administration and is co-founder, chair and CEO of Vital Voices. She will need Senate confirmation before assuming the post.
Afghani Women Brief Congress
A panel of Afghan women leaders briefed dozens of congressional staff and advocates on March 9, telling them that women in Afghanistan face huge obstacles and dangers in going about their daily lives – especially when going to school. Zohra Rasekh of Afghanistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs called the status of women in her country “poignant, sometimes heartbreaking.”
The briefing also featured: Suraya Pakzad, Founder, Voice of Women Organization; Wazhma Frogh, Country Director, Global Rights in Afghanistan; and Najia Zewari of UNIFEM. Frogh is one of the eight recipients of the 2009 International Women of Courage Award, given the same week by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
The Afghan leaders asked lawmakers to put women’s rights at the forefront in any discussions with Taliban moderates. President Obama said recently that he is open to reaching out to moderate members of the Taliban, which concerns advocates because of the Taliban’s brutal treatment of women and girls in the past.
At the briefing, Pakzad discussed her experience secretly teaching Afghan girls to read and write, until the fall of the Taliban in 2001. She now operates a women’s shelter, and says death threats are a regular feature in her life.
The “Women Shaping Afghanistan’s Future” briefing was co-sponsored by Senators Mary Landrieu (D-LA) and Richard Lugar (R-IN) and hosted by Amnesty International USA, Family Violence Prevention Fund, UNIFEM and Women Thrive Worldwide.
Women of Courage Awards
On March 11, First Lady Michelle Obama and Secretary of State Clinton honored the eight recipients of the third annual Secretary of State’s Award for International Women of Courage. It is the only award within the State Department that pays tribute to outstanding women leaders worldwide and recognizes their courage and leadership in fighting for social justice and human rights.
U.S. embassies worldwide nominated more than 80 exceptional women for the award this year, because of their extraordinary work advancing human rights. The 2009 winners are from Afghanistan, Guatemala, Iraq, Malaysia, Niger, Russia, Uzbekistan and Yemen. In addition to Frogh, the 2009 recipients are:
- Norma Cruz, Guatemala, who fights on behalf of victims of violence and sexual abuse.
- Suaad Allami, Iraq, a lawyer fighting the erosion of women’s rights.
- Ambiga Sreenevasan, Malaysia, who uses the law to advance human rights, the status of women, and religious tolerance.
- Ms. Hadizatou Mani, Niger, who was sold at age 12 for the equivalent of $500 and won a historic decision in the Economic Community of West African States Court of Justice condemning her enslavement. Today she helps others in similar circumstances.
- Veronika Marchenko, Russia, who won justice for bereaved families of servicemen who died as a result of cruel and inhumane conditions.
- Mutabar Tadjibayeva, Uzbekistan, a human rights advocate and critic of human rights abuses.
- Reem Al Numery, Yemen, who emerged as a strong voice on behalf of victims of child marriage after she was forced to marry her 30 year-old cousin when she was 12.
At the ceremony, First Lady Obama said, “The women we honor teach us three very important lessons. One, that as women, we must stand up for ourselves. The second, as women, we must stand up for each other. And finally, as women, we must stand up for justice for all,” according to the Washington Post.
More information on the 2009 International Women of Courage award recipients is available here.