Meridian honored to host the 2017 International Women of Courage Awardees

First Lady Melania Trump and Under Secretary Shannon pose for a photo with the 2017 International Women of Courage Awardees
First Lady Melania Trump and Under Secretary Shannon pose for a photo with the 2017 International Women of Courage Awardees (Photo Credit: U.S. Department of State)

In March 2017, Meridian International Center, in partnership with the U.S. Department of State, had the honor of welcoming the Secretary of State’s International Women of Courage (IWOC) awardees to Washington. The Award was established to pay tribute to women around the world who have courageously advocated for the rights, equality, and social progress of all citizens despite the adversity and dangers they often face. This annual award was created in 2007 by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to mark International Women’s Day which is March 8th. The 2017 Award ceremony was led by Ambassador Thomas Shannon, Jr., Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs.

On March 27 Meridian hosted the awardees for a day of programming at our campus. Representatives from the State Department delivered an official program welcome and provided an overview of the International Women of Courage initiative. The Awardees were then able to formally introduce themselves to one another under the guidance of Ms. Chris Miner, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs, and Ms. Regina Waugh, Chief of Staff for the Secretary's Office of Global Women's Issues.

This year's 13 awardees included:

  • Malebogo Malefhe, Activist for disability rights and former National Basketball player from Botswana;
  • Rebecca Kabugho, Activist from the Democratic Republic of the Congo;
  • Major Aichatou Ousmane Issaka, Depurty Director of Social Work. Military Hospital of Niamey from Niger;
  • Veronica Simogun, Director, Family for Change Association from Papua New Guinea;
  • Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, from Vietnam;
  • Saadet Ozkan, Activist for child protection from predators from Turkey;
  • Jannat Al Ghezi, Coordinator, Organization of Women's Freedom from Iraq;
  • Sister Carolin Tahhan Fachakh, Member, Daughters of Mary Help of Christians from Syria;
  • Fadia Najib Thabet, Child Protection Officer from Yemen;
  • Sharmin Akter, Activist for stopping child marriages from Bangladesh;
  • Sandya Eknelygoda, Activist for missing persons from Sri Lanka;
  • Natalia Ponce de Leon, Founder, Natalia Ponce de Leon Foundation from Colombia; and
  • Arlette Contreras Bautista, Activist for domestic violence protections from Peru.

In partnership with the State Department's Bureau of Public Affairs and 2e Communications, a public affairs and communications firm, Meridian conducted media training workshops to prepare the IWOC awardees for interviews and media coverage worldwide.

On Tuesday Meridian organized a federalism briefing with Mr. Akram Elias, President and CEO of Capital Communications Group, Inc., where the participants were given an overview of the U.S. system of government. Afterwards the participants had the opportunity to visit the Newseum before travelling on to the State Department for a ceremony rehearsal.

The IWOC Award Ceremony took place the following day in the State Department's Dean Acheson Auditorium in the Harry S Truman Building. Ambassador Thomas Shannon, Jr., was joined by the First Lady of the United States Melania Trump in congratulating and honoring each of the women. At the conclusion of the ceremony, the women took part in press interviews to talk about their experiences and their path forward.

On Thursday, several honorees were invited to take part in a discussion that was organized in partnership with the Elliot School of International Affairs (ESIA) and the Global Women's Institute at George Washington University. Following opening remarks from the Dean of ESIA, Ambassador Reuben E. Brigety II, Dr. Mary Ellsberg began the discussion where the selected honorees introduced themselves, spoke at length about their challenges, and provided a path forward for the future. They also answered questions along with their fellow honorees who were also in attendance. Later in the afternoon, the group met with the Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration, and the Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor.

Before departing for individual schedules in 11 different cities across the United States, the awardees spent some time at the White House for a tour.

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Project summary

Meridian honored to host the 2017 International Women of Courage Awardees
Number of Visitors: 13
Regions: Western Hemisphere, South and Central Asia, East Asia and Pacific, Africa, Europe and Eurasia, Near East and North Africa
Countries: Botswana, Congo - Kinshasa, Niger, Papua New Guinea, Vietnam, Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Colombia, Peru
Impact Areas: Empowering Women and Girls
Program Areas: Exchanges
Partners: NGOs, Private Sector, Public Sector