Meridian Hosts Reception Honoring 2024 International Women of Courage Awardees

[From left to right] Rabha El Haymar, Fawzia Karim Firoze, Volha Harbunova, Fariba Balouch, Fátima Corozo, Rina Gonoi, Ambassador Geeta Rao Gupta (U.S. Department of State), Fatou Baldeh, Ajna Jusić, Benafsha Yaqoobi, Agather Atuhaire, Katrina Fotovat (U.S. Department of State), and Desirée Cormier Smith (U.S. Department of State). Photo by Jessica Latos.
Around the world, the potential of women is significantly diminished by persistent gender inequality. In the workforce, women are discriminated against, forcing some to take up informal and underpaid work, trapping them in a cycle of poverty. As reported by UN Women, violence against women also remains the most pervasive human rights issue, impacting one in three women worldwide. In resistance and solidarity, brave women across the globe are standing up to these inequities, and working tirelessly to build a fairer, more just world. 

On the eve of International Women’s Day, Meridian was honored to host eleven brave female leaders at a reception in their honor as the 2024 International Women of Courage (IWOC). Since 2007, the annual Secretary of State’s International Women of Courage Award, has paid tribute to women around the world who selflessly advocate for positive change within their communities. Representing six regions, this year’s awardees are united through their service to others. Ambassador Stuart Holliday, CEO of Meridian International Center, was delighted to welcome guests from the U.S. Department of State, American Women for International Understanding (AWIU) and private sector partners to this celebratory reception. 

Ali Castro of Ferring Pharmaceuticals, and Chris Miner of the State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs commended the awardees, highlighting the importance of discussing global women’s issues. Rina Gonoi, a survivor of the 2011 triple disaster in Japan, described how her experience with soldiers in the aftermath of the disaster inspired her to join the Japanese Self Defense Force (JSDF). In the army, Ms. Gonoi was subject to constant misogyny and sexual harassment, ultimately forcing her to leave the JSDF. A lifelong practitioner of Judo, Ms. Gonoi shared how the sport has given her the strength to fight to change the lives of other women in uniform by publicly campaigning against sexual harassment, leading to institutional changes within the JSDF. Ms. Gonoi closed the evening by imploring guests to find the strength within themselves to keep moving forward, no matter what.  

For over 60 years, Meridian has been a principal implementing partner of the Department of State’s premier professional exchange program, International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP). Meridian has had the honor of implementing the International Women of Courage International Visitor Leadership Program since 2013.  

This program was made possible through the support of

Ferring Pharmaceuticals, Inc. - Corporate Headquarters - Hatzel & Buehler


Project summary

Meridian Hosts Reception Honoring 2024 International Women of Courage Awardees | March 2024
Number of Attendees: 115
Regions: Africa, Europe and Eurasia, East Asia and Pacific, Near East and North Africa, South and Central Asia, Western Hemisphere
Countries: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Burma, Cuba, Ecuador, Gambia, Iran, Japan, Morocco, Uganda
Impact Areas: Empowering Women and Girls, Human and Civil Rights
Program Areas: Global Leadership
Partners: Public Sector, Private Sector