The US State Department has honored 12 women from Iraq, Colombia, Myanmar, Libya, South Africa, Vietnam, Bangladesh, and other nations for demonstrating leadership and a desire to sacrifice for others. These women were presented with the “International Women of Courage Award” in Washington on Monday.
The honorees include Simone Sibilio do Nascimento, a prominent prosecutor in Brazil; Libya’s first woman foreign minister, Najla Mangoush; Syeda Rizwana Hasan, an environmental lawyer from Bangladesh; Josefina Klinger Zúñiga, a human rights and environmental defender from Colombia; Ei Thinzar Maung, Myanmar’s pro-democracy opposition National Unity Government Deputy Minister for Women, Youths, and Children Affairs; Facia Boyenoh Harris, an advocate for women’s rights and speaks out against gender-based violence in Liberia; Doina Gherman, a parliament member in Moldova who promotes women’s inclusion; Bhumika Shrestha, a transgender activist from Nepal; Roegchanda Pascoe, a crime prevention activist from South Africa; Carmen Gheorghe, a women’s rights activist in Romania; and jailed Vietnamese journalist Pham Doan Trang.
Jailed Vietnamese Journalist Pham Trang
While all the recipients of the award attended the virtual award ceremony, Phạm Đoan Trang was absent as she is currently in prison. According to Amnesty International, Pham Trang is a leading advocate for human rights, rule of law, and the inclusion of all voices in political spaces in Vietnam. She was sentenced to nine years in prison on December 14, 2021, for “making, storing, distributing or disseminating information, documents and items against the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam.”
Addressing the ceremony on Monday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said, “We condemn her unjust imprisonment. We call for her immediate release.”
In a pre-recorded message, US Ambassador to Vietnam Marc Knapper said, “The United States values its comprehensive partnership with Vietnam but believes firmly that “in order for this country to thrive, it needs to embrace the openness, transparency, inclusion, and respect for the rights of all of its citizens that Phạm Đoan Trang has relentlessly sought through her writing and advocacy.”
Pham Doan Trang’s brother Pham Chinh Truc said, “Trang was convicted under Article 88 ‘Propaganda against the State of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.’” “As far as I know, this article has been criticized by many individuals, social organizations, and even the United Nations, who have asked the Vietnamese government to revoke this law because it is too vague. Its boundaries are not clear, but it has been used to arrest many people who have views that are contrary to the views held by the party and state.”
Phạm Trang was a journalist with government media prior to writing independently on democracy and free elections, according to advocacy group The 88 Project.
Myanmar’s Honoree Ei Thinzar Maung
Myanmar’s Ei Thinzar Maung was honored for her commitment to democracy and work for a strong, inclusive, and democratic Myanmar that respects human rights. Thousands of civilians in Myanmar have been displaced since a military coup that toppled the democratically elected government on February 1, 2021.
In a pre-recorded message, Ei Thinzar Maung said, “We are not going to ever give up. Democracy must be restored.” Despite being forced into hiding due to torture and death threats, Ei Thinzar Maung continues to speak out against the military coup. She is the youngest woman to run in Myanmar’s general election held in 2020.
A champion of the rights of women and young people, Ei Thinzar Maung advocated for ethnic minorities. She was beaten and jailed for more than a year after leading a 644-kilometer march from Mandalay to Yangon in 2015 to protest a national education law that excluded ethnic languages and restricted student unions.
Bangladesh’s honoree Syeda Rizwana Hasan
Syeda is a Bangladeshi lawyer who was honored with the International Women of Courage Award this year. According to the State Department, she has shown exceptional courage in her mission to protect the environment and defend the rights of marginalized Bangladeshis. As chief executive of Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association, she has won cases against deforestation, pollution, unregulated ship breaking, and illegal land development.
“In the context of Bangladesh, this award is important because it shows that working on environmental issues is important. It is also a recognition that this difficult job is done by a female leader,” Syeda Rizwana Hasan in an interview.
Speaking on the occasion, US First Laday Jill Biden said, “For 16 years, these awards have lifted up the voices of women around the world. It has shined a light on the struggles and strength of women in the global north, south, east, and west.” She added, “We will tell your stories, even when you cannot.”
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