Condi Rice's Medal of Courage Awards
To read the entire newsletter, go here International Women's Issues Newsletter, Fall 2008.
"The Secretary of State’s International Women of Courage Award is given every year by the United States Department of State in honor of International Women’s Day. The award pays tribute to the bravery and leadership of outstanding women around the globe. It symbolizes the United States commitment to these women as they struggle for social justice and women’s rights.
The Office of International Women’s Issues has the distinct honor of administering this award on behalf of the Secretary of State. This year, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, celebrated eight remarkable women.
These International Women of Courage represent Somalia, Paraguay, Pakistan, Kosovo, Fiji, Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Palestinian Authority. They are among over 95 exceptional women nominated by United States Embassies worldwide, for their extraordinary work in advancing women’s rights.
Throughout this edition of our newsletter, there are references to their inspiring work. They have shown us what is possible, when one woman takes a stand. I hope you are as impressed by their courage, tenacity and sheer determination, as we have been. Though obstacles arise, their work continues. And we continue to stand with them. International Woman of Courage Combats Trafficking in Persons
Earlier this year, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice presented the second annual International Women of Courage Award to eight women who have shown exceptional bravery in advocating for women’s rights.
Among them was Cynthia Bendlin from Paraguay, honored for her outstanding courage and leadership in combating the trafficking of women.
Through her work with the International Organization of Migration, she fights the criminal gangs who prey on women in the tri-border area of Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay. The majority of the victims trafficked for sexual exploitation in this region are young women from poor rural areas, lured with false promises of jobs as waitresses or domestic helpers, and taken to small cities and towns. Bendlin and her colleagues work under extremely difficult situations. As the human trafficking criminal networks operating in the area saw their livelihood threatened, they issued death threats against Bendlin and her team. For Bendlin the award “provides renewed strength so that we can continue with the important work that lies ahead. There are an estimated 6,000 potential victims in the tri-border area, so we must respond in a clear, forceful and effective manner.”
On June 4, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice released the 2008 Report on Trafficking in Persons. The Report assessed 170 countries and is regarded as the most comprehensive worldwide report on the efforts of governments to combat severe forms of trafficking in persons. Its findings serve as the primary diplomatic tool through which the U.S. Government encourages countries to partner and fight against forced labor, sexual exploitation, and modern-day slavery.
As Secretary Rice stated, “The goal of this Report is to shine a light on recent accomplishments and encourage governments in their resolve to confront those who prey on the weakest and most vulnerable members of society.”
Human trafficking is a deeply dehumanizing form of exploitation which occurs in virtually every country around the world, including the United States. It affects men, women and children who are held in domestic servitude, exploited for commercial sex, and coerced into work in factories and sweatshops.
Estimates of the number of victims vary widely. According to the U.S. intelligence community, approximately 800,000 people are trafficked across international borders each year. Roughly 80 percent are female and up to half are minors. These figures do not include the millions who are trafficked for purposes of labor and sexual exploitation within national borders as well.
Somalia’s Woman of Courage Fights Female Genital Mutilation.
Farhiyo Farah Ibrahim was one of eight recipients of the 2008 Secretary of State’s International Women of Courage Award. Recognized for her work in the Dadaab refugee camp, Farhiyo faced strong opposition from her highly conservative and patriarchal society as she promoted an end to female genital mutilation (FGM), better treatment for rape victims and more secondary education for Somali girls.
The Dadaab camp’s isolation in arid north-east Kenya means exposure to the outside world is extremely limited and life is especially harsh for women, who have traditionally played a subordinate role to men in conservative Somali society. The only African winner among the 2008 honorees, Farhiyo carried on with her advocacy in the face of ostracism. She believes her community should be supporting—rather than stigmatizing—rape victims, single mothers, divorcees and widows.
Dadaab is the only world Farhiyo knows. This makes her views on female empowerment—and her willingness to fight for women’s rights—all the more remarkable. Her most challenging role has been as a campaigne for the elimination of FGM, also known as Female Circumcision (FC), Female Genital Cutting (FGC), and Female Genital Surgeries (FGS). These include a range of practices varying from a simple nick of the clitoris to the partial or complete removal and infibulation of the female genitalia for non-medical reasons. Those who practice FGM believe that a circumcised woman will attract a favorable dowry.
Today, an estimated 70 million girls and women have been subjected to FGM in 28 countries in Africa and in Yemen. Unfortunately, medical complications often occur, such as septicemia, pelvic inflammatory disease, and other numerous long and short term health effects. Farhiyo works to inform families and women of these complications, and continues to fight against this practice.
For a good discussion of FGM see: