The Cable

Clinton and Michelle Obama to honor women activists

Ten remarkable women from around the world who have played a significant role in the struggle for women's rights will be honored at the State Department Thursday in the first of a series of women's empowerment events Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is holding this week.

Clinton and First Lady Michelle Obama will host the International Women of Courage Awards at State's Foggy Bottom headquarters to honor 10 women from 10 different countries where the fight for gender equality rages. Two female Nobel Peace Prize laureates, Yemeni dissident Tawakkol Karman and former Liberian President Leymah Gbowee, will also be on hand for the event.

The awardees, all of whom will be in attendance, include Maryam Durani, a Provincial Council member from Kandahar, Afghanistan, who has survived multiple attempts on her life; Zin Mar Aung, a Burmese civil society activist who spent 11 years in prison; and Samar Badawi, the first Saudi Arabian woman to sue the Saudi government for the right to choose her own husband and was also imprisoned.

"It's a real focus on women as agents of change, women as leaders, and this is a really courageous group," said Melanne Verveer, the State Department's ambassador for Global Women's Issues, in an interview with The Cable. Verveer held a press conference about the event Wednesday afternoon at the Capitol with Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH).

The awardees were selected from hundreds of nominations submitted by U.S. embassies around the world. Verveer said the awards are meant to recognize the women's accomplishments, but also provide them with increased credibility and power to continue their work back home.

"These awards are validating in many ways," she said. "The awardees are taken more seriously, they're not as marginalized as some may have been. It gives them enormous credibility on the international stage."

The Thursday event is only the first of several events this week that Clinton will participate in to celebrate Women's History Month.

On Friday, Clinton will announce the winners of the first Innovation Award for the Empowerment of Women and Girls, a new program State is running -- in conjunction with the Rockefeller Foundation -- to support women-focused technology start ups. The winners will each receive $500,000 from the foundation to take their entrepreneurial ventures to the next level.

Then on Saturday, Clinton will deliver the keynote address at the Women in the World conference in New York, an annual event organized by Daily Beast and Newsweek chief Tina Brown and including Angelina Jolie and Meryl Streep.

Verveer sees progress in the struggle for political and economic equality for women worldwide, although "enormous challenges" still remain.

"Today we know that women's economic participation says a lot about whether a country is going to be economically prosperous," she said. "All these things are beginning to create a picture of why this is both the right thing to do and the smart thing to do."

YURI GRIPAS/AFP/Getty Images

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