Working to promote gender equality and women’s empowerment around the world can be a challenge. There are difficult days when you wonder if your efforts are having a real impact on the lives of women and girls facing violence, deprivation, discrimination and disempowerment on a daily basis. But when you have the opportunity to meet individuals fighting to create a better life for themselves, their families, and their communities, it makes it all worthwhile. Yesterday was one of those days.
Yesterday USAID was proud to host the International Women of Courage awardees. These remarkable women put themselves at risk every day to make a difference not only for themselves but for women and girls everywhere.
In Nigeria, Dr. Josephine Odumakin has spent the past 20 years handling over 2,000 cases of violations of women’s rights, including cases of extrajudicial practices committed by government security agencies against women.
Fartuun Adan is a true human rights activist in Somalia. She champions women’s rights, peace-building, and the rehabilitation of child soldiers. In 2010-2011, Ms. Adan initiated a program to support survivors of gender-based violence in Somalia’s internally displaced persons camps and launched the first sexual violence hotline and rape crisis center in Mogadishu.
In Russia, Yelena Milashena is an investigative reporter for one of the few remaining independent Russian newspapers. She has distinguished herself for her cutting-edge, hard-hitting journalism covering the terrorist seizure of a school in Beslan, the seizure of the Dubrovka theater in Moscow, human rights abuses in the North Caucasus, and corruption in the Russian Federal Narcotics Control Agency. Most recently, Ms. Milashina has reported on the vote-rigging and abuses by government officials during the December 2011 elections.
Malalai Bahaduri is an Afghan National Interdiction Unit instructor committed to the professional development of the Counter Narcotics Police – Afghanistan (CNP-A). As the first female member of the NIU, First Sergeant Bahaduri reminds us that Afghan women can lead in very high level technical positions. Through her integral role as an instructor at NIU, she focuses on efforts to target the most significant drug trafficking networks, collect evidence, and arrest and prosecute Afghan drug traffickers in accordance with Afghan law.
Julieta Castellanos is an advocate who has played a central role in efforts to overcome enormous challenges afflicting Honduras, including rule of law, anticorruption, and promoting citizen security. She was instrumental in forming an umbrella organization for more than 400 organizations that has given civil society a more powerful voice and an unprecedented ability to engage with the government. Ms. Castellanos has also pressed relentlessly for systemic reform of the country’s dysfunctional police and justice sector institutions.
For their efforts, these courageous women have endured threats, detainment, and violence. Some of them have been shunned by their families and communities, or lost livelihoods and loved ones. Still, they press on. It is for these women and the millions like them that we work every day to expand opportunities and improve the lives of women and girls around the world.
USAID will train over 3,300 women in Haiti to manage natural resources and better invest in crops that can generate income and stabilize hillsides as part of our Feed the Future initiative. It’s why I’m proud that over 140,000 women in Pakistan are increasing their income by 30-40% as part of our Entrepreneurs, Firms, and Baluchistan Agriculture projects.
In Afghanistan, our Women In Transition (WIT) program provides educated young women with enhanced technical and leadership skills to facilitate entry and advancement into mid- and high-level positions in government, the private sector and civil society over the next five years. We’re also launching a public-private partnership with Chevron South Africa and Anglo-American to support a gender-based microfinance program called Intervention with Microfinance for AIDS and Gender Equity (IMAGE). The program combines microfinance with a gender and HIV training curriculum to improve women’s financial independence, reduce vulnerability to HIV and gender-based violence, and foster wider community mobilization.
In Bangladesh, we’re launching a pilot project to test multi sector approaches to child marriage prevention with a focus will be community sensitization, involving local religious authorities, media, local NGO and civil authorities. We’re also expanding our efforts in the Democratic Republic of Congo to raise community awareness about gender-based violence (GBV) and support survivors, granting them increased access to medical and psycho-social care, legal assistance, and income generating activities.
These brave individuals, dedicated partners, and determined civil society organizations are delivering real results for women around the world. We are proud to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with them.