March 11, 2009 -- First lady Michelle Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton marked International Women's Day with the presentation of the International Women of Courage award to seven women from all over the world who have fought against discrimination and inequality in their countries.
Clinton said the women each has her own unique experiences and stories, but together they represent all women who strive for justice and opportunity in every country on every continent, usually without recognition. This year's recipients were from Afghanistan, Guatemala, Iraq, Malaysia, Niger, Russia and Uzbekistan.
Earlier today at the White House, President Obama signed an executive order creating the White House Council on Women and Girls to "ensure that our daughters and granddaughters have no limits on their dreams."
Before they addressed the honorees, Clinton and Michelle Obama commented on their unique, shared experience of serving as first lady.
"I know a little bit about the role that Michelle Obama is filling now and I have to say that in a very short time, she has through her grace and her wisdom, become an inspiration for women and girls not only in the United States but around the world," the secretary of state said.
"Let me thank Secretary Clinton – I love saying that," the first lady began her remarks. "I have said this before but the woman who is running this department, this big huge effort has always been such a committed person, friend, supporter to me. We are honored and thrilled to have her serving in this role. She set the bar high in her last post and I'm confident she's going to keep setting the bar high in this post."
Clinton said that the status of women and girls is a key indicator of whether progress is possible in a society and that progress and change do not always come from the hallways of government but rather in daily life and activism in towns and villages around the world.
Obama noted that these women are not just changing their own circumstances, but those of women – and men – all around the world. "This is how real change occurs. One determined woman at a time. And change is coming."
Clinton: "U.S. Has a Lot to Live Up To"
The first lady said that the award recipients teach three important lessons: "One, as women we must stand up for ourselves. The second, as women we must stand up for each other. And finally as women we must stand up for justice for all."
Award recipient Dato' Ambiga Sreenevasan, president of Malaysia's Bar Council, said the award gives these women an opportunity to share their stories, stories that must be told all over the globe in order to build a "meaningful network of support."
Sreenevasan, who was honored for her work and advocacy for democracy and human rights, said that Clinton has inspired women around the world to "reach great heights" and noted that her efforts on women's rights are well known. "Your immortal words that human rights are women's rights and women's rights resonate with all of us here," she said.
Both Clinton and the first lady said that there is still much work to be done. Clinton noted that the event, though in the "venerable" State Department, was held in the Benjamin Franklin room and the reception following it would be in the Thomas Jefferson room.
"Our own country has a lot to live up to but we derive inspiration from those who are struggling so hard just to realize the basic rights that we sometimes take for granted," she said.