By Katie Zitzer
Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken hosted the 15th Annual International Women of Courage (IWOC) Award ceremony in Washington, March 8. Special remarks were delivered by First Lady Jill Biden, Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield, Senior Officer for the Office of Global Women’s Issues Katrina Fotovat, and Acting Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs Matthew Lussenhop.
Since 2007, the secretaries of state have recognized more than 155 women from more than 75 countries with the IWOC Award. Each of these remarkable women has demonstrated exceptional courage, strength, and leadership in advocating for peace, justice, human rights, gender equality, and women’s empowerment—often at great personal risk and sacrifice. Now in its 15th year, the IWOC award was granted to an extraordinary group of women, all of whom have dedicated their careers to advocating for and protecting the rights of others. The 2021 class of IWOC awardees exemplifies everything the IWOC Award stands for. These incredible women work on various issues, from combating sexual and gender-based violence in Somalia to leading nationwide pro-democracy movements in Belarus to working on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic in Venezuela and so much more.
In addition to the individual IWOC awards granted this year, Blinken recognized a group of seven women from Afghanistan who were assassinated in 2020 with an honorary IWOC Award. This courageous group of women dedicated their lives to supporting those in need and standing up for the rights of others, particularly those most vulnerable. From police officers to journalists, bloggers, human rights defenders, and midwives, these seven women put their lives on the line and exemplified service and sacrifice at a pivotal moment in Afghanistan’s history.
Following the award ceremony, the awardees participated in virtual meetings at the Department of State before embarking on an International Visitor Leadership Program virtual exchange, where they engaged with counterparts in civil society, government, and academia from across the United States. The IWOC Award is just one of the many ways the United States continues its legacy as a champion for gender equality, and advocating for the equal rights of women and girls at home and around the world.
Katie Zitzer is a regional policy advisor with the Secretary’s Office of Global Women’s Issues.