First Lady Melania Trump handed out awards at the 2017 International Women of Courage awards ceremony on Wednesday at the U.S. Department of State, where she was introduced as a campaigner for the safety and security of women and girls around the world.
“The era of allowing brutality against women and children is over,” Trump said to the large crowd of guests gathered to honor 13 women who faced horrific challenges in their lives but persisted to become activists to help others facing a similar plight.
“Each one of these heroic women has an extraordinary story of courage, which should inspire each of us to achieve more than we had ever imagined possible,” Trump said before handing out statuettes and posing for pictures with each of the women.
“Their lives remind us of the boundless capacity of the human spirit when guided by moral clarity and desire to do good,” Trump said.
Watch the live speech of Melania Trump at the International Women of Courage Awards Here:
The women honored this year were:
- Sharmin Akter, a 17-year-old from Bangladesh who at 15 resisted her mother’s efforts to make her marry a much older man so she could pursue her education — setting an example for teens across South Asia who face similar pressure. Bangladesh has one of the highest rates of child marriage in the world. Sharmin is attending a girls school now and hopes to be an attorney so she campaign against child marriage.
- Malebogo Molefhe of Botswana was on the national basketball team before she was shot eight times by her boyfriend leaving her with spinal cord injuries that left her in a wheelchair. Today she works at the Ministry of Education where she helps educate children about violence. She also works with people who have been disabled because of domestic violence.
- Natalia Ponce de Leon was attacked by a stalker in 2014 who threw a liter of sulfuric acid on her face and body. After numerous surgeries Natalia said she was “reborn from the ashes” and now heads the Natalia Ponce de Leon Foundation to help acid attack victims. A law she lobbied for — and that now bears her name — that increased penalties for acid attackers was passed by the Columbian government in 2016.
- Rebecca Kabugho of the Democratic Republic of Congo was one of the youngest prisoner of conscience when she was jailed at 22 for demanding a fair election and she continues to work with the Struggle for Change movement in her homeland.
- Jannat Al Ghezi and the Organization of Women’s Freedom of Iraq take daily risks to help women in the country escape violence by offering them with shelter, training, protection and legal services. OWFI has helped more than 500 rape and domestic violence victims. Jannat understands the plight of the women she helps because she also was a victim of domestic violence.