“I am deeply humbled to be here today to honor these 12 remarkable and inspiring women who have given so much for so many regardless of the unimaginable threat to their own personal safety,” said first lady Melania Trump, in her opening remarks on the occasion of the State Department’s 11th International Women of Courage (IWOC) Award today (March 29).
The IWOC Award recognizes women who have distinguished themselves by providing important services to their community despite facing danger. This year, honorees included a Bangladeshi activist who rebelled against her own child marriage; the Colombian survivor of an acid attack; a hospital worker from Niger; and a gender violence activist in Papua New Guinea. As the first lady noted, “their lives remind us of the boundless capacity of the human spirit when guided by moral clarity and desire to do good.”
“These honorees that have fought on the front line against injustice are real heros,” said Trump, before turning to the general audience and noting that “it is now up to each of you to remain vigilant against injustice in all its forms.”
This would all be rather agreeable, were it not for a slight contradiction the first lady did not mention: some of IWOC awardees wouldn’t be allowed in the US, or would be subject to “extreme vetting,” if it were up to president Donald Trump.
Among the honorees, there are women from Yemen (Fadia Najib Thabet, who rescued children threatened by the war), Syria (Sister Carolin Tahhan Fachakh, a nun working in Aleppo), Iraq (Jannat Al Ghezi, one of the leaders of an organization that protects women from violent threats).
Further, were Trump’s ban to become effective, it would also temporarily halt all refugees from the US. So you can add the IWOC award winners (as well the suffering compatriots they laudably serve) from Botswana, Niger, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo—countries of origin for many refugees now in the US—to the list of those who wouldn’t be welcome in the US if the Trump administration has its way.
With this in mind, the first lady’s words seem to have an especially important, albeit perhaps unintended, meaning: we must, she said at the March 29 event, have “respect for women of all backgrounds and ethnicities, remembering always that we are all ultimately members of one race—the human race.”
Below is the full list of the awardees:
- Sharmin Akter, activist against early and forced marriage, Bangladesh
- Malebogo Molefhe, human rights activist, Botswana
- Natalia Ponce de Leon, president, Natalia Ponce de Leon Foundation, Colombia
- Rebecca Kabugho, political and social activist, Democratic Republic of Congo
- Jannat Al Ghezi, deputy director of The Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq, Iraq
- Major Aichatou Ousmane Issaka, deputy director of social work at the Military Hospital of Niamey, Niger
- Veronica Simogun, director and founder, Family for Change Association, Papua New Guinea
- Cindy Arlette Contreras Bautista, lawyer and founder of Not One Woman Less, Peru
- Sandya Eknelygoda, human rights activist, Sri Lanka
- Sister Carolin Tahhan Fachakh, member, Daughters of Mary Help of Christians, Syria
- Saadet Ozkan, educator and gender Activist, Turkey
- Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, blogger and environmental activist, Vietnam
- Fadia Najib Thabet, human rights activist, Yemen