Prepared Remarks of First Lady Michelle Obama for International Women of Courage Award

The White House

Office of the First Lady

For Immediate Release

March 05, 2015

Note: Due to inclement weather, the International Women of Courage event has been cancelled. Please see the First Lady’s prepared remarks below.

Remarks of First Lady Michelle Obama
As Prepared for Delivery
International Women of Courage Award
Washington, DC
March 5th, 2015

It is such a pleasure and an honor to be here with all of you today as we celebrate this year’s International Women of Courage.  When you learn about what these ten extraordinary women have done with their lives – it just takes your breath away. 

One of our awardees is the first woman to be a fixed-wing Air Force pilot in Afghanistan’s history, and she continues to fly despite threats from the Taliban and even members of her own extended family.

Another awardee is a women’s right activist whose organization has assisted more than 30,000 survivors of sexual assault and abuse in Bolivia, and for the past 30 years, she’s helped pass nearly every women’s rights law in her country.  

These women are journalists exposing corruption and extremism; they are activists fighting armed conflict and discrimination; and one of them is a nurse who contracted Ebola while caring for her patients.  But as soon as she recovered, she went right back to work, and she now serves as a spokeswoman, raising awareness and fighting the stigma around Ebola.

Each of these women has accomplished so much and helped so many people, but as we all know, they have all paid a high price for their efforts.  They’ve lost their jobs; they’ve been beaten and jailed; they’ve faced death threats and attacks on their reputations. 

But through it all, they’ve kept on going, because for them, staying silent simply isn’t an option.  For them, turning away from the injustices they see simply isn’t possible.  You see, these women refuse to believe the false comfort that other people’s suffering isn’t their problem, and they refuse to listen to those who tell them that one person can’t possibly make a difference.  Instead, they listen to the relentless moral voice inside themselves that drives them toward justice, compassion and truth.

That is one thread that connects their stories across cultures and continents.  And while these women come from different backgrounds and are working on different issues, there is another theme that runs through so many of their lives – and that is the power of education. 

Whether they attended secondary school, or a university, or got some kind of training, for so many of these women, their education helped them discover and develop their potential – it gave them a platform on which to build their professional lives.  And they have used that platform to inspire countless others to follow their example. 

I mean, think about how many girls now dream of taking to the skies or reporting breaking news.  Think about how many Ebola survivors have been able to reclaim their lives.  Think about how many survivors of violence and discrimination have finally gotten the support and justice they deserve – all because of the women on this stage.

So really, so many of these women are living, breathing proof of the ripple effect that occurs when we believe in women and girls and we invest in their potential. 

But we all know that for each of these women of courage, there are millions of others who may never have the chance to make their mark on the world.  Today, 62 million girls worldwide are not in school – girls with boundless promise, girls who are so eager to learn, so hungry to make something of their lives, but they may never get that opportunity. 

Think about the loss that represents for our world.  Think about how many of us in this room and how many of the women on this stage wouldn’t be here today if we hadn’t gotten some kind of education.  So we all know the power of education to transform the lives of women and girls – and to transform their families, communities and countries. 

And that’s why I am so thrilled that earlier this week, the U.S. Government launched a new global girls’ education effort called Let Girls Learn.  As part of this effort, in collaboration with the Peace Corps, we’ll be supporting new, community-focused girls’ education projects across the globe. 

We’ll be drawing on the talent and energy of the nearly 7,000 Peace Corps volunteers serving in more than 60 countries worldwide, and these volunteers will be supporting hundreds of new community projects to help girls go to school and stay in school – girls’ leadership camps, girls’ mentorship programs, and so much more.  These programs will be community-generated and community-led; they’ll be based on solutions devised by local leaders, families and the girls themselves.

And I am thrilled to kick off this new initiative with a trip to Asia later this month.  I’ll be going to Japan, where I’ll be meeting with Mrs. Akie Abe, the wife of Japan’s Prime Minister, who is eager to join us in this work.  I will also travel to Cambodia, where I will be meeting with Peace Corps volunteers and visiting a school where community-driven efforts are already transforming girls’ lives. 

This work could not be more urgent or more important, because we know that every single girl on this planet has something to contribute.  Every single girl has a spark of potential that is worthy of our investment.  And there is no limit to the impact we can have when we make that investment.

I think that one of today’s awardees put it best in an interview she did with a reporter about her work to help girls in Pakistan.  Tabassum Adnan was married at the age of 13, and after enduring 20 years of brutal abuse by her husband, she finally escaped, losing her home, her children and all her money.

But Tabassum refused to be defeated.  Instead, she founded an NGO to fight back against acid attacks, honor killings and other horrific violations of women’s rights in her community.  It’s dangerous work, and progress doesn’t come easily, but Tabassum won’t give up.  As she told that reporter – and these are her words: she said “We’ve come a long way, and it won’t be easy to back off now.”

That is what all of these women of courage have done – they have gone that long way, and they have inspired so many others to join them.  They’ve built movements and created waves of momentum for justice and peace and equality – and now, because of their courage and sacrifice, it’s not so easy for the rest of us to back off or back down.  Because of brave women like them, the tide is beginning to turn for women and girls across the globe.

And I am so proud to be here today to honor these women – and I am so determined to do whatever I can as First Lady of the United States and beyond to support their efforts and give all our women and girls the chances they deserve to fulfill their promise.

So congratulations to this year’s awardees.  We are so inspired by all of you, and we look forward to all that you will continue to contribute to your countries and our world in the years ahead.

Thank you so much, and God bless.

Mali Not Clear of Ebola

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Ebola in Mali…Mali is racing to control a fresh Ebola outbreak after confirming its second death from the disease, just when it appeared the country would be given the all clear. (Guardian http://bit.ly/1pQWJn8)

Getting serious about indoor air pollution…The WHO is issuing new guidelines aimed at reducing health-damaging household pollutants in order to reduce the number of people killed by indoor air pollution. (VOA http://bit.ly/1xOhhvp )

On the Docket for Thursday…USAID Admin Shah will deliver keynote remarks at the third Global Conference on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Human Rights and Inclusive Development on Friday at 11AM EST. And…The WHO will release new data on global progress against measles later today.

Ebola

More than 400 health workers at the only Ebola treatment centre in southern Sierra Leone went on strike on Wednesday over unpaid risk allowances the government is meant to fund, officials said. (Reuters http://bit.ly/1pR0hFZ)

The U.N. peacekeeping chief is urging the Security Council to extend the mandate of its 7,000-member peacekeeping force in Liberia, as the Ebola crisis continues to strain national institutions and threaten gains made since that country’s civil war ended in 2003. (VOA http://bit.ly/1unMpCD)

Britain’s foreign secretary announced plans for 700 Ebola treatment beds in Sierra Leone within weeks, admitting the global response had been too slow as he visited the former colony. (AFP http://yhoo.it/1xOiToW)

The Ebola epidemic is still outstripping efforts to contain it, according to doctors from Médecins Sans Frontières who have mounted most of the early response in west Africa. (Guardian http://bit.ly/1EBoCm4)

Sierra Leone will make a one-off payment of $5,000 to the family of any health worker who dies as a result of treating an Ebola patient, authorities said, as a sixth doctor in the country tested positive for the virus. (Reuters http://bit.ly/1EBycoU)

Critical gaps in “behind-the-scenes” infrastructure are hampering Ebola response times and containment efforts in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, aid agencies and health workers say. (IRIN http://bit.ly/1pQWwQI)

Africa

South Sudan: Young boys dream of carrying kalashnikovs not books as arms airdrops and night raids for child soldiers make peace in the world’s newest nation ever distant. (Guardian http://bit.ly/1EBtQ11)

H&M, the world’s second-biggest fashion retailer, said that it made every effort to ensure its cotton did not come from appropriated land in Ethiopia but could not provide an absolute guarantee. (Reuters http://bit.ly/1pR1EnQ)

For subsistence farmers in rain-scarce Kenya, drip irrigation can mean the difference between hand-to-mouth survival and being able to grow an agricultural business. (TRF http://bit.ly/1EBzikH)

Medical experts say cervical cancer continues to be the leading cause of cancer related deaths in Sub-Saharan Africa. A majority die of ignorance. Less than one percent of women are scanned for the disease. Free vaccination campaigns for 9 to 13 years old girls are ongoing. (VOA http://bit.ly/1EBzW1y)

A protester was killed and two others badly wounded after angry crowds accused UN troops of shooting a man in the head in the troubled east of the Democratic Republic of Congo, rights groups said. (AFP http://yhoo.it/1umJdHq)

Sudan’s government and rebels from South Kordofan and Blue Nile launched their latest round of peace talks Wednesday, as mediators called for an “urgent” end to over three years of war. (Yahoo http://yhoo.it/1xOhYF1)

Kenyan law provides for life imprisonment when a girl dies from FGM/C, which in addition to excruciating pain, can cause hemorrhage, shock and complications in childbirth. Officials are optimistic they can force a change in attitude but still worry that the practice is too ingrained for legal threats to have an impact. (Reuters http://bit.ly/1unMSVp)

MENA

Amnesty International on Wednesday criticised “woefully insufficient” steps taken by Qatar so far to end abuses of migrant workers building facilities for the controversial 2022 World Cup. (AFP http://yhoo.it/1xMMYVZ)

The U.N. World Food Program has begun distributing food vouchers to Iraqis displaced by war. The WFP gave out the first vouchers in Erbil to about 500 Iraqis last week. (VOA http://bit.ly/1EBwxzV)

Air strikes by U.S.-led forces in Syria have killed 865 people, including 50 civilians, since the start of the campaign in late September against Islamic State militants, a group monitoring the war said on Wednesday. (Reuters http://yhoo.it/1EBEFQH)

Asia

Myanmar’s transition from military rule has not been as fast as hoped and the government is “backsliding” on some reforms, U.S. President Barack Obama said in an interview published on Wednesday. (Reuters http://yhoo.it/1EBFGbJ)

Furious protesters took to the streets in central India on Wednesday, smashing up cars and demanding the chief minister resign, as the death toll from a mass government-run sterilisation programme rose to 13. (AP http://yhoo.it/1pR6v8x)

A team of doctors rushed to central India on Wednesday after at least 13 women died and dozens of others fell ill following sterilization surgeries in a free, nationwide program aimed at limiting births in the world’s second-most populous nation, officials said. (AP http://yhoo.it/1EBEkxs)

Cambodia’s mainly agricultural society is changing fast, driven by urbanization and falling fertility rates. As young workers move to the cities, older people are staying back in the villages, where they have little support. (VOA http://bit.ly/1pQYL6z)

Seven Cambodian housing and land rights activists have been sentenced to a year in prison, just one day after they were arrested during a protest. The activists, who were protesting poor flood management in Phnom Penh’s Boeung Kak neighborhood. (VOA http://bit.ly/1pQZcOm)

Cambodia on Wednesday raised the controversial monthly minimum wage for garment workers by 28 percent, a decision likely to infuriate unions seeking a higher increase and revive calls for strike action. (VOA http://bit.ly/1pR2eC6)

The U.S. has expressed reservations about the China-sponsored Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, but some experts say opposing the newly established bank may not a wise choice for Washington. (VOA http://bit.ly/1xOh0Zw)

The Americas

The number of Americans struggling to afford food has remained stuck near recession-era highs. But a recent Gallup poll suggests things may be starting to get back on track for some. (NPR http://n.pr/1pR2Ibm)

Colombia’s largest left-wing rebel group, the Farc, says it is sorry for killing two members of the Nasa indigenous group last week. (BBC http://bbc.in/1pR2tx5)

Cuba clearly is on the minds of the editors of the New York Times. In the last month the paper has published five weekend editorials in English and in Spanish asking the US administration to re-establish diplomatic ties with Cuba. (BBC http://bbc.in/1EBtwPQ)

The presidents of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador will present the United States with a proposed plan to stem child migration from their countries. (AP http://yhoo.it/1unMrdU)

Opinion/Blogs

Militarizing Global Health (Boston Review http://bit.ly/1xhHs0D)

Obstacles to Development Arising from the International System (IPS http://bit.ly/1EBx8By)

Should NGOs jump on board the Payment by Results bandwagon? New research suggests proceed with caution (From Poverty to Power http://bit.ly/1xhH6Y0)

Sterilization deaths show India’s health care ills (AP http://yhoo.it/1EBFQzF)

When being on the fence is a good thing:  GMOs and loss of autonomy for African farmers (HURDL Blog http://bit.ly/1xhH1Uf)

ICAI report slams DFID’s anticorruption efforts, aid experts slam report (Dev Policy http://bit.ly/1xNeBht)

Why it’s time for Band Aid to disband… (Development Truths http://bit.ly/1xhGUIj)

Justice in Syria: If not the ICC, then What? (Justice in Conflict http://bit.ly/1xhHmpY)

Most Money for Health Is Subnational, But What Will Donors Do About It? (CGD http://bit.ly/1xOgsTe)

Research/Reports
Death rates of young children have dropped to record lows in developing countries. Experts say there are two main reasons for the decrease: improved government action and simple protective health measures. (VOA http://bit.ly/1pQYUXO)

Will the USA Target ISIS in Syria?

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The Obama administration is sending strong signals that it may expand its air assault against ISIS to Syria, despite the fact that such a move would probably contravene international law. First, National Security Council advisor Ben Rhodes tells NPR that the USA is not ruling out hitting ISIS in Syria. Then, the Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey says this: “This is an organization that has an apocalyptic end-of-days strategic vision that will eventually have to be defeated. Can they be defeated without addressing that part of the organization that resides in Syria? The answer is no.” (NYT http://nyti.ms/1roTeo3)

Navi Pillay’s Parting Shot to the Security Council…Outgoing U.N. Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay  gave her final briefing to the UN Security Council. Her tenure ends at the end of the month, where she will be replaced by Prince Zeid of Jordan–who just happens to currently serve on the Council. Pillay was rather unsparing in her criticism of the ways in which divisions in the council prevented adequete responses to urgent human rights catastrophes. Money quote: “I firmly believe that greater responsiveness by this council would have saved hundreds of thousands of lives” (VOA http://bit.ly/1s5wZiA)

Ebola

The two U.S. patients who were treated for Ebola have been discharged from Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, where they had been in an isolation ward since returning from Liberia early this month. They are the first patients treated for Ebola on American soil. (NPR http://n.pr/1wdDjLp)

South Africa said on Thursday that due to fears over the spread of the Ebola virus it was banning travellers from Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone from entering the country, apart from its own citizens. (Reuters http://bit.ly/1s4VFrr

Up to 30,000 people could have used experimental treatments or vaccines so far in the world’s worst outbreak of Ebola currently plaguing West Africa, British scientists said. (Reuters http://bit.ly/1s4W4u4)

While the Ebola epidemic continues to claim lives in West Africa, information technology specialists, together with radio and TV reporters, are battling misinformation and prejudice about the disease – using social media to educate the public about the deadly virus. (VOA http://bit.ly/1wdHWF4)

Hundreds of residents of a Liberian slum lined up to receive rice and water from government officials Thursday in their neighborhood which was sealed off from the rest of the capital in an attempt to halt the spread of Ebola. (AP http://yhoo.it/1we7vWy)

An emergency research call has been launched to help fight the world’s worst Ebola outbreak in West Africa, with the British government and the Wellcome Trust medical charity pledging a combined $10.8 million. (VOA http://bit.ly/1wdIlaI)

Africa

Children accused of being members of armed groups in the conflict in Mali are languishing in adult jails while human rights abuses continue, said Amnesty International. (ReliefWeb http://bit.ly/1wdC5jc)

A cash transfer scheme in Zambia provides a bi-monthly cash allowance of $25 and $50 respectively for vulnerable households and households where there are people with disabilities, to help people deal with shocks created by climate. (IPS http://bit.ly/1wdDTZq)

Uganda has been hailed as a success story in fighting HIV/AIDS, with prevalence rates dropping from 18 percent in 1992 to 6.4 percent in 2005. But activists fear a new HIV Bill will lead to lead to people shunning testing and treatment. (IPS http://bit.ly/1s4URmz)

The 40,000 people sheltering from South Sudan’s civil war in a flooded and crowded UN camp are enduring conditions “barely compatible with life and incompatible with human dignity”, and must be helped before disease and danger force them back into the conflict zone, MSF has warned. (Guardian http://bit.ly/1s4X0yA)

Fighting erupted in the Central African Republic capital Bangui, killing a humanitarian worker and injuring dozens of civilians hours after the UN said it would dispatch thousands of peacekeepers to quell religious violence. (Guardian http://bit.ly/1wdH2sh)

Human Rights Watch says South Sudan’s army used child soldiers during recent fighting against opposition forces in violation of international law. (VOA http://bit.ly/1wdIdI7)

The UN refugee agency called for East African countries hosting Somali refugees to make voluntary repatriation possible and sustainable. (VOA http://bit.ly/1wdIw5L)

West Africa must openly confront its political and governance weaknesses to curb the growing drug trade in the region, former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo said. http://yhoo.it/1wdIYkq

Former child soldiers in war-torn Somalia are being held in prison conditions in foreign-funded camps, “punishing” rather than rehabilitating them, the top UN children’s envoy said Thursday. http://yhoo.it/1s5wcOw

MENA

America has returned to war, of a sort, in Iraq with airstrikes that have intensified in recent days against Islamic State militants. But details about the execution of this limited campaign, which so far includes no reported U.S. ground combat, are thin. (AP http://yhoo.it/1we896t)

About 10,000 mourners on Thursday buried three senior commanders of the armed wing of Hamas who were killed in a predawn airstrike by Israel, the most significant blow to the group’s leadership since Israel’s operation in Gaza began more than six weeks ago.(NYT  http://nyti.ms/1roUoQi)

Asia

Sri Lanka’s government is scrambling to ease the impact of record harvest losses on millions of farmers as the country enters its tenth month of an acute dry spell. (IRIN http://bit.ly/1s4SLTu)

Thousands of rescuers combed through the wreckage of homes engulfed by landslides in western Japan on Thursday in the slim hope of finding survivors, a day after a wall of mud claimed at least 39 lives. http://yhoo.it/1wdJuyZ

Flooding in Cambodia has killed at least 45 people since last month, officials said Thursday. (AP http://yhoo.it/1we7lyA)

The Americas

Brazil expands labor rights for domestic workers through new legislation. (AP http://yhoo.it/1s50Jfy)

Police on Mexico’s Caribbean coast arrested 13 activists during a demonstration by Maya Indians against water rate hikes. (NYT http://nyti.ms/1roUtna)

Opinion/Blogs

South Sudan’s Looming Famine (UN Dispatch http://bit.ly/1nfAQq7)

How Uganda Stopped Previous Ebola Outbreaks (DW http://bit.ly/1s5yayk)

Microfinance in Jordan isn’t helping to empower women (Guardian http://bit.ly/1s5yvRI)

Can alternative economic indicators ever be any good if they are devised solely by experts? (From Poverty to Power http://bit.ly/1piMipH)

Shouldn’t “anti-poverty” and “pro-middle class” be synonyms? (Campaign for Boring Development http://bit.ly/1piMG7Q)

There always needs to be a product: ‘Self-reflection’, volunteering & the emerging development entertainment industrial complex (Aidnography http://bit.ly/1nfB7tn)

150 million bank accounts – is that enough? (IPA http://bit.ly/1piN32i)

Research/Reports

A new study finds cancer affects even simple, ancient multicellular organisms — which means the disease and the deaths it causes may simply be a part of life. (NPR http://n.pr/1wdDd6u)

The international community needs to stop looking at neglected tropical diseases as a sub-Saharan African problem and realize that the G20 countries are now home to the “lion’s share” of the dangerous, debilitating, yet low-profile illnesses, a US expert has warned. (Guardian http://bit.ly/1s4Yf0v)