First lady Melania Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo honored recipients of the 2020 International Women of Courage Award at a State Department ceremony Wednesday.
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The all-female award presented ahead of International Women's Day on Sunday recognizes women across the world who demonstrate "exceptional courage and leadership" in the face of adversity and who have made a positive impact on their communities.
"It is an honor to be here again to celebrate these inspiring women and the incredible impacts they are making through the work they have dedicated themselves to all over the world," Trump began. "In my fourth year attending this ceremony, I continue to be inspired by the personal stories that accompany each of these extraordinary women. Some demonstrate raw courage in the face of terror."
"As first lady of the United States, I'm proud of what this country continues to do for women," Trump continued, "and I'm honored to represent a nation that not only recognizes women around the world who are making a difference internationally but empowers and supports them in their endeavors so they can affect positive change for others."
The first lady centered her remarks on courage and what the word means, including how it is related to other qualities like bravery and strength.
"These women represent the strength of the female spirit," Trump said. "Each of them have demonstrated acts of courage and leadership, often at risk to their own personal safety."
She went on to describe how U.S. women are "playing vital roles in society" as "mothers, wives, doctors, CEOs and elected officials," adding that the unemployment rate for women has reached record-low, and women filled over 70-percent of all the new jobs added to the U.S. workforce in 2019.
The first lady explained how all of the award recipients are human rights advocates from "some of the most dangerous parts of the world" who have "pushed through gender-based stereotypes to help serve the greater good.
"They are role models for the next generation," she said.
2020 award winners came from Afghanistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bolivia, Burkina Faso, the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of China, Malaysia, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Syria, Yemen and Zimbabwe. They have faced everything from death threats to lawsuits to social media harassment while taking on their leadership positions and attempting to make positive change.
Zarifa Ghafari, a 26-year-old award winner and the mayor of a conservative Afghanistan town, thanked the United States for being the global leader of women's empowerment while accepting her award.
"It was not so long ago that most women were considered property, and sadly, in some parts of the world, it is still the same," Ghafari said. "Throughout the modern area, there has been one global leader in the fight for women's rights, and that's the United States of America. To the American people, to the American government, let me say: Thank you. Thank you for all you have done to improve conditions for women all around the world."
"When I started my job, the men at the municipal office refused to acknowledge me and my authority. A mob came and chased me away. They thought that was the end of that. But I came back. I came back and stood my ground," she said.
"Women of my generation have not forgotten the reign of the Taliban and we are as always worried for the future," she added. "Whatever we women of the world have achieved, we must not take it for granted. It can be taken back from if we are not diligent and strong."
Read more about the awardees and their accomplishments here.