Posted by on March 08, 2012 in Blog

By Danielle Malaty

In celebration of women in all parts of the world who have displayed strength, courage, and perseverance in their struggles for women’s rights, the State Department on Thursday held the first of a series of events aimed at empowering women, hosted by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton alongside First Lady Michelle Obama. The event, entitled “the International Women of Courage Awards” was held at the State Department's Foggy Bottom headquarters. Ten women were honored from ten different countries where they struggled for women’s rights.

Among the women honored at this event were female Nobel Peace Prize laureate and Yemeni dissident Tawakkol Karman and Samar Badawi, the first Saudi Arabian woman to sue the Saudi government for the right to choose her own husband.

Karman is a Yemeni journalist, politician, senior member of the of Al-Islah political party, and co-founder of the group Women Journalists Without Chains. Word of her courageousness rose in Yemen when she was denied a license in 2007 to report for a mobile phone news service, after which she led protests for press freedom. She subsequently led weekly protests in May of 2007 publicly disseminating issues and the stressing the need for immediate reform. She became the first Arab woman, and the youngest person ever, to become a Nobel Peace Laureate - the category's second Muslim woman. To the Yemeni people, she is considered to be the “Mother of the Arab Spring.”

Samar Mohammad Badawi is a Saudi Arabian human rights activist. Throughout her childhood and into her early adulthood, her father physically abused her. When she reached her mid-teens, she filed a court case against her father for not allowing her to marry in response to his suit accusing her of disobedience under the Saudi Arabian male guardianship system. Badawi was imprisoned under a warrant relating to a disobedience charge after local and international support campaigns intervened.  Badawi’s guardianship was transferred to an uncle. The Human Rights First Society, a Saudi NGO, described Badawi's imprisonment as an "outrageous illegal detention.”

Badawi also played a strong role in the 2011–2012 women driving campaign by driving in spite of the law, and helping women drivers with their encounters with police and court procedures. Badawi and Manal al-Sharif, another young Saudi female, filed charges against the Saudi Arabian General Directorate of Traffic for rejecting their applications for drivers' licenses.

Currently, women throughout the Middle East continue to fight for justice in the face of extremely patriarchal societies. Hana Shalabi, a young Palestinian woman, was arrested from her home in the early morning on February 16, when 50 Israeli soldiers invaded her house in Burqin village, near Jenin. The soldiers were joined by an intelligence officer and a troupe of military dogs. Upon their arrival, the intelligence officer informed the family that it would just be a “five minute visit.” The Israeli Forces then ordered Hana and some of her family members to leave the house, while holding her father and older brother in a room by themselves.

After the soldiers searched the house, an officer announced that they had an order to arrest Hana, lacking any justification or warrant for arrest. Hana, held in custody and subjected to inhumane treatment and torture, began an open hunger strike on the first day of her arrest in protest of the ill-treatment she was subjected to during and following her arrest. She was kept in solitary confinement for the first three days of her detention, in a section of the prison far from where the other Palestinian women are held.  As of February 27, Hana is not ingesting any kind of food or minerals, and is only drinking water. After an initial medical examination, she is now refusing further exams. On this special day of tribute, we should all keep in mind the strength, fortitude, and determination of this brave young woman who continues to strive for justice. 

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