U.S. State Department

Washington, D.C.

When we hear the stories of the women we honor today, it’s easy to think of them as mythical heroes or angels among us. Perhaps, touched by the gods or chosen for greatness.    

What else could explain such herculean acts of fortitude and fearlessness?   

Yes, our awardees today are heroes, but they are also human. They want what we all want—comfort, happiness, good meals with friends and family, memories that make them smile long after they’re made.   

Some of these women have spent their lives fighting for their cause. Others are just starting out on a journey that they didn’t ask for. Some were called to service, and some couldn’t escape it. They are fighting for their own lives and for their children. They want to right the wrongs of the past—to build a brighter future for everyone.    

They aren’t immune to fear—no one is.    

But in the course of their ordinary lives, each woman made an extraordinary choice.   

You see, courage isn’t really found. It doesn’t conjure away our doubts. It’s an intentional decision made.    

It’s the prickle of each possible disaster running the length of your back, but standing to face the unknown anyway.    

It’s knowing your feet may falter, and choosing to walk forward.   

It’s hearing the chorus of voices that say you are not enough, you will not succeed, and following a single note of hope through the din.  

These women made an extraordinary choice—to persist, to demand justice, to believe that, despite the obstacles and fear they faced, there is a future worth fighting for.     

And we have a choice to make too. 

If we have learned anything in this year of sickness and sorrow, it’s that we are all connected to one another. How one deadly breath can move through the world. Poverty and conflict, unrest and uncertainty—these aren’t contained by borders.     

But we’ve seen how joy can spread too, with the music of balcony concerts bringing comfort to people across the world. We’ve seen calls for justice echoing through the streets of cities near and far.  

We’ve seen how the things that connect us—our love for family and friends, our hope that we will be together soon—transcend language and distance. 

Diplomacy, at its best, is a recognition of this connection: That freedom for women in Afghanistan strengthens communities everywhere. That education in Burma creates opportunity far away. That fair elections in Belarus will bolster our own democracy too. That justice can only be justice if it’s for all.      

Your fight is our fight. And your courage calls us to come together, again and again, and again.    

My husband understands that we can’t do it alone. The United States will stand with you. We will make the choice to lead, to be bold, and to lift up the women and girls everywhere who light our way.       

For fifteen years, we have honored women around the world who have made the extraordinary choice to fight for something bigger than themselves. 

Today, we recommit to being worthy of that courage, to understanding that our lives are tied together in immeasurable and powerful ways and to choosing, every day, to honor that connection.  

We will stand with you as we build a brighter future for us all.    

Thank you.       

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