the WHITE HOUSEPresident Barack Obama

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The White House
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release

Remarks by the First Lady at the International Women of Courage Awards

State Department
Washington D.C.

2:57 P.M. EST

MRS. OBAMA:  Thank you.  (Applause.)  Thank you all.  Thank you.  (Applause.)  Well, let me begin by thanking Under Secretary Sherman for that very kind and gracious introduction, but also for your leadership on behalf of our country. 

I also want to thank Secretary Kerry for hosting us here today.  Needless to say, we are all thrilled to have you as our new Secretary of State, for no other reason than I love your wife.  You do know that.  (Applause.)  I love our Secretary, but Teresa Heinz Kerry is another woman of courage who has been just a dear friend and supporter to me for a very long time, and it is just a thrill to have you both in this role.  Congratulations, and thank you.  (Applause.) 

I also want to recognize Secretary Sebelius, who can also do the dougie -- (laughter) -- I’ve seen it -- and all of the administration officials, members of Congress and members of the diplomatic community who have joined us today.

And of course, I want to thank all of you for joining us this afternoon as we celebrate International Women’s Day.  This is the fifth time I’ve had the privilege to take part in this event, and every year, I look forward to it because it shows us what our most basic values look like when they’re put to the test.

When these women witnessed horrific crimes or the disregard for basic human rights they spoke up, risking everything they had to see that justice was done.  When they saw their communities or their countries were ignoring issues like sexual violence or women’s rights, they gave those issues a face and a voice.  And with every act of strength and defiance, with every blog post, with every community meeting, these women have inspired millions to stand with them, and find their own voices, and work together to achieve real and lasting change. 

And that is truly the power of the International Women of Courage Award -- that this is not simply an honor bestowed upon a few, but a call for all of us to open our eyes to the injustices around us, and to ask ourselves just what kind of courage we’ve got inside our own hearts. 

And that is the lesson we can learn from the journalist who speaks out against torture and racism; from the poet who takes to Twitter to make a stand against oppression; from the mother whose son was murdered, but channeled her grief into a nationwide movement for change.  That is the spirit that we celebrate today.  And that is the potential that lies within every woman and every girl -- the potential to stand up, to demand action, and to build a better world for our next generation.

And that is why we have once again invited young women from our White House Leadership and Mentoring Initiative to join us here today.  I’m going to ask them to stand, because I do like to embarrass you, yes.  (Applause.)  They are high school students from right here in the D.C. area.  And to my mentees, I just -- the one message to you is to truly listen and to let these women be your guide.  Because in them, you can see that no matter who you are -- and we always say this -- or where you come from, if you’re willing to dig deep enough, and fight hard enough, and believe strongly enough in yourself, then you can truly change the world.  That’s why we want you to be here every year.  And the potential -- absolutely.  (Applause.) 

And the potential that I see in not just all of you, but all of our young women all across this world, that reminds me that the rest of us must work to lift up the women and girls in our own communities -- because we know that when women and girls rise, their communities and their countries rise with them. 

That is as true in Nigeria and Vietnam as it is in Honduras and Syria and right here in the United States.  We saw that just yesterday, when my husband signed the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act.  (Applause.) 

So I want to thank everyone who worked so hard to ensure that victims of domestic abuse will always know that they have somewhere to turn and someone on their side.  And in the months ahead and the years ahead, we must all do our part to build upon efforts like that one and learn from the example of the women we honor today.  Because if we tackle the injustices and challenges in our own lives with even a fraction of their strength and dedication, then I know that we can meet any challenge that comes our way. 

If we encourage the young people around us to fight every single day for what they know is right, if we break down any barrier that stands in the way of a young woman getting her education or believing she can achieve her dreams, then I am confident that we will finally unlock the promise of our next generation.  And then, no matter what part of the world we call home, we will all be better off.  We will all be stronger and freer.  And we will all be more prepared not only to solve the problems we face today, but to overcome any obstacle we can imagine in the years and decades ahead. 

So thank you.  Thank you all for your tremendous contributions to our world.  We are so honored and privileged and grateful.  God bless you all.  (Applause.)

And now it is my honor to turn this program over to Secretary Kerry.  (Applause.)

END               
3:02 P.M. EST