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

The White House
Office of the First Lady
For Immediate Release

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

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.