'Women of Courage' and What Inspires Them

State Dept. honorees reveal their motivations

L to R: Ghulam Sughra, Jianmei Guo, and Maria Bashir in Washington on March 9, 2011. (Asia Society Washington Center)

WASHINGTON DC, March 9, 2011 - "If we want to change lives, it has to start from an individual," according to Pakistan's Ghulam Sughra, who, along with with China's Jianmei Guo and Maria Bashir of Afghanistan, was one of the ten recipients of US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton's 2011 International Women of Courage Awards.

The three women spoke at Asia Society Washington following an awards ceremony at the Department of State with Secretary Hilary Clinton, first lady Michelle Obama, Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard, and the other seven awardees.

Sughra was honored for having founded the Marvi Rural Development Organization (MRDO), an NGO that helps to raise awareness of education, health, human rights, and social development issues. Guo, a lawyer, is a high-profile advocate for women's rights and Director of the Beijing Zhongze Women’s Legal Counseling and Service Center. Bashir, the chief prosecutor in Herat Province, is the first female prosecutor in Afghanistan. 

During a panel discussion, the trio expressed their gratitude for the IWC award, which acknowledges their individual efforts in pursuing women's rights and demonstrating both leadership and tenacity in the face of hardship.

When asked why they thought they'd been selected to receive Secretary Clinton's honor, all three awardees pointed out the challenges inherent in their work in their respective countries, including the lack of societal support, which necessitates resourcefulness. Sughra stated that she pursued her cause in a society with scant facilities for education. Similarly, Bashir also said that she pursued her work despite the problems and dangers that she had faced. Guo explained that in China, lawyers like herself are the first public sector lawyers, and that this trailblazer status inevitably requires that they be innovative in carrying out their work.

When asked about where they find inspiration and courage, the women stated that the challenges they regularly face are themselves sources of inspiration.

Bashir, who secretly taught girls during the Taliban regime and was appointed Prosecutor General for Herat in 2006, said she saw widespread discrimination against women during her childhood. Speaking through a translator, she said this was a problem she wanted to combat. "In the country where I live, discrimination does exist, and this is the source of my inspiration and determination."

Note: This event was officially off-the-record.

Reported by Adrian Stover, Asia Society Washington Center