International Women’s Day: U.S. First Lady honours Darlan and Mohammed with IWOC Award

International Women’s Day: U.S. First Lady honours Darlan and Mohammed with IWOC Award
Caption: Copy of a photo of First Lady Dr. Jill Biden | Photo Credit: Cheriss May. Source: The White House

By Pearl Matibe

United States First Lady, Dr. Jill Biden and Secretary of State, Antony Blinken have awarded Professor Danièle Darlan from Central Africa Republic and Meaza Mohammed from Ethiopia with the International Women Of Courage (IWOC) Award on International Women’s Day (March 8, 2023)

According to details published by the State Department’s Office of the Spokesperson, the two women from Africa, are among the 11 awardees who are being recognized with the award which is in its 17th year.

The International Women of Courage Award is often hosted at the State Department, but this year it is being hosted at the White House for the First time in its history.

“The annual IWOC Award recognizes women from around the globe who have demonstrated exceptional courage, strength, and leadership in advocating for peace, justice, human rights, gender equity and equality, often at great personal risk and sacrifice. Since 2007, the Department of State has recognized more than 180 women from over 80 countries,” said the statement.

Here is an excerpt which explains why the Biden-Harris Administration selected them:

Excerpt from the State Department:

Professor Danièle Darlan – Central African Republic, the former President of the Central African Republic’s Constitutional Court, has earned the title of an International Woman of Courage for her defense of her nation’s constitution, her heroism in safeguarding judicial independence, and her refusal to be influenced by threats or political pressure. 

Her final act as President of the Court before her removal by the government, in which she found that methods proposed to redraft the constitution were not legally sound, exemplified her unwavering commitment to the rule of law.

This courageous stand capped a lengthy and distinguished career as a lawyer, educator, judge, and advocate for institution building and women’s rights in one of the world’s poorest countries.  Professor Darlan’s championship of equity and transparency in the Central African Republic’s legal system has endured through coups d’état and years of civil conflict.

As the Central African Republic’s most prominent female government official and the first woman to head the Constitutional Court, her tenacity has earned her the nickname “Woman of Iron” and a top spot on Jeune Afrique’s list of “The Thirty Building Tomorrow’s Africa.”

Meaza Mohammed – Ethiopia, is a veteran Ethiopian journalist, is the founder of Roha TV, an independent YouTube-based news and information channel.  Such channels have become increasingly popular in Ethiopia, where broadcast media are almost entirely state-controlled, as a way to disseminate news and analysis that diverges from the official government line. 

Her reporting has included coverage of the survivors of gender-based violence, including sexual violence in the current conflict—women she has then worked directly with to find treatment and other resources. 

On her platform, Mohammed has shared interviews with dozens of women who were been raped or otherwise sexually assaulted by armed militants during the northern conflict.   She has been a strong voice advocating for investigation of and accountability for human rights violations during the conflict, impressing foreign observers with her clear drive, determination, and perseverance to speak the truth and to share the stories she saw with the world.  She produced a documentary about 17 students abducted from university and continues to work on freeing them three years later through the NGO she helped found on their behalf.

Mohammed’s vocal activism has not been without personal risk.  She has been arrested repeatedly and charged with multiple counts, including allegedly spreading false rumors and disclosing the army’s battlefield location to the enemy.  Despite her arrests, Mohammed remains committed to advocating for victims of gender-based violence and ensuring accountability for the crimes committed against them.

The other 2023 awardees are from Türkiye, Argentina, Costa Rica, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Mongolia, Poland, Ukraine, and a Honorary Group Award – the Women and Girl Protestors of Iran.

Dr. Biden had just recently been on an official visit to Namibia and Kenya. “First Lady Jill Biden traveled to Namibia and Kenya to strengthen the United States’ partnerships on the African continent and advance our shared priorities in the region. Dr. Biden’s engagements focused on the empowerment of women and youth, efforts to address food insecurity, and promote our shared democratic values,” the Press Secretary in the Office of the First Lady told White House Correspondent, Pearl Matibe.

Her trip explained that this trip was a follow up on President Biden’s, “commitment at the December 2022 U.S.-Africa Leaders’ Summit to send White House leadership and his Cabinet to the African continent in 2023.

The visits were focused on reinforcing our bilateral partnership with each country, advancing the First Lady’s work to empower women and young people around the world, and lifting up the Biden Administration’s efforts to strengthen democracy and food security,” particularly to inspired youth in particular to be the “keepers of their democracy.”

Pearl Matibe is a Washington, DC-based foreign correspondent, and media commentator with expertise on U.S. foreign policy and international security. You may follow her on Twitter: @PearlMatibe