'True heroes': Melania Trump honors 13 women of courage

The State Department's International Women of Courage Award honors women around the world for their work advocating for peace, justice, human rights, gender equality, and women’s empowerment, often in the face of personal risk.

Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP
First lady Melania Trump (l.) talks with Natalia Ponce de Leon from Colombia, after presenting her and others with the 2017 Secretary's of State's International Women of Courage (IWOC) Award to during a ceremony at the State Department in Washington, Wednesday, March 29, 2017.

In a rare public appearance outside of the White House, first lady Melania Trump on Wednesday presented 13 women from around the world with the International Women of Courage Award, honoring their demonstrated courage and leadership in the face of adversity. 

The award, given annually by the State Department since 2007, acknowledges the recipients’ work advocating for peace, justice, human rights, gender equality, and women’s empowerment, often at their own personal risk. More than 100 women from more than 60 countries have been recognized with courage awards in the past 11 years, according to the State Department. 

"These honorees, who have fought on the front lines against injustice, are true heroes,” Mrs. Trump said at the ceremony, according to Associated Press.

This year’s honorees include Malebogo Molefhe of Botswana, who became an advocate for female victims of gender-based violence after being attacked and shot eight times by an ex-boyfriend in 2009.

Natalia Ponce de León of Colombia is another victim turned advocate. After a stalker doused her face and body with sulfuric acid in March 2014, she started a foundation to defend and protect the human rights of victims like her.

"Ask yourself if you would have the fortitude of spirit, the courage of your convictions and the enormous inner strength required to stand up and fight against such overwhelming odds," Trump said. “Amazingly, each of our honorees has courageously answered 'Yes' to those questions."

The bravery demonstrated by these women is a reminder that “there is always hope whenever the human spirit is brought to bear in the service of others,” she added. 

Other countries represented include Bangladesh, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq, Niger, Papua New Guinea, Peru, Sri Lanka, Syria, Turkey, Vietnam, and Yemen. 

The 13 honorees, selected from a list of nominees recommended by US embassies around the globe each year, will participate in a State Department-sponsored exchange program in several US cities in the upcoming month. 

After hosting a White House luncheon on International Women’s Day on March 8, the first lady’s appearance on Wednesday marks her second event this month that highlights women’s rights and empowerment – issues she listed as her priorities in her role as the first lady.

“Mrs. Trump cares deeply about issues impacting women and children, and she has focused her platform as First Lady on the problem of cyber bullying among our youth,” said the White House website.

Although Trump still currently lives with the couple’s 11-year-old son Barron in New York City, she has been unusually busy in Washington this week. She and President Trump hosted a White House reception Tuesday night for all 100 US senators and their spouses. She is also expected to have a third appearance this week on Thursday in Washington, though details have not been disclosed. 

Trump on Monday also announced that deputy White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham will transition to become her communications director. 

“Mrs. Trump is working hard on her initiatives while balancing being a mother, a wife and serving the country as the First Lady,” Grisham said in a statement to Politico. “The team continues to grow and we look forward to the work ahead.”

This report includes material from the Associated Press. 

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