Sharmin Akter, a Bangladeshi young activist against early and forced marriage, has received 2017 International Women of Courage (IWOC) Award from US First Lady Melania Trump and the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Thomas A Shannon, Agencies report.
At only 15 years of age, Sharmin Akter courageously resisted her mother’s attempts to marry her off and secured the precious right to continue her education, setting a bright example for teenage girls across South Asia facing similar pressures.
Bangladesh has one of the world’s highest rates of child marriage, a trend that threatens the health, safety, and education of millions of girls and undermines the country’s progress.
The award-giving ceremony was held at the US Department of State at 11am (Washington time) on Wednesday, said the US Embassy in Dhaka on Thursday.
Sharmin demonstrated an exceptional courage and self-possession by refusing to be coerced into marrying a man who is decades older than her.
She dared to break the silence expected of women and girls, and advocated for her rights, eventually bringing her mother and prospective husband to justice.
Celebrated for her bravery, Sharmin today is a student at Rajapur Pilot Girls High School where she dreams of becoming a lawyer to campaign against the harmful tradition of early and forced marriage.
International Women of Courage has honored more than 100 courageous women from over 60 countries around the world.
This year’s ceremony is meant to showcase and support a group of women who put their personal safety and sometimes lives at risk in order to help improve their communities.
The award, now in its 11th year, honors those who have demonstrated exceptional courage, strength, and leadership in acting to advance the lives of others across the globe.
“Each of the award recipients has overcome incredible odds in her pursuit to change the world and make it better,” said Melania Trump.
As women, she said, they must continue to stand together with the steadfast goal of making world safer through acts of collaborative and individual bravery. “As we all know, wherever women are diminished, the entire world is diminished with them.”
The First Lady continued, “We need to continue working toward gender empowerment and respect for people from all backgrounds and ethnicities, always remembering that together we are one race – the human race – and each one of us has unique gifts and talents to share with the world.”
Other 2017 awardees are Malebogo Malefhe, Gender-Based Violence Survivor and Advocate, Botswana, Natalia Ponce de León, Human Rights Defender and Acid Attack Survivor, Colombia, Rebecca Kabugho, Political Rights Activist, Democratic Republic of Congo, Jannat Al Ghezi, Anti-Trafficking and Human Rights Activist, Iraq, Major Aïchatou Issaka Ousmane, Peacebuilding Activist, Niger, Veronica Simogun, Activist Against Gender-Based Violence, Papua New Guinea, Cindy Arlette Contreras Bautista, Domestic Violence Survivor and Advocate, Peru, Sandya Eknelygoda, Peace and Reconciliation Activist, Sri Lanka, Sister Carolin Tahhan Fachakh, Interfaith Activist, Syria, Saadet Özkan, Anti-Child Abuse Activist, Turkey, Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, Blogger and Environmental Activist, Vietnam, Fadia Najib Thabet, Children’s Rights Advocate, Yemen.