Melania Trump assisted the State Department in presenting 13 women with the International Women of Courage Award this afternoon. In a rare speech, the First Lady called for an end to violence against women and for the public to "empower and respect people from all backgrounds and ethnicities."
The honorees were awarded for their distinguished acts of courage, bravery and promoting human rights, often after putting their own lives in danger. One honoree, Natalia Ponce de Leon from Colombia, is a victim of an acid attack who now advocates for human rights for other victims like herself. Another is Malebogo Molefhe of Botswana, a survivor of gender-based violence (she was shot eight times) who now supports women facing the same struggle.
Trump praised these women and their fellow honorees as "true heroes," and urged the young people watching to be inspired by their actions.
Read the transcript of her remarks below:
"Ambassador Shannon, dignitaries, esteemed guests, ladies and gentlemen: I'm deeply humbled to be here today to honour these 12 remarkable and inspirational women, who have given so much for so many regardless of the unimaginable threat to their own personal safety. Each one of these heroic women has an extraordinary story of courage, which must inspire each of us to also achieve more than we have ever imagined possible. Their lives remind us of the boundless capacity of the human spirit when guided by moral clarity and desire to do good.
"These honorees on the stage with me have fought for their rights and for the rights of others. Each battle forces—such as governments, the courts, gender bias, terrorism, war and corruption—and were willing in each moment to face harsh penalties, including imprisonment and death. As they continue to persevere against unimaginable odds, these women are extraordinary examples of reaching within to find the courage that lies inside us all to change the world.
"While learning the stories of these 12 honorees, I would like to ask each of us to take this moment and try to imagine what it would be like to experience the trying obstacles, domestic abuse, gender-biased violence, or [governor impression, sic] that some of these women have faced. Let us try to envision ourselves in their place, struggling against gender bias and discriminatory laws, which serve to protect the perpetrators of unthinkable crimes while punishing their victims, who even dare to speak out. 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.
"Amazingly, each of our honorees has courageously answered "yes" to those questions, for it is their strength and the strength of others like them which will ignite a global battle against inhumanity. Together, with the international community, the United States must send a clear message that we are watching. It is therefore our duty to continue to shine the light on each miraculous achieved by women, all capable of trying, truly leading the change to fight for those that cannot fight for themselves.
"Theirs are the stories of human greatness that will continue to inspire, and therefore must be told far and wide. These honorees, who have fought on the front lines against injustice are true heroes. Their stories of individual bravery remind us that there is always hope whenever the human spirit is brought to bear in the service of others, and that healing and personal empowerment are often born from such deeds.
"I believe that bravery is the ability to leave one's life, refusing to be discouraged, and instead, choosing a life of purpose. Only when we do this are we able to suppress what we previously believe to be possible. Each of these 12 women represents a life of enormous courage—to save a child, to help a family, to make a neighbourhood or school safe or to boldly speak out against evil by refusing to back down no matter the personal cost.
"To the young people here today, I ask you to allow the triumphs exemplified by these heroic women to inspire you in your own lives, and to remind yourself that you, too, are capable of greatness. I urge you to not be afraid to fail, as failure will never have the power to define you as long as you learn from it. And realise that your first steps will always involve taking a leap of faith by believing in yourself while choosing to replace fear for hope. Let these brave women serve as daily inspiration, as it is now up to each of you to remain vigilant against injustice in all its many forms.
"As you go forward, remember their journeys as [we] push ahead and strive to bring about a better community, a better country and a better world in an ongoing fight for right over might. We must continue once again to shine the light on the horrendous atrocities taking place in neighbourhoods around the corner and around the globe, where innocent families are crying out to leave in safety. We must continue to fight injustice in all its forms, in whatever scale or shape it takes in our lives. Together, we must declare that the era of allowing the brutality against women and children is over, while affirming that the time for empowering around the world is now. For wherever women are diminished, the entire world is diminished with them. However, wherever women are empowered, towns and villages, schools and economies, are empowered, and together we are all made stronger with them. We must begin now to challenge old fears, fight long-held prejudices and stand up against evil and injustice wherever it may be.
"As leaders of our shared global community, we must continue to work towards gender empowerment and respect people from all backgrounds and ethnicities, remembering always that we are all ultimately members of one race: the human race. Each one of us is uniquely gifted. We must continually [revere] our American values as we join with the international community to make our world safer through acts of collaborative and individual bravery.
"Thank you, honorees, for your courage, and thank you, Ambassador Shannon, for your support. God bless you and God bless this great nation. Thank you."
Via Harper's Bazaar US