Michelle Obama photo

Remarks by the First Lady at the State Department Women of Courage Awards

March 11, 2009

MRS. OBAMA: Thank you. First of all, good afternoon to everyone, and let me thank Secretary Clinton -- I love saying that -- (laughter) -- for that kind introduction.

I have said this before, but the woman who is running this department, this big huge effort, has always been such a committed person, friend, supporter, to me. We are honored and thrilled to have her serving in this role. She set the bar high in her last post. (Laughter.) And I'm confident that she's going to keep setting the bar high in this post. And I just want to give her a round of applause. (Applause.) Thank you, Secretary Clinton.

I am honored to be on this stage. So thank you for the invitation to participate in International Women's Day here at the State Department.

As Secretary Clinton mentioned earlier today at the White House, President Obama announced the formation of the White House Council on Women and Girls. Again, the goal of this Council is to ensure that young girls have no limits on their dreams and no obstacles to their achievements.

Secretary Clinton has also made this issue of particular importance right here at the State Department by creating a new position and nominating Melanne Verveer as Ambassador-at-large for global women's issues, and I again want to give her a round of applause. (Applause.) We are grateful for her participation. We thank her for her service in advance. She is going to do a phenomenal job.

The President and I share the belief that communities are only as strong as the health of their women. Everyday, we see what happens to families, communities and countries when women don't have access to health and medical care; when they don't have the resources to properly care for their children; when they are oppressed and struggling with emotional, physical, sexual and psychological abuse; when they have no access to education or fair treatment in the justice system.

The difference between a struggling family and a healthy one is often the presence of a strong woman or women at the center of that family.

The difference between a broken community and a thriving one is the presence of women who are valued; where relationships among women and between women and men are based on mutual respect.

The women we honor today teach us three very important lessons. One, that as women, we must stand up for ourselves. (Applause.) The second, as women, we must stand up for each other. (Applause.) And finally, as women, we must stand up for justice for all. (Applause.)

The women we honor here, standing on this stage today, risk their lives to fight for themselves and for their mothers, daughters, sisters, grandmothers, and friends. And in doing so, they create a better society not just for them, but for their fathers, sons, brothers, grandfathers, and husbands.

The women we honor today are not just changing their own circumstances; they're changing the world.

When 12-year-old girls fight for their freedom –- and win –- they change the future for millions of girls just like them.

When advocates are beaten and jailed and still raise their voice, they inspire and nourish hope.

When one woman with a phone in her apartment starts a movement that motivates thousands, her cause can no longer be ignored.

When brave women challenge thousands of years of tradition and history and become leaders in their religious communities, they change minds.

And, when women fight to be educated and then reach out to bring their sisters along, they change the future for generations to come.

This is how real change occurs –- one determined woman at a time. And change is coming. Women have made great strides with regard to equality at all levels of society from families, communities to businesses and government. But the stories of the women we honor today remind us that we still have work to do.

And I am so very proud to be here today to celebrate these brave women who have fought for themselves and, in the process, made the way so much easier for other women and girls.

Again, I thank you for the honor to be here. I am so proud to be a woman today and every single day. (Laughter.) Thank you so much. (Applause.)

Michelle Obama, Remarks by the First Lady at the State Department Women of Courage Awards Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/320195

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