Seven women were honored last week in Washington for their efforts to expand democracy and women’s rights in their countries. The seven from China, Guatemala, India and Sudan received awards from Vital Voices, a nonprofit group.
|Doctor Gao Yaojie|
Among them was Chinese AIDS activist Gao Yaojie, an eighty-year-old retired doctor. During the late nineteen nineties, Doctor Gao discovered a public health crisis in Henan province. Thousands of local farmers were being infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. They were selling their blood at collection centers that were using dirty needles and recycled blood.
Doctor Gao was almost not able to travel to the United States to receive the Vital Voices award. Local officials in Henan placed her under house arrest. But they let her travel after her situation received international attention.
Vital Voices also honored three other Chinese women. Guo Jianmei has led efforts to provide Chinese women with legal aid. Wang Xingjuan has created a telephone hotline for women seeking advice about their rights and ways to improve their economic situations. And Xie Lihua started Rural Women Knowing All magazine. She is also secretary general of the Cultural Development Center for Rural Women.
Vital Voices also recognized Margaret Alva from India. She has been a government minister and parliament member. She helped start a so-called "silent revolution" in an effort to guarantee that women’s voices are heard in Indian politics.
Award winner Maria Pacheco is from Guatemala. She has worked to help local women start small businesses and connect with world markets.
|Awut Deng Acuil, left, and Margaret Alva|
The seventh women is Awut Deng Acuil, a leader in conflict resolution in southern Sudan. She tells us that working for peace requires self-sacrifice. Becoming a victim does not give you hope, she says; what does is turning that experience into change for good.
Among those attending the ceremony was Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, a Vital Voices board member.
Until now, Vital Voices has only honored women. But this year it gave an award to Muhammad Yunus of Bangladesh. He won the Nobel Peace Prize last year for starting the Grameen Bank, a leader in micro-lending, giving small loans as a way to fight poverty. The bank directs most of its services to women.
And that's the VOA Special English Development Report, written by Jill Moss. I'm Steve Ember.