US first lady Michelle Obama joined Secretary of State John Kerry as he praised the determination and courage of "a woman known simply as Nirbhaya - brave heart, fearless" at the State Department presentation ceremony Friday on International Women's Day.
"Her bravery inspired millions of women and men to come together with a simple message: No more. No more looking the other way when gender-based violence happens. No more stigma against victims or survivors," said Kerry.
"Nirbhaya's fight survives her," he said announcing the award "for inspiring people to work together to end violence against women in India and around the world by displaying immense courage in demanding justice."
The audience stood up and observed a moment of silence after he read out the citation.
Kerry also read part of a statement from Nirbhaya's mother and father saying, "We never imagined that the girl we thought was our daughter would one day be the daughter of the entire world. She was meant to be the daughter of the world. This is a huge achievement in itself."
"Today, our message to the world is: do not tolerate any attack on your dignity and honor; do not silently bear ill treatment," they wrote.
"Earlier, women would keep silent and hide away when they were subjected to sexual misconduct," Nirbhaya's parents said.
Now "Women, both in India and in the rest of the world, refuse to be stigmatized and will not keep silent anymore," they said. "This incident has opened their minds and empowered them. They are no longer scared of what anyone will say."
Besides Nirbhaya, eight other women were give the annual award recognizing women around the globe who have shown exceptional courage and leadership in advocating for women's rights and empowerment, often at great personal risk.
They are Malalai Bahaduri, first sergeant, Afghan National Interdiction Unit (Afghanistan); Julieta Castellanos, rector, National Autonomous University of Honduras (Honduras); Josephine Obiajulu Odumakin, president, Campaign for Democracy (Nigeria); Elena Milashina, journalist, human rights activist (Russia); Fartuun Adan, executive director, Elman Peace and Human Rights Centre (Somalia); Tsering Woeser (Wei Se), Tibetan author, poet, blogger (China); Razan Zeitunah, human rights lawyer and founder, Local Coordination Committees (Syria) and Ta Phong Tan, blogger (Vietnam).
(Arun Kumar can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)