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  • Voices of Courage: Liberian “sex strike” peacemaker among former refugees to be honored as Meryl Streep and Malala join NYC celebrations for charity’s 25th anniversary

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    -         Women’s Refugee Commission to recognize Leymah Gbowee from Liberia, Chernor Bah from Sierra Leone and Mary Tal from Cameroon for outstanding leadership at “Voices of Courage” Awards Luncheon on May 1st

    -         Oscar-winning actress Meryl Streep and actress, director and WRC co-founder Liv Ullmann to appear, with Pakistani education activist Malala Yousafzai presenting via video

    -         Meryl Streep “delighted” to be able to honor “individuals who have become leaders of refugee women and girls in their own communities”

    April 16th, 2014 – A visionary Liberian campaigner whose peace activism helped end the 14-year Second Civil War and earned her the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize is one of three former refugees being honored by the Women's Refugee Commission (WRC) at the Voices of Courage Awards Luncheon on May 1st in New York City.

    Leymah Gbowee, whose story is told in the 2008 documentary film Pray the Devil Back to Hell and her memoir Mighty Be Our Powers: How Sisterhood, Prayer and Sex Changed a Nation at War, will receive the Voices of Courage accolade alongside girls champion and youth education advocate Chernor Bah, and lawyer and refugee rights activist Mary Tal.

     

    Three-time Oscar winning actress Meryl Streep and Oscar-nominated actress and director and WRC co-founder Liv Ullmann will take to the stage at the Thomson Reuters-sponsored event to share first person refugee accounts, with Dr. Sima Samar, head of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, and Pakistani education activist Malala Yousafzai (via video) presenting the awards.

    Speaking ahead of her appearance at the May 1st event, Meryl Streep said: “As an advocate for the empowerment of women and girls, I’m delighted to be part of an initiative like the Women’s Refugee Commission’s Voices of Courage Awards that honors individuals who have become leaders of refugee women and girls in their own communities.”

    This year marks the 25th anniversary of the WRC, a research and advocacy organization that works all over the world to improve the lives and protect the rights of women, children and youth displaced by war, persecution and natural disaster. 

    The WRC’s year-long Voices of Courage campaign will also see a series of short films and photo essays which tell refugee stories being released in partnership with Thomson Reuters, and a distinguished panel debate on women’s leadership in Times Square on May 20th.

    The VOC 2014 Honorees

    “Mighty be our powers”: a women-led peaceful protest and sex strike that changed history

    Leymah Gbowee was 17 years old when the Liberian civil war started. After working with ex-child soldiers as asocial worker and counselor, she helped to found the Women in Peacebuilding Network of the West Africa Network for Peacebuilding. Leymah was instrumental in the rise of the Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace movement, an unprecedented coalition of Christian and Muslim women. She led public protests, including a “sex strike,” which resulted in significant progress towards peace. When peace talks involving the then-President Charles Taylor stalled, Leymah and nearly 200 women formed a human barricade outside and threatened to disrobe when confronted by security officials – an act that traditional beliefs dictated would bring a curse upon the men. It worked. She won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011, and is the founder and president of the Gbowee Peace Foundation Africa.

    From the slums of Sierra Leone to the corridors of the United Nations

    Chernor Bah and his family were displaced by the civil war in Sierra Leone when he was seven years old, fleeing to camps within the country and in neighboring Guinea. In response to the atrocities he witnessed, Chernor became a renowned peace activist at the age of 15 – mobilizing his peers to set up theChildren’s Forum Network, the first national children’s organization in Sierra Leone, to advocate for children’s rights and participation in peacemaking and peace-building efforts. He was subsequently invited by theTruth and Reconciliation Commission to make a presentation on the impact of the war on children. Having worked for the UN Population Fund and Nike Foundation, Chernor now leads the youth engagement work of the UN Special Envoy for Global Education, Gordon Brown.

    Leading the fight for refugee rights in South Africa

    Mary Tal grew up in Cameroon. She became a lawyer and worked for the Human Rights Defense Group, but was harassed for her political and civil rights activism and forced to flee her homeland in 1998. After being granted asylum in South Africa, where she was unable to practice law, Mary found her true calling working on behalf of fellow refugees. She coordinated the refugee women’s outreach program at the Cape Town Refugee Forum and a survival stories project at the Human Rights Media Center. Mary is the founder and director of Whole World Women Association, which helps to empower refugee women and children across Africa through leadership and integration training, promoting HIV/AIDS awareness, providing legal assistance and protecting refugee rights.

    Presenting guests

    Malala Yousafzai was born in 1997 and grew up in the Swat Valley in northern Pakistan. From the age of 10, she has campaigned for the rights of girls to receive an education and spoken out about life under the Taliban. At age 15, she was shot at point blank range by a Taliban gunman while travelling home from school. Following the attack, Malala received treatment in the UK and made a remarkable recovery. Now living in the UK, she continues to campaign for the right of every child to go to school. She is the founder and ambassador of the Malala Fund, which promotes education for girls.

    Dr. Sima Samar is from Ghazni province, Afghanistan. As a woman and a Hazara, one of the most persecuted minorities in the country, she faced huge obstacles, but was determined not to let this hold her back. She was one of the first Hazara women to earn a medical degree from the University of Kabul. After fleeing to Pakistan with her son, where they lived as refugees for 17 years, she has devoted her life to improving health, education and equality for women and girls in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Dr. Samar was the first Minister for Women’s Affairs in the interim government of Afghanistan, and is currently the head of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission. She received a Voices of Courage Award in 2001.

     

    Abigail Disney is a filmmaker, philanthropist and activist based in New York City. She produced the acclaimed documentary Pray the Devil Back to Hell,  telling the inspirational story of the Liberian women whose peaceful activism helped end the country's second civil war. The film's leading figure, Leymah Gbowee, went on to gain international recognition. Ms. Disney produced the groundbreaking PBS mini-series Women, War & Peace in 2011 and is currently working on a film highlighting the role of women in the Arab Spring. She is the founder of the Daphne Foundation, Peace is Loud and is a co-founder of the Gbowee Peace Foundation USA.

     

    ENDS

    The 25th anniversary Voices of Courage Awards Luncheon will take place on May 1 at Cipriani 42nd Street in New York City. For more information or to buy tickets, please visit www.25yearsleadingchange.org.

    CONTACT at WRC: Melissa Gurumurthy, Communications, Women’s Refugee Commission, on 212-551-2943 / This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.