"It is the way we mark International Women's Day: to gather leaders and activists, and particularly our honorees, here in Washington, and to recognize their remarkable achievements," Clinton told the crowd of ambassadors, dignitaries, and students. "We want a great crescendo of voices, an international chorus that says clearly and unequivocally that women and girls deserve the same rights and opportunities as their fathers and brothers and sons."
This year's winners are not all well-known internationally, but their exceptional work in their home countries have made a difference in the lives of women world wide. "They are working tirelessly for justice," the Secretary of State explained. "They are working for accountability. They are working for freedom."
These women "are all making a difference in the face of adversity, often under the threat of violence, that is sometimes hard for those of us here in Washington or across our great country even to imagine," Clinton said. "And while we honor them today, we know that tomorrow their work will and must continue so that every woman and girl will have the opportunity to live up to her own God-given potential."
First Lady Michelle Obama spoke at the ceremony, congratulating the award recipients and underscoring the personal risks they take in doing the work that is so important to them.
"These women … are all here today because somewhere along the line, they decided they could no longer accept the world as it is, and they committed themselves to fighting for the world as they know it should be," she said. "They saw corruption, and they worked to expose it. They saw oppression, and they worked to end it. They saw violence, poverty, discrimination, and inequality -- and they decided to use their voices, and risk their lives, to do something about it."
"And day after day, these women have stood up and said the things that no one else could say, or would say," the first lady added. "Year after year, they endured hardships that few of us could bear."
The award was established by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in 2007 to mark International Women's Day and to recognize women who have advocated for women's rights and advancement. So, who are these courageous women, and why haven't we heard of them yet? Click through the slideshow for a look at this year's winners of the International Women of Courage Awards.
Copyright © 2012 Yahoo Inc.