WASHINGTON, DC – MARCH 29: U.S. first lady Melania Trump presents the 2017 Secretary of State’s International Women of Courage Award to Sharmin Akter of Bangladesh March 29, 2017 in Washington, DC. The award honors women who have demonstrated exceptional courage, strength, and leadership in acting to improve the lives of others. Win McNamee/Getty Images/AFP
WIN MCNAMEE / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / AFP
First Lady Melania Trump made the case for women’s “empowerment” at a ceremony Wednesday honoring a dozen activists who have overcome great odds to advance human rights around the world.
In a rare public speech, Melania Trump called for an embrace of diversity, appearing as a “special guest” at the International Women of Courage event at the US State Department.
“We must begin now to challenge old fears, and fight for justice and stand up against evil and injustice wherever it may be,” she said as she paid tribute to the 13 women honorees, all but one of whom were present.
“As leaders of our shared global community, we must continue to work towards gender empowerment and respect for people from all backgrounds and ethnicities, remembering always that we are all ultimately members of one race, the human race.”
The first lady’s vocal support of diversity appeared somewhat at odds with the stance of President Donald Trump’s administration, whose “America first” worldview has often cast outsiders as a threat.
Three of the honorees Wednesday were from countries targeted by Trump’s thwarted travel ban on refugees and travelers from Muslim-majority nations: Iraq, Syria and Yemen.
Praising the strength and courage of the laureates who have fought against gender bias and discrimination, Melania Trump said it is women like them who will “ignite a global battle against inhumanity.”
“Together, with the international community, the United States must send a clear message that we are watching,” she said.