After receiving their 2017 International Women of Courage in Washington, D.C. from First Lady Melania Trump last week, Jannat Al Ghezi and Sister Carolin “Carol” Tahhan Fachakh were whisked away to the Twin Cities to share their work. Seven from St. Kate’s community were on hand to welcome them at the recent event hosted by Global Minnesota and GHR Foundation in downtown Minneapolis.
“We’re here because we appreciate all they’re doing to advocate for women and children, and their work aligns with our mission to address critical needs in society,” said Penelope Moyers, dean of the Henrietta Schmoll School of Health. The annual award, established by former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, is given to women around the world who have shown resilience and leadership while urging for peace, justice, human rights, gender equality and women's empowerment — often at personal risk.
Al Ghezi, who hails from Mosul, Iraq, and Sister Carol, from Aleppo, Syria, were among the 13 honored this year. Sister Carol runs a nursery school for more than 200 Muslim and Christian children traumatized by war in the Syrian capital of Damascus, as well as a tailoring workshop for displaced women. “Many have no rights and they live in poverty,” she explained, through an interpreter. “We train the women for a full year to have skill and to be financially independent. Each woman receives a sewing machine that allows her to work at home… every sewing project gives joy to her and her family.”
Women fleeing from danger and death are also a focus of Al Ghezi’s. She coordinates a network of shelters that offer training and legal services for battered women through the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq (OWFI). The nonprofit has helped more than 500 victims of rape or domestic abuse since its founding in 2003.
“Unfortunately, the political situation is not healthy,” said Al Ghezi, through an Arabic interpreter. “We live in a sectarian state and violence mostly comes on the account of women.” Al Ghezi, a mother with a second child on the way, fights for the fallen and hurt, she adds because she herself was abused at an early age. In fact, it was OWFI that she fled to when threats from her husband and tribal family became to much to bear. “Women are the best ones to represent the marginalized,” she said, of her path advocacy “and they are the ones to defend these rights.”
Dean Moyers, and the contingent of six St. Kate’s faculty and staff, made a beeline for the award recipients following their presentations. Last year, St. Kate’s received an $18 million grant the Minnetonka-based GHR Foundation to innovate the University’s health care programs and global initiatives on women and children.
“These women are profound and their voices align with ours,” said Leso Munala, assistant professor of public health, whose research centers on sexual violence against women in Sub-Saharan Africa. “We need to be connected.”
And St. Kate’s will be. Munala and Mary Hearst, associate professor and director of public health, plan to follow up.
“We’re deeply committed to addressing inequality,” Hearst said, “and these women of courage can help us find solutions — together — and prepare our students to do the same.”
Learn more about the 13 International Women of Courage.