Sunitha Krishnan, an anti-human trafficking pioneer and co-founder of the NGO Prajwala, was on Wednesday honoured with the Human Rights award of the prestigious Vital Voices Global Leadership Award.
Among other awardees at the event were Burmese pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi, Liron Peleg-Hadomi and Noha Khatieb of Israel; Kah Walla from Cameroon and Fatema Akbari of Afghanistan.
"Tonight we honor an entrepreneur from Afghanistan who provides job training for women; two peace activists from Israel – one Arab, one Jewish; a rescuer of trafficked women and girls in India; a presidential candidate from Cameroon; a longtime member of the United States Senate; and the leader of the democracy movement in Burma," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said at a glittering function held at the prestigious Kennedy Center.
Krishnan, who hails from Hyderabad and herself a victim of sexual abuse, has put the issue of commercial sexual exploitation before a wider audience, said Vital Voices, a Washington-based non-governmental organization which empowers emerging leaders and social entrepreneurs around the globe.
Clinton said that each of the awardees hail from different cultures and parts of the world, but they share important values and attributes.
"They each look for ways to make systemic change – to lift the lives of thousands, even millions of people. They each have paid a price for their work in arrests or abuse or ridicule, insults, and isolation. Their courage has inspired others to stand with them despite the risks and the consequences – to believe in the possibility of a better future and their own ability to help build it," she said.
"And of course, they are all women. Because at a time when millions of women worldwide are still denied their rights, still excluded from the public debates in their societies, still subjected to violence inside and outside of the family, still barred from schools, courts, markets and public squares, it is even more remarkable that honorees have accomplished all that they have," Clinton said.
She said that it is even more critical that their work continue, because they are protecting and improving the lives of women and girls.
"And we must support them. We must proclaim to the world, clearly and as one, that these women are heroes, their work is valuable, and their voices are vital," she said.
"It is humbling to share a stage each year with these incredible women," said Vital Voices President and CEO Alyse Nelson.
"They are social entrepreneurs, political representatives, businesswomen, human rights defenders and civil society advocates. From remote villages and wired cities, they are innovators who transcend barriers to move whole communities forward. We are honored to celebrate them with the world," she said.