Strasbourg honours brave women

STRAS EP BLDG1Twenty three years is a long time to wait.  But in a special ceremony in Strasbourg today, Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi finally collected the Sakharov Prize she was originally awarded in 1990.

The Sakharov Prize for free speech is awarded by the European Parliament annually in memory of Soviet physicist and dissident Andrei Sakharov.  Previous winners have included Nelson Mandela and Alexander Dubcek.

Suu Kyi was awarded the prize for her fight for democracy and the rule of law in Burma.

Her political party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), won the 1990 general elections, but the ruling military junta placed her under house arrest for nearly two decades, making her one of the world’s most prominent political prisoners.

Eventually released in 2010, her party went on to win 43 out of the 45 seats available in parliamentary by-elections last year.

“If we stop freedom of thought, we stop progress in the world,” she said on accepting the honor.

And next month, the European Parliament will be presenting the 2013 award to another incredibly brave woman.

It’s hard to believe that Malala Yousafzai, who was shot in the head by the Taliban after campaigning for better rights for girls, is still only 16.

She came to world attention after writing an anonymous blog for the BBC Urdu service about her life under Taliban rule and the lack of education for girls.

Angered by this opposition to their hard line doctrines on women, she was shot by one of the Taliban militants as she was riding in a bus with school friends.   Following her welcome recovery in Britain she has become, arguably, the most famous teenager in the world.

The bravery of these two women – indeed the stories of any of the winners over the years – is staggering.  For those of us who have the comfort of stable democracies, of rights and benefits in a modern state, it’s a huge leap of the imagination to try and put ourselves in their shoes.

And it’s only to be hoped that, not only do they serve to us here in Britain as a reminder of the challenges that face so much of the world, but that they also provide a beacon of hope for their countrywomen that progress, however slow, can be made.



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