Tajik Human Rights Activist Named a Woman of Courage

Michelle Obama Embraces Oinikhol Bobonazarova. State Department photo, part of public domain.

Michelle Obama Embraces Oinikhol Bobonazarova. State Department photo, part of public domain.

Oinikhol Bobonazarova, a prominent Tajik human rights activist, has won the International Women of Courage Award. She was named a “Woman of Courage” and felicitated by United States First Lady Michelle Obama in Washington, DC, on March 4.

In the video above, Michelle Obama congratulates Bobonazarova [from 0:18], while a Deputy Secretary of State lists her achievements:

Since the Tajik civil war ended in 1997, Oinikhol Bobonazarova has worked tirelessly to draw attention to women’s rights, torture in detention centers, and the plight of Tajik migrant laborers. In September 2013, Ms. Bobonazarova became the first ever female candidate for President of Tajikistan when the only Islamic political party in Central Asia nominated her as its standard bearer. Despite an unsuccessful bid, her nomination shattered one of the highest of glass ceilings and set an important precedent for women in politics. In the time since, she has continued to speak out against torture and has been instrumental in working to establish the first independent prison monitoring program since prisons were closed to outside access in 2004. For fearlessly advocating the rights of women and labor migrants and fighting to end torture in Tajik detention centers, we name Oinikhol Bobonazarova a Woman of Courage. 

The immediate online reaction to Bobonazarova's award was one of celebration. 

She deserves the award! “Oinikhol Bobonazarova Receives a Department of State Report from Michelle Obama” http://t.co/RQTNMjoj3P

My sincere congratulations to Oinikhol Bobonazarova!

Known mostly for her human rights activism, Bobonazarova entered the political scene in September 2013 when a coalition of opposition parties nominated her as their candidate for president. The nomination was met with both praise and criticism among social media users in Tajikistan. Despite the support from the country's two main opposition parties, Bobonazarova failed to collect enough signatures to enter the presidential race officially. She put the blame on the government, announcing that the “whole state machine” had been mobilized to prevent her from running against the country's veteran president Emomali Rahmon.

The US Secretary of State's International Women of Courage Award was established in 2007. The award “honors women around the globe who have exemplified exceptional courage and leadership in advocating for human rights, women’s equality, and social progress, often at great personal risk”. Bobonazarova is the first Tajik woman to receive the award.

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