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Melania Trump Calls for 'Gender Empowerment and Respect' at Ceremony Honoring Women

Melania Trump

Speaking at the 2017 Secretary of State's International Women of Courage Awards, the first lady called for unity in fighting injustice in all forms. 

Less than 24 hours after Donald Trump's press secretary, Sean Spicer, castigated a female reporter for daring to shake her head while he spoke, Melania Trump made a rare appearance in her role as first lady and called for all of us to "continue to work towards gender empowerment and respect for people from all backgrounds and ethnicities" in a speech Wednesday at the 2017 Secretary of State's International Women of Courage Awards.

Together with the international community, the United States must send a clear message that we are watching," Trump said at the event. "It is, therefore, our duty to continue to shine the light on each miraculous victory achieved by women."

This year, the Courage Awards, which have honored more than 100 women in more than 60 countries since 2007, paid tribute to 13 women from countries including Syria and Yemen (two of the countries included in of the six in Donald Trump's Muslim travel ban), Bangladesh, Botswana, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq, Niger, Papua New Guinea, Peru, Sri Lanka, Turkey, and Vietnam.

During her appearance held at the State Department, Trump personally handed out awards to women including Natalia Ponce de Leon of Colombia, a woman who, after being soaked in acid by a stalker in 2014, began a foundation to help protect the rights of acid attack victims, according to ABC News.

Another of the recipients of the Courage Award was Malebogo Molefhe of Botswana, whose experience of having been shot eight times by an ex-boyfriend in 2009 inspired her to become an advocate for women who are victims of gender-based violence.

Trump also delivered a nearly 10-minute speech during which she avoided discussing her husband's policies that harm women, including the executive order he signed just two days after the record-breaking Women's March protests that bans U.S. aid to overseas nongovernmental organizations that provide or advise on abortions.

Rather, Trump called for unity in combating policies and activities that harm women and children. "We must continue once again to shine a light on the horrendous atrocities taking place around the corner and around the globe," she said, according to CNN. "We must continue to fight injustice in all its forms, in whatever scale or shape it takes in our lives. Together, we must declare that the era of allowing brutality against women and children is over."

Just last week, before Donald Trump's health care bill was pulled, 30 Republican white men who make the Freedom Caucus sat around a table with Mike Pence (notorious for legislating against women's freedom to control their own bodies), discussing the reproductive rights of American women. Solutions for women under that pulled health care bill included allowing states to revoke Medicaid coverage from new mothers who haven't found a job within two months after giving birth, dismantling insurance coverage for abortion, and defunding Planned Parenthood.

In her speech, the first lady also commended the honorees for their courage in overcoming seemingly insurmountable circumstances.

"Their lives remind us of the boundless capacity of the human spirit when guided by moral clarity and desire to do good," Trump said of the women being honored. "Ask yourself if you would have the fortitude of spirit, the courage of your convictions, and the enormous inner strength required to stand up and fight against such odds."

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