- The Washington Times - Friday, March 5, 2021

It was nearly a year ago that Maryam Noorzad, a midwife at a hospital in Afghanistan, took a stand when extremists went on a rampage at the maternity ward where she worked in Kabul.

Ms. Noorzad, who refused to leave her patient as gunmen sprayed bullets through the ward, was among more than a dozen women killed, along with her own patient and the patient’s newborn baby in the May 2020 attack.

Now, she is being honored by the United States along with six other Afghan women who were assassinated in separate incidents while serving their communities in the war-torn nation last year.

Recognition for the tragically murdered Afghan women will be given Monday, when Secretary of State Antony Blinken hosts the annual International Women of Courage (IWOC) awards virtual ceremony, honoring a group of extraordinary women from around the world. The event coincides with International Women’s Day on March 8.

“Now in its 15th year, the Secretary of State’s IWOC Award recognizes women from around the globe who have demonstrated exceptional courage and leadership in advocating for peace, justice, human rights, gender equality, and women’s empowerment — often at great personal risk and sacrifice,” the State Department said in a press release. “From the inception of this award in March 2007 to today, the Department of State has recognized more than 155 awardees from over 75 countries.”

Those being honored Monday include women from Afghanistan, Belarus, Burma, Cameroon, China, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Guatemala, Iran, Nepal, Somalia, Spain, Sri Lanka, Turkey and Venezuela.

Among them is Belarusian opposition figure Maria Kalesnikava, a jailed leader of the pro-democracy uprising that has nearly toppled the three-decade rule of Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko over the past year. Also cited are Wang Yu, whom the State Department described as one of China’s “most prominent human rights lawyers until her arrest and imprisonment,” and Shohreh Bayat, an Iranian chess champion persecuted by the government in Tehran because she was photographed at an international chess competition without wearing her hijab.

A full list of the 2021 recipients with bios for each can be found on the State Department’s website.

With regard to the seven assassinated Afghan women to be honored, the case of Noorzad is one among the many involving the gruesome targeting of women in Afghanistan over the past year — assassinations occurring amid a surge of extremist violence that has coincided Washington’s difficult attempt to negotiate with Taliban militants and withdraw American forces after roughly two decades of involvement in the war-torn nation.

Noorzad was serving for Médecins Sans Frontières — Doctors Without Borders — when three gunmen attacked the maternity ward where she worked. A Doctors Without Borders press release last year said 15 mothers were killed in the attack, five of whom were in labor and were minutes, or at most hours, from giving birth. Two children aged 7 and 8 were also killed.

The BBC reported at the time that the attackers walked straight past a number of other wards, all closer to the entrance of Kabul’s Dasht-e-Barchi hospital, and made straight for the maternity unit. No group claimed responsibility for the massacre, although the BBC cited U.S. Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad as blaming Islamic State terrorists for the attack, saying the jihadists are seeking to undermine ongoing peace talks and fan a sectarian war in Afghanistan.

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