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October 13 2009

A Nobel Opportunity

Nicole Kurokawa Neily

The country has had a long weekend to mull over the President's Nobel peace prize, and the nation's pundits have had four days to sharpen their sticks. Since almost everyone's first assumption was that the satirical newspaper The Onion pulled off the greatest news hijacking of all time, it's likely that their website enjoyed a significant bump in traffic as well.

In Friday's speech, President Obama stated that "this award must be shared with everyone who strives for justice and dignity -- for the young woman who marches silently in the streets on behalf of her right to be heard even in the face of beatings and bullets; for the leader imprisoned in her own home because she refuses to abandon her commitment to democracy; for the soldier who sacrificed through tour after tour of duty on behalf of someone half a world away; and for all those men and women across the world who sacrifice their safety and their freedom and sometime their lives for the cause of peace."

It's been pretty universally acknowledged on both sides of the aisle that there has not yet been a seminal achievement that served as the catalyst for the award - perhaps the best is yet to come. But accordingly, he should use this platform to promote the causes of the other nominees - ones who truly have spent their lives working tirelessly for justice and dignity. Their efforts, and their causes, are in danger of being lost in the sound and fury over President's win, and should not be forgotten.

That is why I hope that the President (or at the very least, the First Lady) highlight their accomplishments - in his words, to "give momentum to a set of causes."

One nominee who deserves recognition is Sima Samar, an Afghani human rights activist who operated schools and clinics for women and girls in Afghanistan, persevering throughout the darkest days of the Taliban rule. The Taliban prohibited girls over the age of 8 from attending school - the age of the President's youngest daughter, Sasha. According to the United Nations, the estimated literacy rate for women in Afghanistan is still only 15.8%. On the health front, one woman dies every 29 minutes in child birth, while the average life expectancy for women in Afghanistan is only 44 years.

Another standout nominee is Greg Mortensen, founder and fundraiser for the Central Asia Institute. Through the Institute, he has built 84 schools in the mountains of Pakistan and Afghanistan, educating mainly girls. As the author of the bestselling book Three Cups of Tea, he has raised the profile of the region, humanizing a battle that had lost significance for many.

And certainly, Dr. Denis Mukwege, a health care provider to rape victims in the Democratic Republic of Congo, merits special recognition. To date, he has treated more than 21,000 women, treating both physical and psychological wounds of unspeakable magnitude. Mukuwege has spoken out against rape as a tool of war and subjugation, shining light on the growing severity of the problem. As a father, husband, and son, the President should send a clear message that rape is unacceptable and perpetrators of this vicious crime will receive no quarter.

As the President said,

We can't accept a world in which more people are denied opportunity and dignity that all people yearn for -- the ability to get an education and make a decent living; the security that you won't have to live in fear of disease or violence without hope for the future.

Love it or hate it, the President has been given a unique opportunity to advance a real message of advocacy with this award. For the benefit of women and children around the world, he should take advantage of the moment to support causes of true global importance.

Independent Women’s Forum’s mission is to improve the lives of Americans by increasing the number of women who value free markets and personal liberty. Sister organization of Independent Women’s Voice.
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