If you're giving out an award to human rights defenders, it is probably a good idea to find a presenter who upholds the qualities that you are rewarding.
It looks like the Thomson Reuters Foundation missed that memo.
In an effort to recognize the efforts and work that notable female activists and journalists have been doing for the rights of women around the world, the Trust Women Awards is held on a yearly basis, compiling its list of winners from nominations made by global citizens. More than 150 nominations were gathered this year from over 140 countries, and the 2013 awardees were announced at a London Trust Women Conference. With the truly global aspect of the nominations, it must be recognized that the world is moving in a direction in which women's rights is a formidable cause being fought for by accomplished change-makers.
This year's winners include Alaa Murabit, the Founder and President of The Voice of Libyan Women (VLW), a grassroots movement dedicated to increasing women's social and political participation while eliminating gender-based violence in Libya, and Neha Dixit, an Indian journalist who covers gender issues, development, and conflict in South Asia. Her work has exposed and brought awareness to honor killings by law enforcement, child trafficking, and female feticide. The winners are awarded a small financial prize to encourage them to keep fighting their fight. But ironically enough, the woman presenting the award presents a direct contradiction to the work they do.
The hostess of this year's awards, HM Queen Noor of Jordan, is touted by many in Western nations as an international human rights activist and an outspoken voice on world peace and justice. Yet even with her work and efforts, she was a poor choice to host the awards. As the monarch of Jordan, a nation with a tarnished record of limiting rights to free expression, assembly, and association, it must be internationally recognized that Queen Noor does not even fulfill the rights she purports to be fighting for within her own country. So why, then, should she be presenting awards for the rights of women who would potentially be punished for doing similar work in her own country?
This underscores a very clear contradiction: one in which we award those that fit within "accepted" Western standards as forward thinking, regardless of what they stand for or fight for. We often times have this pesky tendency of judging the wives of repressive leaders by their designer covers. Many of these women, like Suzanne Mubarak or Asma Al-Assad, have been celebrated by the West for being articulate and stylish, while paying lip service to things like justice and human rights. In reality, what these women represent is not women's rights: it is actually a tremendous amount of privilege. While these women might have access to fancy clothes and a great education, stark inequality is a reality for many countries in the Middle East and North Africa.
By allowing Queen Noor present these awards to these fearless women, the Thomson Reuters Foundation is only paying lip service to women's empowerment. The international community must begin holding all our heroes of women's rights to the same set of global standards, and until we do, it is only a disservice to those very women we say we're fighting for.