Clinton to attend the ‘Vital Voices’ event

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Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg and CBS’s Norah O’Donnell will all be on hand at this year’s Vital Voices Global Leadership Awards, honoring an awe-inspiring group of women from around the world who have led their communities and found solutions to overcome enormous obstacles.

The star-studded Tuesday night awards ceremony at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., will recognize honorees from places all over the map, from Syria to Tanzania.

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Suaad Allami is one of them. The 2014 award honoree and Iraq native is a lawyer who opened the first legal clinic for women in her country in 2007. Her group, Women for Progress, provides pro bono services and gives women information about their legal rights in cases of divorce, custody and gender-based violence. The clinic also offers free healthcare and medical assistance for the women who come through its doors.

“It’s a one-stop shopping service to provide all kinds of services, and comprehensive services, for these women,” Allami said in a phone interview with The Hill.

“I have this responsibility,” Allami explained when asked what inspires her to continue with the often-dangerous work. “I have to stand up to [the problems] and help these people. I have the will and desire to help them despite the security situation that we are facing on a daily basis.”

It’s the 13th annual awards ceremony for the Vital Voices Global Partnership. The nonprofit grew out of the 1997 Vital Voices Democracy Initiative, which was established by then-first lady Clinton and former secretary of State Madeleine Albright. It eventually led to the creation of the nongovernmental organization Vital Voices Global Partnership in 2000. The bipartisan group has worked with 14,000 women in 144 countries over the years.

Vital Voices’ mission, President and CEO Alyse Nelson said, isn’t just to “find, train, and mentor emerging women leaders around the globe who are on the front lines of change in their communities,” but also to “give them visibility and credibility for the work that they’re doing.”

Program teams that are traveling around the world nominate the honorees, selecting women “whose story needs to be told,” Nelson said. The awards ceremony is “purely focused on these unsung heroines” Nelson pointed out, saying, “They’re often the stories and the voices you don’t hear because they’re women.”

Over the years, the Leadership Awards ceremony has grown from a theater that seated 500 people to thousands of supporters pouring into the Kennedy Center’s iconic Concert Hall, with an audience made up of an influential crowd that includes lawmakers, diplomats and members of the press. The Hill is a media sponsor of the annual event, which has been attended in the past by a slew of celebrities, including Ben Affleck, Angelina Jolie and Reese Witherspoon.

But the honorees and the issues they’re focusing on are the real stars of the evening. The awards, organizers say, have an impact not just on the women being recognized but also on the audience members in attendance.

In addition to Allami, this year’s award recipients include a social worker in India who created shelters for children of prostituted women, a former district attorney working to clamp down on crime in Guatemala, a Syrian human rights activist who was abducted earlier this year and an entrepreneur from Tanzania who redesigned the traditional model of microfinance in the East African nation.

“These women are very selfless,” Nelson said.

Being on the receiving end of the prestigious award, Nelson noted, can give the honorees a boost of confidence in the work that they’re doing.

“We’re not just honoring the women for what they’ve done in the past. We also know that we’re honoring them because the award will propel them in the future.”

Nelson recalled a conversation she once had: “I think one of the best ways to describe Vital Voices and what we do was once told to me by a woman in Russia who we work with, she said, ‘You know, Vital Voices is really taking care of the women who take care of the world.’ ”

Allami, who said she was once kidnapped and has seen “so many” friends and colleagues killed while trying to help women in Iraq, claimed nothing will stop her from doing her mission in her home country.

“I believe in the work that we are doing,” she said defiantly, “because if I’m not doing it, who can do it?”