This week, Sophie, Countess of Wessex, made her second international trip since the death of Queen Elizabeth II in September. On Monday, she traveled to Washington, DC to meet with Hillary Clinton and Ukraine’s first lady Olena Zelenska. Sophie and Zelenska are two of five recipients of this year’s Hillary Clinton Award for their efforts to end sexual violence during conflict. At the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace, and Security, the women spoke on a panel, where they discussed their work to raise the issue of gender-based violence.
During the ceremony, Sophie discussed why the issue has become a part of her charitable work. “Too long have survivors of rape in war had no voice,” she said. “Too long have they had to bear the burden of others’ inactions on these crimes. And too long have the perpetrators not been held to account. Attitudes must be challenged and changed.”
The Women, Peace, and Security agenda is a two-decade old movement arguing for the centrality of women’s role in achieving peace. Sophie first began with the UK’s team on WPS 2019, when she wrote an op-ed for the Telegraph supporting the work of Nobel Prize Winner Denis Mukegwe and the Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative cofounded by Angelina Jolie. In October, Sophie visited Mukegwe’s clinic in the Democratic Republic of Congo as a part of a trip highlighting the UK government’s contributions to prevent sexual violence.
During her time as secretary of state, Clinton made highlighting the importance of women’s rights a major part of her agenda. In 2014, she began presenting the award at Georgetown. At Monday’s ceremony, she mentioned the progress that has already been made. “Amid such abject humanity we see women leading the way forward,” Clinton said. “And we’ve seen women like the ones we are honoring today, keeping women in conflict zones safe and holding perpetrators of gender violence accountable.”
Zelenska, the wife of Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, has also become an internationally known figure for her work to rally the world around Ukraine since war broke out in Feburary. On Monday, she was recognized alongside Kateryna Levchenko, Natalia Karbowska, and Oleksandra Matviichuk, three more Ukrainian women who have raised the issue of women’s rights amid the ongoing conflict in the country. In October, Matviichuk was part of a group of activists who won the Nobel Peace Prize for their role in documenting human rights abuses in the region for nearly a decade.
Monday’s ceremony was not the first meeting for Sophie and Zelenska. Last week, both women attended a Buckingham Palace reception held as a part of the UN’s 16 Days for Activism on Gender-Based Violence, where Queen Consort Camilla delivered a speech on raising awareness for domestic abuse.
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