Washington, DC\u00a0(STL.News) Secretary of State\u00a0Antony J. Blinken\u00a0released the following statement: Every year on March 8th, the United States joins the world in recognizing International Women\u2019s Day by celebrating the leadership, strength, and courage of women and girls.\u00a0 The United States recognizes the reality that the equitable participation of women in social, political, and economic life is critical to the peace and prosperity of our collective community. The COVID-19 pandemic presented an unexpected challenge to the safety and prosperity of women and girls in the last year.\u00a0 From an increased risk of domestic abuse during stay-at-home orders to increased economic and employment insecurity, women and girls have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.\u00a0 Despite this disparity, women have led on the frontlines of this pandemic including as unpaid caregivers, healthcare workers, teachers, and other essential personnel, and continued to advocate for the dignity and rights of all people, building lasting change that will benefit their communities for years to come. I have the great pleasure of celebrating International Women\u2019s Day this year by hosting the 15th annual International Woman of Courage (IWOC) Award ceremony.\u00a0 The recipients of this year\u2019s award demonstrate that courageous women inspire a better world. These women have demonstrated exceptional courage and leadership while advocating for peace, justice, human rights, gender equality, and women\u2019s empowerment \u2013 often at great personal risk and sacrifice.\u00a0 We know that when women are empowered, they are agents of positive change.\u00a0 I am so proud to commemorate the great work of each of this year\u2019s IWOC awardees and especially honored that the First Lady will be joining us for the occasion. The United States is dedicated to ensuring that gender equality and women\u2019s empowerment are central tenets of our foreign policy and national security.\u00a0 Today, like every day, we stand firmly in our commitment to women\u2019s empowerment and gender equality at home and around the globe.\u00a0 The United States is prepared to support and advance the health, economic, political, and human rights of every woman and girl, because when women are empowered, we are all better for it.