Rina Gonoi, a former member of Japan's armed forces, attended a White House ceremony on Monday as one of the recipients of an award honoring women who have taken courageous actions to fight for a better world.

Hosting the annual ceremony with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, First Lady Jill Biden praised the women on stage, saying, "You've spoken out for yourselves and for others in the face of fear and risk, and those who have tried to steal your voices away."

Rina Gonoi (2nd from R) receives an award from U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken (R) at a ceremony in Washington on March 4, 2024, with First Lady Jill Biden standing next to her. (Kyodo)

"Together, we will keep chipping away at the quiet that haunts our world, and while there may be those who wish for us to fall silent, we will never fall because the steepness of the struggle will not stop our ascent," she said.

With 11 other women from countries such as Bangladesh, Belarus, Iran and Myanmar, Gonoi received the Secretary of State's International Women of Courage Award for leading a public campaign against sexual harassment.

Gonoi, 24, who was sexually assaulted while serving in Japan's Ground Self-Defense Force, attended the ceremony wearing a judo outfit. She did not make comments at the event.

She is the first Japanese woman in nine years to be selected as a recipient of the award, which started in 2007. In 2015, Japanese activist Sayaka Osakabe was commended for her fight against "maternity harassment," or unfair treatment of pregnant working women.

Gonoi came forward in 2022 as a victim of long-term sexual harassment and abuse by colleagues in her unit. Her actions drew attention and led to Japan's Defense Ministry receiving more than 1,400 reports of sexual and other forms of harassment within the Self-Defense Forces.

In December, a Japanese court found three former male colleagues of Gonoi guilty of sexual indecency.

At the ceremony, Blinken said, "The United States stands with every woman of courage working to build greater stability, greater equality and greater opportunity."

"Supporting women and girls is not only the right thing to do, it's the smart and necessary thing to do, and we know this in so many different ways," he said. "Simply put, when women do better, we all do better."

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