Page last updated at 12:33 GMT, Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Obama awards - and kisses - Zimbabwe women activists

President Barack Obama and Ethyl Kennedy (second right) watch as Robert F Kennedy Human Right Award recipients Jenni Williams (left) and Magodonga Mahlangu receive their award
Barack Obama said the women had led by example

US President Barack Obama has given a global human rights award to the leaders of a Zimbabwean women's rights group, Women of Zimbabwe Arise (Woza).

Mr Obama presented Magodonga Mahlangu and Jenni Williams with this year's Robert F Kennedy Human Rights Award.

At the White House ceremony, he praised Woza's non-violent resistance against oppression and the government of Robert Mugabe whom he called "a dictator".

"He even gave us a kiss. He said: 'You deserve a kiss,'" Ms Williams said.

"It was just the most incredible moment in my life," she told the BBC's Network Africa programme.

Woza protest, Zimbabwe, 2006
They often don't get far before being confronted by President Mugabe's riot police
US President Barack Obama

"In Zimbabwe we are enemies of the state, we've been arrested over 30 times, one magistrate called us 'incorrigible unrepentant criminals', but there we were in the White House lifting the human rights award."

Woza has organised more than 100 demonstrations in favour of democracy and women's rights in Zimbabwe since it was formed in December 2002.

"They often don't get far before being confronted by President Mugabe's riot police," Mr Obama said.

"By her example, Magodonga has shown the women of Woza and the people of Zimbabwe that they can undermine their oppressors' power with their own power - that they can sap a dictator's strength with their own.

"Each time they see Magodonga beaten back - beaten black and blue during one protest - only to get right back up and lead another, singing freedom songs at the top of her lungs in full view of security forces, the threat of a policeman's baton loses some of its power," he said.

Ms Mahlangu told the BBC the struggle had been worth it "because the world is seeing and other fellow Zimbabweans see that they are not alone".

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