First Lady Melania honored the 10 recipients of the International Women of Courage Awards in a ceremony at the State Department in Washington, D.C., on Friday

By Tierney McAfee
March 23, 2018 03:46 PM
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First Lady Melania honored the 10 recipients of the International Women of Courage Awards in a ceremony at the State Department in Washington, D.C., on Friday.

The first lady delivered special remarks at the event, saying, “The women of courage that we honor here today are heroes … Courage is the quality most needed in this world but often the hardest to find … it takes courage not only to see wrong but strive to right it … courage is what sets apart the heroes from the rest.”

“In telling their stories we can teach young women and girls all over the world what it means to have courage and to be a hero,” she continued.

The first lady was introduced by Heather Ann Nauert, the under secretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs, who said that “from day one, the Trump administration has been committed to empowering women.”

Melania Trump (left) at the International Women of Courage Awards

The first lady remained on stage to pass out the awards to the 10 honorees, which included Aiman Omarova of Kazakhstan, a lawyer who specializes in sexual abuse crimes committed against women and children, Feride Rushiti of Kosovo, the founder and executive director of the Kosovo Center for the Rehabilitation of Torture Victims, and Roya Sadat of Afghanistan, a filmmaker who fights for the rights of women and children in her country.

The first lady’s relatively rare public comments come as her husband, President Donald Trump, is embroiled in allegations that he had affairs with two women, porn star Stormy Daniels and former Playboy Playmate Karen McDougal, while married to Melania in 2006. The White House has denied both affairs.

One day earlier, CNN aired a headline-making sit-down with McDougal, in which she apologized to the first lady for the alleged 10-month sexual relationship.

“What can you say except, I’m sorry? I’m sorry. I wouldn’t want it done to me, I’m sorry,” McDougal, 46, said as she fought back tears. “I know it’s the wrong thing to do.”

McDougal has filed suit against American Media, Inc., owner of The National Enquirer, to get out of an agreement blocking her from speaking about her alleged affair with the now-president. Daniels has also sued Trump to end her 2016 nondisclosure agreement on her own alleged relationship with the former businessman.

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The first lady’s appearance also comes two days after PEOPLE published a wide-ranging report saying Mrs. Trump “hates the 24-7 tornado” her life has become since her husband won the White House.

“What’s happening is exactly what she didn’t want to happen,” a source close to the first lady told PEOPLE. “They’ve literally become like the Kardashians: scandals, divorces, headlines.”

On Twitter Friday, many critics pointed out the irony of the first lady’s role in the Women of Courage Awards, given her husband’s troubling history with women — which in addition to the alleged affairs also includes accusations of sexual misconduct from 19 women. Trump has denied the allegations.

“I am so weary of this hypocritical drivel from you,” seethed one Twitter user.

“Melania is not the person to present an award 4 women of courage,” said another. “She represents a sorry, weak person who accepts abuse 4 money, a man who cheats time and time again. She has the resources to leave a stays, this is not a positive message for young girls/women!”

A third critic nominated “two women who demonstrated strength and courage” who failed to make the list: Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal.