Yusra Mardini, 18, who fled Syria with her sister in 2015, received the Girl Award at the ceremony on Tuesday night honoring champions for women’s and girls’ rights worldwide.
Mardini, who had to swim for her life when her overloaded boat broke down in the Mediterranean on the way to Europe, captured headlines when she competed for the 10-strong refugee team at the Games in Brazil.
This week Mardini, who now lives in Germany, told world leaders at the United Nations summit on migrants and refugees that she wanted to change perceptions of those displaced from their homes.
“This experience (the Olympics) has also given me a voice,” she said. “I want to change perceptions of refugees. It is not a choice to flee your home, and refugees can achieve anything.”
Rebeca Gyumi, a lawyer who fights against child marriage in Tanzania as head of the Msichana Initiative, was also honored at the awards, curated by the U.N. children’s agency, UNICEF. She won the award for achieving social change for girls.
The social enterprise DoctHERS, which brings healthcare to vulnerable girls and women in Pakistan, won an award for its campaigning work. It matches trained junior female doctors in Pakistan with rural women and girls via telemedicine.
Aimed at rallying support for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) agreed last year to tackle poverty and inequality by 2030, the Global Goals Awards were judged by a panel comprising the 17 SDG advocates who advise U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.