Ten of the world’s leading women activists are being honored for their efforts to improve the lives of women despite obstacles and threats to their safety.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and U.S. first lady Michelle Obama presented the 2012 International Women of Courage Awards during a ceremony in Washington Thursday.

Secretary Clinton said all the honorees have been working tirelessly to improve the lives of women and girls, despite sometimes having to endure imprisonment and abuse.

Mrs. Obama praised the women for refusing to accept the world as it is, and instead fighting to remake the world “as they know it should be.”

The award winners include Hana Elhebshi, a political activist from Libya and Jineth Bedoya Lima, an investigative journalist from Colombia who has continued to write about women’s issues despite having been raped and tortured for uncovering an arms smuggling network.

Other countries around the world are also marking International Women’s Day by celebrating progress but United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says those gains are not enough.

In a statement Thursday, the U.N. chief warned the world still has “a long way to go” before women and girls universally enjoy the same fundamental rights and freedoms as men. The secretary-general said the disparity is especially troubling for women and girls in rural areas, who make up about one-quarter of the world’s population.

The U.N. says the almost half-billion women who work as small farmers or landless workers continually rank at the bottom of almost all economic, social and political indicators. U.N. officials say that if women had equal access to resources, global agricultural production would rise by 4 percent.

They also say ensuring women in rural areas have equal access to resources would help make major inroads in the fight against hunger.

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay also urged governments to do more. She said the failure to capitalize on the potential of women is a global problem.

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