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The International Women's Day Awards have spoken: These Austin women are creating positive change in the world

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4th Annual International Women's Day Award winners (Left to Right): Animal Welfare: Abigail Smith, Chief Animal Services Officer, City of Austin Humanitarian: Diana Claitor, Cofounder and Director of Texas Jail Project Environment: Brandi Clark Burton, Founder of Austin EcoNetwork Courtesy of Ten Thousand Villages
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International Women's Day handmade box and bracelet. Courtesy of Ten Thousand Villages
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Ten Thousand Villages store on South Congress. Courtesy of Ten Thousand Villages
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Austin Photo Set: News_Shelley_international womens day_April 2012_jewelry
Austin Photo Set: News_Shelley_international womens day_April 2012_ten thousand villages

It’s a tough world out there. But three Austin women have dedicated their lives to making it a better place, and were recently recognized for their amazing work.

In collaboration with Ten Thousand Villages, Austin’s only 100% fair trade retail store that sells artisan products from around the world, three Texas women were honored at the fourth annual International Women’s Day Awards. The awards recognize outstanding women changemakers in three categories: Humanitarian, Environment and Animal Welfare.

The 2012 winners were Diana Claitor (Humanitarian), Cofounder and Director of the Texas Jail Project; Brandi Clark Burton (Environment), Founder of Austin EcoNetwork; and Abigail Smith (Animal Welfare), Chief Animal Services Officer at the City of Austin.

“Humanitarianism, respecting the environment and animals are all integral to our mission as a nonprofit fair trade organization,” says Kitty Bird, Ten Thousand Villages Store Manager. “Women in particular benefit from fair trade because it gives them opportunities to handcraft goods and earn sustainable living wages to support their families. So International Women’s Day is the perfect time to recognize and honor local women who are making significant social impacts in our community and around the world.”

Claitor, Burton and Smith were selected as winners by a panel of judges: Meg Goodman Erskine, Cofounder and Executive Director of Multicultural Refugee Coalition; Carol Thomas, Director of Development at Caritas of Austin; and Monica Williams, Editor of GivingCity Austin and Communications Manager at Austin Community Foundation. Bird says that the judges had a tough job selecting the finalists and winners, because there were so many nominations of ordinary women doing extraordinary things.

 “Women in particular benefit from fair trade because it gives them opportunities to handcraft goods and earn sustainable living wages to support their families."

Ultimately, the judges agreed that more people need to know about Diana Claitor’s humanitarian accomplishments and what’s happening to pregnant women in Texas prisons. Claitor was the force behind getting Texas legislature to pass HB 3653, which restricts the practice of shackling incarcerated pregnant women during labor and delivery. She continues fighting for a complete ban on such barbaric practices, which still happens in prisons in Texas as well as other states.

Abigail Smith stood out in the Animal Welfare category because in just one year with the largest municipal animal shelter, she has led Austin to become the first major urban city in Texas to officially reach No-Kill status. Smith reorganized and led 90 staff members into a new way of thinking about how they treat more than 20,000 animals that enter Austin Animal Center each year, and achieved what no other major Texas city has done: a 91-percent live animal outcome rate for 2011.

Judges chose Brandi Clark Burton as the Environment winner because she is Austin’s most influential force in building and empowering the sustainability community. Through Austin EcoNetwork, Earth Day festivals, and events such as It’s My Park! Day and the Green Festival, Burton has been leading and raising awareness of socially and environmentally responsible practices for residents and businesses since 1996.

“The nominees were amazing,” says awards judge Monica Williams. “We cover phenomenal people all the time in GivingCity Austin, but I had never even heard of some of these women. I hate to use such a trite term, but these are truly unsung heroes. Diana Claitor just blew me away with her work to change the policy that incarcerated women must wear shackles while they give birth. Her work to bring light to this tortuous practice and get the state to change its policy is the definition of heroic.”

Bird has seen the awards ceremony grow in its four years, from a simple idea to a major event that bestows well-deserved gratitude to the honorees for their roles as changemakers in Austin. 

“The link between this special day of the year and what Ten Thousand Villages does each day is powerful yet simple,” Bird says. “Fair trade empowers women. Through fair trade work, women are respected in their community and within their families and most of all can help provide an education for their children. To honor the women who do so much good through animal advocacy, environmentalism and humanitarianism closes the link between Villages global impact and our impact here in Austin.”

Williams would love to see the International Women’s Day Awards grow even bigger in future years. “I know it seems like there are a million honoree events in Austin, but this event is different. It's not just about people who give, it's about people honored for their work in humanitarian and peace issues, rather than social needs.”

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To read about the three winners, as well as all the finalists, you can visit the Ten Thousand Villages blog.

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