Sophie Wessex (centre) was joined on stage by Hilary Clinton (right) as Georgetown University president John J. De Gioia (left) presented her with the annual Hillary Rodham Clinton Awards

Sophie Wessex was forced to pause her speech and ask for a tissue when being honoured today by Hillary Clinton as an ‘extraordinary trailblazer’ for working to promote women’s rights.

The Countess, 57, asked the audience at the The Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security in Washington DC: ‘Would you just forgive me for a minute? I just need a tissue.’

She was then seen walking off stage, before returning to the podium to explain: ‘That’s a first for me… didn’t want me carry on sniffling throughout,’ she added.

The compassionate royal laughed off her unplanned interlude and carried on with poise, winning the hearts of the audience. 

The royal, who is married to Queen Elizabeth II’s youngest son, Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex and Forfar, was recognised for her work campaigning against sexual violence in conflict zones at the annual Hillary Rodham Clinton Awards ceremony.

Sophie Wessex (centre) was joined on stage by Hilary Clinton (right) as Georgetown University president John J. De Gioia (left) presented her with the annual Hillary Rodham Clinton Awards

Sophie Wessex (centre) was joined on stage by Hilary Clinton (right) as Georgetown University president John J. De Gioia (left) presented her with the annual Hillary Rodham Clinton Awards

The stylish royal opted for a trendy leather skirt and white blouse to meet Hilary, 75, who stunned in a fuchsia coat

The stylish royal opted for a trendy leather skirt and white blouse to meet Hilary, 75, who stunned in a fuchsia coat 

The Countess, 57, asked the audience at the The Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security in Washington DC: 'Would you just forgive me for a minute? I just need a tissue.'

She was then seen walking off stage, before returning to the podium to explain: 'That's a first for me... didn't want me carry on sniffling throughout,' she added.

The Countess, 57, asked the audience at the The Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security in Washington DC: ‘Would you just forgive me for a minute? I just need a tissue.’

The event was attended by the Countess, Ukraine’s First Lady Olena Zelenska and the UK and Ukrainian ambassadors to the US. 

Sophie looked stunning in an off-white blouse with large sleeves, pinned in at the wrists.  The stylish royal paired her ethereal with a trendy leather skirt, ending just above her ankles. 

She completed her sophisticated look with a large gold chain necklace, and statement hairdo. 

Meanwhile, Hilary, 75, commanded attention in a fuchsia pink coat and statement gold necklace.

The Countess has been recognised for her work campaigning against sexual violence in conflict zones

The Countess has been recognised for her work campaigning against sexual violence in conflict zones

Sophie, Countess of Wessex, speaks during the Hillary Rodham Clinton awards ceremony at Georgetown University in Washington

Sophie, Countess of Wessex, speaks during the Hillary Rodham Clinton awards ceremony at Georgetown University in Washington

The two women were joined on stage by Georgetown University president John J. DeGioia who presented the award to the Countess.

The awards are bestowed annually by the former US Secretary of State for ‘exceptional leadership in advancing women’s rights and creating a more peaceful and secure world for all’. 

The royal is in the US on her second trip to there this year, after she addressed the UN regarding violence against women in March. 

Sophie has been lauded by the awards as ‘a full-time working member of the Royal Family and a patron of over 70 charities and organisations.’ 

Opening the awards ceremony today, Mrs Clinton said that in Iran, Ukraine, Yemen and Tigray ‘women and girls are caught up in conflict and are victims of horrific sexual violence.’

From left, Ambassador Melanne Verveer, Executive Director, Georgetown Institute for Women, former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Britain's Sophie, Countess of Wessex, Kateryna Levchenko, Commissioner for Gender Equality, Government of Ukraine, Natalia Karbowska, Director on Strategic Development, Ukrainian Women's Fund, and Oleksandra Matviychuk, Human rights activist and Chair, Center for Civil Liberties

From left, Ambassador Melanne Verveer, Executive Director, Georgetown Institute for Women, former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Britain’s Sophie, Countess of Wessex, Kateryna Levchenko, Commissioner for Gender Equality, Government of Ukraine, Natalia Karbowska, Director on Strategic Development, Ukrainian Women’s Fund, and Oleksandra Matviychuk, Human rights activist and Chair, Center for Civil Liberties

The former US First Lady also highlighted the importance of understanding women’s experiences of war and contributions to bringing peace.

‘Women are not just victims of war, they are agents of peace,’ she said.

She said that those who engage in ‘systemic rape’ in warzones are ‘guilty of crimes against humanity’ and ‘must be held to account’. 

She added that the Countess has ‘devoted her time to supporting the UN’s Women, Peace and Security Agenda’. 

‘She has travelled to some of the most violent and difficult conflict zones to meet with survivors and spotlight their needs.’

Sophie was honoured for her ‘service’ and ‘powerful advocacy within the global community to support survivors and bring an end to sexual violence’ as well as for ‘providing hope to many who desperately want to have their lives back’.

The Countess of Wessex is being celebrated alongside four Ukrainian campaigners and leaders who have fought to uphold and advance women's rights, including the First Lady of Ukraine, Olena Zelenska (pictured addressing MPs in Parliament last week)

The Countess of Wessex is being celebrated alongside four Ukrainian campaigners and leaders who have fought to uphold and advance women’s rights, including the First Lady of Ukraine, Olena Zelenska (pictured addressing MPs in Parliament last week)

The Countess spoke as she was presented with the award, and condemned the use of sexual violence as a ‘weapon of total control and fear’ in her speech.

‘Like chemical weapons it must become something that is reviled by the international community, it must be something that is prohibited at the highest levels,’ she said.

‘Too long have survivors of rape in war had no voice, too long have they had to bare the burden of others inaction on these crimes and too long have the perpetrators not been held to account.’

The Countess of Wessex is being celebrated alongside four Ukrainian campaigners and leaders who have fought to uphold and advance women’s rights, including the First Lady of Ukraine, Ms Zelenska. 

The British and Ukrainian ambassadors to the US, Dame Karen Pierce and Oksana Markarova, were also present at the ceremony. 

Sophie also joined Ms Zelenska at a major global conference in London last week to call for an end to rape in warzones.

President Zelensky’s wife told the Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict summit that rape is being used ‘systematically and openly’ by occupiers in her country nine months after it was invaded by Vladimir Putin’s forces.

She said that survivors are often too scared to testify during wartime, adding that Ukraine has got hold of recordings of Russian troops openly discussing rape with relatives back home. 

‘This is another instrument that they’re using as their weaponry. This is another weapon in their arsenal in this war and conflict. That’s why they’re using this systematically and openly,’ she told the conference.

At the summit, the Countess of Wessex also described her experience visiting hospitals for rape victims in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

She praised doctors there and said that she hoped passing on her experience meeting survivors would help people to remember their ‘humanity’. 

Sophie previously worked with the Georgetown Institute in March, as it co-hosted an event on Upholding Women’s Rights in Afghanistan with the Group of Friends of Women in Afghanistan and UN Women.

She has travelled to conflict areas including Kosovo, Kenya, South Sudan, Sierra Leone and others to ‘respond to the needs of surviviors as well as to tackle the stigma and pain that endure and do not diminish with time.’

‘She listens to their harrowing stories, is inspired by their determination not to be defined by what’s happened to them,’ the host of today’s award ceremony said.

On International Women’s Day 2019, Sophie announced her commitment to champion the Women, Peace and Security Agenda and the Preventing Violence in Conflict Initiative, for which she has ‘provided active leadership’.

The Countess also travelled to New York earlier this year in her role as Global Ambassador of 100 Women in Finance’s Next Generation Initiative. 

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