The awards, held annually, are intended to recognise "heroic women journalists" around the world, highlighting the importance of free press and the hardships endured to obtain it. All forms of journalism are eligible, and 56 women have received awards since they were started in 1990.
Woeser, born in Tibet in 1966, originally worked as a journalist in China before moving to Lhasa. She rose to fame after the publication of her second book, Notes from Tibet, and her subsequent refusal to self-criticise, resulting in the loss of her job as an editor for the Tibetan Literary Association. Since then, she has increasingly explored the use of social media. Her blog, "Invisible Tibet", found at woeser.middle-way.net, is one of the best known in China today. Woeser also commentates for Radio Free Asia, communicates via Facebook and Skype, conducts interviews with Tibetan refugees, and continues to write books for publication in Taiwan. Today, Woeser lives in self-imposed exile in Beijing.
Woeser has faced Chinese government opposition to her work for years. Most notably, in August 2008, during a trip to Tibet to visit family, Woeser was detained, accused of photographing the army and police presence in Lhasa. She was interrogated for 8 hours, but eventually released without charge. Today, Woeser's movements are monitored, her books banned, and her blog and Skype account have been hacked and shut down multiple times. She is still prevented from travelling abroad.
During her acceptance speech, presented at the awards ceremony in the form of a pre-recorded video message, Woeser stated she "will keep [her] one-person media operation going, for it is the weapon of the powerless".
Three other women journalists were honoured at the ceremony: Vicky Ntetema, a Tanzanian who reports on the killing of albinos there for the use of their body parts in potions; Claudia Julieta Duque, a Colombia-based journalist who has been abducted, robbed and received death threats in the course of her work; and Alma Guillermoprieto, who reports on civil wars, drug wars and politics in Latin America.