JK Rowling is to be given an award celebrating the work she has done as a “fierce opponent of censorship” and an “advocate for women’s and girls’ rights”.

The Harry Potter author will be presented with the 2016 PEN/Allen Foundation Literary Service award on 16 May, at PEN America’s annual literary gala in New York. The prize, won in the past by names including Toni Morrison and Salman Rushdie, is intended to honour a “critically acclaimed author whose work embodies [PEN’s] mission to oppose repression in any form and to champion the best of humanity”.

Rowling, said the free speech organisation, has “used her talents and stature as a writer to fight inequality on both a local and global level”. PEN pointed to Rowling’s charitable trust Volant, which works to alleviate social deprivation, in particular for women and children. It also highlighted the non-profit organisation she founded, Lumos, for children in institutions. As an author, added PEN, Rowling is a “frequent object of censorship”, and has “emerged as a vocal proponent of free expression and access to literature and ideas for children, as well as incarcerated people, the learning-disabled, and women and girls worldwide”.

“Through her writing, Rowling engenders imagination, empathy, humour and a love of reading, along the way revealing moral choices that help us understand ourselves,” said Andrew Solomon, author and president of PEN America. “Through their experiences with Rowling both on and off the page, countless children have learned not only the power of speaking their own minds, but also the critical importance of hearing others. A gifted storyteller, fierce opponent of censorship, advocate for women’s and girls’ rights, and staunch defender of access to education, Rowling uses all of the tools at her disposal to create a better and more just world for our children.”

In a statement to the Guardian, Rowling said she was “deeply honoured to receive this award and humbled that my work has been recognised as having moral value by an organization I so admire.”

“I’ve long been a supporter of PEN, which does invaluable work on behalf of imprisoned writers and in defence of freedom of speech,” she added.