Sima Samar

Afghan human rights advocate and minister for Women's Affair of Afghanistan

Sima Samar is the former chairwoman of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) and founder of the Shuhada Organization, which supports the education and health needs of Afghan refugee women and girls. Samar earned her medical degree at Kabul University in 1982. In 1984, during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, she fled to Pakistan, where she founded the Shuhada Organization. The organization operates dozens of schools for girls and boys in Afghanistan and schools for Afghan refugees in Pakistan. During the repressive rule of the Taliban, Samar still managed to keep schools and clinics open in Afghanistan. In 2002, she returned to Afghanistan and became the first women’s affairs minister in the post-Taliban interim government. She established the first Afghan Ministry of Women’s Affairs. She was forced to resign, however, after she received death threats for questioning Shariah law and advocating for women’s right to choose not to wear a burqa. She served as the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Sudan from 2005 to 2009. She is the recipient of numerous prizes, including the Voices of Courage Award and the John Humphrey Freedom Award. The World Economic Forum named Samar a 1995 Global Leader for Tomorrow. Forbes ranked her among the “100 Most Powerful Women” in 2004, 2006, and 2007. She received Asia Democracy and Human Rights Award in 2008, Right Livelihood Award in 2012 and Allard Prize for International Integrity in 2013.

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