Sunday, August 14, 2011

Suraya Pakzad

The AWESOME woman of the day is SURAYA PAKZAD (born ca. 1970), an Afghan woman deeply committed to women's rights to education, safety, and opportunity. Pakzad founded the "Voice of women Organization" (VWO) NGO in 1998 and began to teach girls how to read in groups across Afghanistan. Since 2001, when Afghani women to some extent could operate to pursue their aspirations in a rigid society, VWO began to function openly. Her work to protect women and girls at risk as well as advocacy for women’s right puts her in constant danger in a traditional society in Afghanistan.

In 2009, when she was one  of the first four women to receive a "Power and Peace Award" (one of several high honors she has earned), the Washington Post explained the kind of violence Pakzad witnessed in her youth, that led her to follow her mission of working for women:
Suraya Pakzad was 12 when she saw a gunman kill the headmistress of her Afghan school because the woman taught girls and refused to wear a headscarf. A few weeks later, a rocket smashed into the school and killed a student sitting near her, another warning for girls not to learn.
In addition to her open efforts towards educating women and teaching them skills and trades (she is the only woman in Afghanistan who has ever trained other women to run a restaurant, for example), she also runs a system of secret shelters for child brides and other victims of Taliban-style abuse of women, providing housing and medical, legal and job-training services.

Pakzad was named in 2009 by Time magazine as one of the "Time 100" most influential people in the world. A mother of six children, she lives with unimaginable daily risk. She has been the victim of many death threats and conservative influences within the government have worked against her good efforts. Funding is also a constant challenge. 

The write-up of Pakzad in Time 100 noted:
It is difficult to name a more committed advocate for women's rights in Afghanistan.... Pakzad knows that any future success for Afghanistan depends greatly on the full, unimpeded participation of its women as contributing, productive members of society. In 1926, then Queen Soraya said famously, "Do not think, however, that our nation needs only men to serve it. Women should also take their part, as women did in the early years of Islam. The valuable services rendered by women are recounted throughout history. And from their examples, we learn that we must all contribute toward a development of our nation." This is what Pakzad believes. This is what she fights for. And it is — and this, however unpleasant, must be said — what she may die for.