Dr Sima Samar to be Honoured

FEMINISM - The Taiwan Foundation for Democracy (TFD) announced yesterday it would honour Doctor Sima Samar, chairwoman of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, with its 2008 Asia Democracy and Human Rights Award for her dedication to improving the status of women in Afghanistan.

Foundation chairman and Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng told a press conference that Samar stood out among the 30 nominees from 18 nations who were considered in the final review.

“Dr Samar is a human rights advocate and a pioneer of women's rights in Afghanistan,” Wang said.

“Over the past years, Afghanistan has been one of the countries where women are not well treated. When the Taliban was in power, women did not enjoy either human rights or basic dignity,” Wang said. “Under the circumstances, we could imagine how difficult and dangerous it was for Dr Samar to promote women's rights.”

Samar, 51, founded and directed the Shuhada Organization in Quetta during her 17 years in exile in Pakistan.

The Shuhada Organization — the largest Afghan nongovernmental organization led by women — directs health, education and income generation projects for women and girls in Afghanistan and refugees in Pakistan. It also runs 71 schools for 48,000 girls and boys in Afghanistan and underground home school classes for girls in Kabul.

Samar was chosen for the Asia Democracy and Human Rights Award by a panel that included International Center for Transitional Justice Chairman Alex Boraine, former Peruvian president Alejandro Toledo, Human Rights Commission of Pakistan Chairwoman Asma Jahangir and last year's winner of the award, Cynthia Maung.

National Sun Yat-sen University political science professor Liao Da-chi, also a member of the foundation's review board, praised Samar's human rights work.

“She has been fighting for the most basic human right — survival [for Afghan women],” Liao said.

Wang said the TFD's decision to honour Samar after last year's award went to Maung was particularly meaningful.

“They [Samar and Maung] are both fighters for women's rights and human rights. They insist on their ideals despite the huge pressure they suffer,” Wang said.

Samar is scheduled to receive the award and a US$100,000 grant in Taiwan on Dec. 10, he said.

Samar has received numerous honours for her work over the past years, including the Eleanor Roosevelt Award for Human Rights from the Feminist Majority Foundation in 2004 and the International Human Rights Award from the International Human Rights Law Group in 2002.

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