Suraya Pakzad is a women’s rights activist who fiercely believes in the potential of girls and women. Her vision is to craft a sustained environment to empower women of Afghanistan through advocacy in favor of their rights and by creating opportunities for them to achieve education, participate in decision making processes and express their views to build a prosperous Afghanistan.
Ms. Pakzad is the Executive Director of Voice of Women Organization. This NGO runs a wide range of projects that support the most disadvantaged and oppressed women and young girls in Western Afghanistan. Family guidance centers and women protection centers (shelters) in five provinces of western region are of the most critical projects. Shelter programs provide immediate safe refuge, food, clothing, medical attention, psychosocial counseling, legal counseling, legal aid, vocational training, literacy classes, job opportunities and reintegration – with their families – to girls and women at risk.
Ms. Pakzad founded the Voice of Women Organization in 1998 during the oppressive regime of Taliban as a response to the denial of basic human rights of Afghan women and their ill-fated treatment as second class citizens. Ms. Pakzad started literacy classes for girls to educate them in reading and writing in small groups which spread across Afghanistan. VWO started to operate openly after the regime change in 2001 when women were able to pursue their aspirations after years of misery living under oppression in a rigid society. Ms. Pakzad’s work and struggle to protect women and girls who are at risk and her advocacy for women’s rights puts her life in constant danger in the traditional Afghan society.
Through the Legal Advise Bureau project her staff provides free legal advice and legal aid to women and girls that are seeking access to formal justice. Legal advice and legal aid (follow up of cases in courts of law) are provided for family, non-family and criminal cases.
Ms. Pakzad is the first and only woman in Afghanistan who has created the opportunity for women entrepreneurs to run a restaurant and a latrine production center in Herat. In March 2008 she was honored by the State Department of United States of America to receive the Women of Courage 2008 award. In December 2008 her work was recognized as extraordinary and she was awarded the National Medal (Malali Medal) by the then-President of Afghanistan, Mr. Hamed Karzai. In May 2009, for her invaluable work, she was recognized by the TIME Magazine as one of the world’s 100 most influential persons. Ms. Pakzad was also nominated for Voice of Peace Award in 2009 by the United States based Peace Organization. She has received multiple honorary degrees from prestigious universities and colleges like the Honorary Associate of Arts degree by the Burlington Country College of New Jersey, Philadelphia, United States in March 2010 and Honorary Degree of Doctorate from University of Pennsylvania, United States in 2010. She received the Clinton Global Citizen Award in 2010 from Clinton Global Initiative, USA. Ms. Pakzad has also received the Peace Jirga award for her active participation in the Loya Jirga in 2010 in Kabul. Also in 2010 her work and achievements were recognized and awarded by Victim of Terrorism Foundation in Madrid Spain. News week magazine put Ms. Pakzad among the 150 Women Who Shake the World. Most recently in October 2012 she has received the Female Leader of the Year Award by the Astraia Female Leadership Foundation in Germany.
Suraya Pakzad was born in Herat, the regional capital in western Afghanistan. She graduated from Kabul University, Faculty of Literature in 1990.