Suraya Pakzad, one of the TIME’s 100 most influential people in 2009 and the founder of Voice of Women Organization (VWO) grew up during the years of armed resistance against the Soviet-backed government in Afghanistan. She earned a bachelor’s degree in literature from Kabul University in 1992 and obtained Honorary Associate of Arts Degree by the Burlington County College as well as Honorary Degree of Doctorate from the University of Pennsylvania, United States in 2010. Currently, she is pursuing her Masters of Art in Public Management and Leadership.
Ms. Pakzad’s involvement with women empowerment began at the age of 18 as the head of Mirman-o-Tolana (Directorate of Women Affairs) in Herat. At that time, Mirman-o-Tolana was totally ruined and it could not support local women, but she managed to revitalize it through implementing various projects and creating income sources for hundreds of women.
Her aspiration for revival of women’s rights continued in 1998 by setting up covert school for women and girls to continue their education during the Taliban regime. She was keeping a gallon of kerosene in the classroom to burn the students’ books for the fear of being caught by Taliban. Afghan girls wearing Burka came to her house to study and learn. The story has continued for two and a half years with lots of threats aiming at her. During the Afghan Transitional Historical Era when lights of hope were lighting and girls without any fear could join schools, 300 girls who had already studied in Pakzad’s house were enrolled at 6th grade in different schools of Kabul City. Her perseverance and courage continues to provide inspiration for both women and men across Afghanistan. After the fall of the Taliban regime, Ms. Pakzad established Voice of Women Organization (VWO) in 2001 which provides direct protection to those women and girls who were at risk of gender based violence as well as focuses on education, women’s rights awareness, and advocacy.
Ms. Pakzad has been recognized both inside and outside of Afghanistan for her commitment to protecting the rights of Afghan women and has received various awards and medals from the Government of Afghanistan as well as from the international communities which include the following:
- Women of Courage, ……., 2008
- National Medal of Malali form President of Afghanistan, 2008
- Voice of Peace Award from Peace Organization, The USA, 2009
- Clinton Global Citizen Award from the Clinton Global Initiative, the USA, 2010
- Recognized and Awarded by the Victim of Terrorism Foundation, Spain, 2010
- Female Leader of the Year Award by Austria Female Leadership Foundation, Germany, 2012
- One of 150 Women Who Shake the World by News Week Magazine,
Her honors and awards include Women of Courage (2008), National Medal of Malali from the President of Afghanistan (2008), Voice of Peace Award by the Peace Organization, US (2009), Clinton Global Citizen Award from the Clinton Global Initiative, US (2010). In addition, she has received the Female Leader of the Year Award by the Austria Female Leadership Foundation in Germany in 2012. Furthermore, her works and accomplishments were recognized and awarded by the Victim of Terrorism Foundation in Madrid, Spain in 2010, and News Week Magazine also put Ms. Pakzad among the 150 Women Who Shake the World.
Ms. Pakzad has actively participated in peace and negotiation conferences at national and international level, and has received the Peace Jirga award for her effective participation in the Loya Jirga 2010 in Kabul. She productively participated in international conferences such as Third Science for Peace World Conference in Italy (2011), and Science for Peace International Conference in Turkey (2012). She has attended the Geneva Conference on Afghanistan in Austria (2018), Democracy! Disgrace or opportunity in Austria (2019), Bridge Builder Conference at Harvard University (2006), the Women in the World Summit USA (2010). In addition, she has participated the Third World Conference of Women’s Shelter, Netherlands (2015), Inclusive Security in Boston of USA (2015), Second World Conference of Women’s Shelter in Netherlands (2015), Third Muslim Women Leaders at the Frontlines of change Conference in Turkey (2011), and the Women in the World: Stories &Solutions Conference in USA (2010). Ms. Pakzad has continued to live in Afghanistan and work as the executive director of Voice of Women Organization.
Pakzad [U1] 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, 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.