Afghan women's rights activist nominated for Sakharov Prize

Afghan women's rights activist nominated for European Parliament's Sakharov Prize
3 min read
14 October, 2021
Mary Akrami has been nominated for the European parliament's Sakharov prize for her work on women's rights in Afghanistan.
Mary Akrami has pledged to continue her work in exile [Getty]

A prominent Afghan women’s rights activist who fled her country after the Taliban took over on 21 August has pledged to continue her work in exile, prompting a nomination for the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought.

Mary Akrami founded the Afghan Women’s Network, an alliance of NGOs dedicated to supporting women in the war-torn country, and she also established shelters for women who have experienced domestic abuse in Kabul.

Akrami fled Afghanistan in 1996 when the Taliban first took over and remained in neighbouring Pakistan until the US-led invasion in 2001.

The 45-year-old returned to Afghanistan and helped to set up a network of more than two dozen shelters since then. It is estimated that Akrami has helped at least 20,000 women through her network.

The return of the Taliban in August prompted thousands, including Akrami, to leave the country over fears of persecution.

“We have tried to raise the voice of people, we have tried to call on all, we have tried to share our concerns from the beginning. Unfortunately, no one has listened,” Akrami told The Socialists and Democrats Group in the European Parliament (S&D Group).

“All this talking about my country, about my future was behind doors. We women can talk if we have the authority.”

“This is a war between us,” she went on to say. “You had your war, but this is something we have, something to solve. It’s not easy at all. I will continue to support women. I will not give up. That’s my promise to my people and my country.”

The Taliban has made numerous assurances to the international community on the treatment of women, however rights groups, including Human Rights Watch have detailed that their “old approach to the rights of women and girls [is] largely unchanged.”

“They fired women journalists from state media,” a HRW report released earlier this week said. “They first warned women to stay home from work for their own safety because Taliban fighters who had ‘not yet been trained’ might mistreat them. Then they just fired women from most government jobs. They issued tough – and, for many universities, impossible – new guidelines on how women could attend a university, requiring strict gender segregation. Then, on September 18, they let boys go back to secondary school, but not girls.

“That was only the beginning. They banned women’s sports, dismantled the system to protect women from violence, abolished the Ministry of Women’s Affairs and replaced it with a revived – and draconian – Ministry of Vice and Virtue, and made it harder for women to access health care.”

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Monday criticised the Taliban's "broken" promises to Afghan women and girls.

"I am particularly alarmed to see promises made to Afghan women and girls by the Taliban being broken," he told reporters. "I strongly appeal to the Taliban to keep their promises to women and girls and fulfill their obligations under international human rights and humanitarian law."

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The Sakharov Prize was established in December 1988 by European Parliament. Named after Russian scientist and dissident Andrei Sakharov, it is an honorary reward that celebrates individuals and groups whose work focuses on human rights and freedom of thought.

Akrami is one of 11 Afghani women nominated for the prize by the S&D Group.

The prize includes a reward of €50,000 and will be awarded in a ceremony in Parliament’s Strasbourg round chamber.

Previous winners of the prize include Nelson Mandela and Malala Yousafzai.