Afghan Hero and Now a Minister
By Sushmit Sen
Dr Sima Samar
interim government in Afghanistan includes two women, marking their return
to public office after years of repression under the Taleban, who banned
women from work and study.
provisional list released following the Bonn talks named Suhaila Sidiq, a
surgeon and former army general who lives in Kabul, as Minister of Public
Health and Sima Samar, a doctor who runs health centres for Afghan
refugees in Pakistan, as Vice-President and Minister of Women's Affairs.
the face of threats to her own safety, Dr. Samar has defied the Taliban's
edicts that deny women and girls their basic rights to education,
employment, mobility and medical care.
her organization, Shuhada, Dr.
four hospitals and 10 clinics in Afghanistan and a hospital in Quetta,
Pakistan. Her schools in rural Afghanistan are attended by more than
20,000 students; and more than 1,000 others attend her school in Quetta.
has shown an incredible commitment towards assisting Afghan women in their
struggles to end their oppression and to provide them with access to
healthcare and education services. She is a strong advocate for the
involvement of Afghan women in government and the reconstruction of civil
society in Afghanistan.
Dr Samar received the news of her appointment in Edmonton, while
on a visit to Canada, to receive the John Humphrey Freedom Award, for
which she was selected last summer, in recognition of her outstanding work
to promote the rights of Afghan women and girls.
"It's a very positive thing that women have a role in this
interim government; it will be no easy task but at the same time it is not
difficult to see and identify the great needs facing women in
Afghanistan," Dr. Samar said in a statement today from Edmonton,
where she is speaking as part of the cross-Canada tour organised by Rights
Dr. Samar acknowledged that it will not be easy to accomplish
this task: "We will need a great deal of support and solidarity from
women all over the world because the needs of Afghan women are so great. I
hope that the women of Afghanistan will accept me in this new role as
worthy of representing their needs and interests; it is a task I have not
been elected to do. I hope I will be able to live up to their expectations
and be able to deal with at least some of their wounds."
Ellie Tesher, writing in the The Toronto Star, has put her in the
company of heroes, like universally
hailed — the lion of South Africa, Nelson Mandela; Burma's shining
light, Aung San Suu Kyi, both Nobel peace laureates.
Dr. Samar received the award on December 10, International Human
Rights Day, at a ceremony in Montreal.
speech, she expressed the hope that with the new situation in
Afghanistan the restrictions on women and girls will quickly become
history and will never be imposed again.
earlier speeches, she also appealed to Western allies, including Canada,
not to abandon a post-war Afghanistan: "We need help in rebuilding
our country. Millions are in danger. I hope they survive the winter."
Dr. Samar, 44, has no formal political experience, she has had years to
finesse her administrative and diplomatic skills, accomplishing an
apparently impossible mission: The education of women in a country where
such an activity was banned.
moving to the devastated city of Kabul for what she calls "the
biggest challenge of my life," beyond the many she's experienced as a
physician and human rights activist.