Sima Samar is one of the most influential people in the world, advocating for other women and minority groups. Her humanitarian pursuits have not come without serious risk to her life, and yet Sima Samar has never deterred her efforts. As quoted in the Afghanistan Foreign Policy and Government Guide, she once stated, “I’ve always been in danger, but I don’t mind. I believe that we will die one day so I said let’s take the risk and help somebody else.” Here are 10 facts about Sima Samar and her lifelong activism.

10 Facts About Sima Samar and Her Impact

  1. Samar grew up as a member of Afghanistan’s Hazara minority with 10 siblings and a polygamist father. Attending school in Lashkargah, Samar began speaking out for women’s rights as early as the seventh grade.
  2. Samar’s father would not let her attend university unless she agreed to an arranged marriage. She accepted a marriage to Abdul Chafoor Sultani on the terms that he let her study medicine. Samar received a medical degree from Kabul University in 1982. She was the first Hazara woman in Afghanistan to do so.
  3. One night in 1978, 10 men broke into Samar’s home and kidnapped her husband and his three brothers. They were among the 500 educated people kidnapped during the Russian invasion never to be seen or heard from again.
  4. In 1984, oppressive Russian forces forced Samar to flee to Pakistan with her young son. She stayed there for the next 17 years, dedicating herself to aiding other Afghan refugees.
  5. By 1987, Samar helped open the first hospital for women, staffed by women in Pakistan. She also set up education programs for girls in the country. She did this despite opposition from conservative leaders in Pakistan and limited funding.
  6. In 1989, Samar established the Shuhada Organization, a nonprofit that strives for a prosperous, democratic and socially just Afghanistan with an emphasis on empowering women and children. Founding the Shuhada Organization was dangerous for Samar because it directly opposed the uncompromising Taliban regime that seized control of Afghanistan in 1994. Samar did not let death threats or public condemnation dishearten or scare her. The organization now runs 55 schools in Afghanistan and three in Pakistan for Afghan refugees.
  7. After the collapse of the Taliban in 2001, Sima Samar was chosen as the first Deputy Chair and Minister of Women’s Affairs during the Interim Administration in Afghanistan. As the first ever Afghan Minister of Women’s Affairs, she oversaw the re-entry of girls into school and women into the workforce.
  8. Samar has since stepped down as the Minister of Women’s Affairs and now heads Afghanistan’s Human Rights Commission.
  9. From 2005 to 2009, Samar worked as the U.N. special reporter on the human rights situation in Sudan.
  10. Samar has been recognized and rewarded by numerous human rights and women’s rights organizations internationally and was named Forbes’ 28th most powerful woman in 2006.

While Samar paid a high price for her achievements, these 10 facts reveal her success as a humanitarian and activist. Sima Samar demonstrates the influence, change and progress one person can achieve; she is truly a woman to be celebrated.

Catherine Fredette

Photo: Flickr