Afghanistan lost an icon for human rights last week.
Born in Kandahar, Sima Wali was a tireless advocate for Afghan refugees and women throughout her life. She was one of only three women at the historical U.N.-organized Bonn Conference after the fall of the Taliban in 2001. At the conference, she advocated for the rights of women to be enshrined in the peace accord and succeeded in convincing world leaders to make the establishment the Ministry of Women’s Affairs as one of the conditions for the new government. She spoke alone but with boldness all who knew her had come to expect of her.
Due to war and conflict in Afghanistan, Sima Wali moved to the United States in 1978 but rather than seeking a quiet and comfortable life in exile, she decided to continue her fight for equality for women and other marginalized communities. She led an organization called Refugee Women in Development dedicated to advocating for the rights of refugee and displaced women. She was also the Vice President of The Sisterhood Is Global Institute which has fought for women’s rights around the world for more than thirty years.
Sima Wali was a prolific speaker. She represented Afghan women at various conferences and panels, including a keynote address at the U.N.’s International Women’s Day in 2002, alongside then Secretary General Kofi Annan, U.S. First Lady Laura Bush, and Queen Noor of Jordan. Ms. Wali believed that without the full participation of Afghan women the country will not have a stable democracy. During her speech at the U.N., she reiterated the importance of women’s meaningful participation in the newly formed Afghan government.
“We, as Afghan women, and as citizens of the world, deserve consistent and sustained international pressure on our male political leaders to secure the rights of women. This is not the time to retract from commitments made in Bonn or Tokyo. Our role and contribution as women is vital to ensuring a democratic Afghan society which respects the rights of women as well as men,” She proclaimed.
Her courageous work was celebrated in Afghanistan and around the world. She received Amnesty International’s Ginetta Sagan Fund Award and Ms. Foundation’s Gloria Steinem Women of Vision Award. Her post-Taliban activism in Afghanistan was featured in the documentary “The Woman in Exile Returns: The Sima Wali Story”.
Her work inspired many Afghan women to take active roles in government and to fight for equality. Generations of Afghan women are indebted to her. Her legacy will not be forgotten.
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