From the Soviet invasion in 1979, to the conflict between NATO forces and the Taliban, Afghanistan has lived in a state of war for over 30 years.
In 2011, the Thomson Reuters foundation ranked the country as the most dangerous place in the world to be a woman.
A fact Sima Samar knows all too well. As a member of the much persecuted Hazara community, she has fought adversity all her life. Her own personal war started back in the late 1970s, when her husband was arrested and never seen again.
Sima Samar explains:
“I was 23 when I became a widow, with a young child. People came to our house at 10 o’clock at night and they took my husband. He was a Teacher at Kabul University. I promised him I would fight for freedom, and keep his cause alive”
She kept her word. Sima graduated in Medicine from Kabul University in 1982 and then worked as a doctor in some of the countries poorest villages, before being forced to flee to Pakistan. There, she first opened a hospital for Afghan women refugees.
By 1989 she had launched the Shuhada foundation, which built schools and hospitals for women in Afghanistan.
It was far from easy she says:
“People were after me, because I was talking about human rights and equal rights for men and women. I started a hospital in Afghanistan in 1988 with Norwegian money. It was looted three times. They beat my staff and one of my brothers and why? Because we were not giving them money. I then started the construction of a school for girls. They did the same; they took the cement from the school and burned all our books.”
Once again however, she overcame adversity. Her foundation now counts some 50 schools for boys and girls throughout Afghanistan and Pakistan.
When she returned to her homeland in 2001, Sima Samar become the first ever Minister for Women’s Affairs in Afghanistan. This did not last long however, as Sima was forced out by imposing critics.
Undeterred, she still fights for access to education and equal rights for women in Afghanistan.
She now heads the country’s first ever Independent Commission for Humans Rights, a job which comes with heavy burdens and personal bodyguards.
Sima Samar talks about her fears:
“I don’t’ remember any night without dreaming of running. It’s always running and I try to hide, I try to run, I try to jump, I try to find somewhere to hide myself. It’s become normal. Not normal actually, a kind of constant tension. But I think I’ve achieved a lot with the work I’ve done, so that does help to suppress my fears.
When I go to different provinces, I am well received but even now in their Friday prayers, they say ‘all these are western values’ and they are the ones who promote women to not behave according to Islamic law but it doesn’t really help. It doesn’t work.”
Whenever it gets too much, Sima reminds herself of the brave women’s voices which cannot be heard. She says these women are her inspiration:
“They are really, really strong. Imagine the woman who saw her small house destroyed, her children killed in front of her. She still continues to live in poverty and struggles with daily life and the problems that she has. Nobody is there to say ‘yes, you have a headache, here’s some aspirin’.”
Next time on Women and War we meet Farzana and Nafiza. Two remarkable women working tirelessly to provide health care where it is needed most.