Thursday, Apr. 30, 2009

Suraya Pakzad

Suraya Pakzad knows well that death threats in Afghanistan must never be taken lightly. Especially those against high-profile, outspoken women like her, for whom such threats are an occupational hazard. In recent years, extremists have assassinated Malalai Kakar, the country's most prominent policewoman; Safia Ama Jan, director of the Ministry of Women's Affairs in Kandahar; and journalist Zakia Zaki. I cannot imagine the reserves of courage that Pakzad, 38, taps into every morning when she steps out the door, knowing it may be for the last time.

But for several years now, at great risk to herself, this is just what she has done. It is difficult to name a more committed advocate for women's rights in Afghanistan. A recipient of the 2008 International Women of Courage Award, Pakzad is the founder of the Voice of Women Organization, committed to providing Afghan women with shelter, counseling and job training. Her shelters give abused women safe haven, legal services and long-term protection. She has worked tirelessly to raise awareness about gender-based violence that victimizes Afghan women.

Pakzad knows that any future success for Afghanistan depends greatly on the full, unimpeded participation of its women as contributing, productive members of society. In 1926, then Queen Soraya said famously, "Do not think, however, that our nation needs only men to serve it. Women should also take their part, as women did in the early years of Islam. The valuable services rendered by women are recounted throughout history. And from their examples, we learn that we must all contribute toward a development of our nation." This is what Pakzad believes. This is what she fights for. And it is — and this, however unpleasant, must be said — what she may die for.

Hosseini is the author of the novel Thousand Splendid Suns