Suraya Pakzad: speaking out for the women and children of Afghanistan

The visit of Suraya Pakzad is supported by the Voice of Women Organisation (Australia)
and Amnesty International Australia

The Hawke Centre logoWednesday 1 September 2010

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Voice of Women Organisation logo

Allan Scott Auditorium, UniSA City West campus, Hawke Building, 50-55 North Terrace, Adelaide

This event is co-presented by the Bob Hawke Prime Ministerial Centre at UniSA

Amnesty International logo

Through various media we get almost daily reports about the war in Afghanistan. Most often we hear about western political and military initiatives and about conflicts between Australian troops and Taliban insurgents. Now, with support from Amnesty International, renowned Afghan Human Rights activist Suraya Pakzad is flying directly from her work with remote Afghan women to speak to Australian audiences about the reality on the ground. Suraya's astute insights into the complex world of Afghan politics is grounded in the practicalities of surviving. She once wryly commented that each one of her six children was born right at the point of political change in Afghanistan, from the overthrowing of the Afghan Royals through to the expulsion of the Taliban regime in 2002.

In her talk Suraya will speak about her ongoing work with Afghanistan's most disadvantaged women in villages, prisons and shelters. She will explain how this work continues to face extraordinary obstacles and how Afghan women have not significantly progressed in practical matters since the foreign intervention despite massive amounts of aid being directed to the country. Suraya will go on to frame some possibilities for more equitable and effective international engagement with Afghanistan and she will take questions from the audience.


Suraya PakzadSuraya Pakzad is a woman's rights activist who fiercely believes in the potential of girls and women. Her vision is to craft a sustained environment to empower women of Afghanistan through advocacy in favour of their rights and by creating opportunities for them to achieve education, participate in decision making processes and express their views to build a prosperous Afghanistan.

As a response to denial of rights of Afghan women and their treatment in the society as second-class citizens, Ms Pakzad founded the Voice of Women Organization (VWO) NGO in 1998 and began to teach girls how to read in groups across Afghanistan. Since 2001, when Afghani women to some extent could operate to pursue their aspirations in a rigid society, VWO began to function openly. Her work to protect women and girls at risk as well as advocacy for women's right puts her in constant danger in a traditional society in Afghanistan.

Ms Pakzad is the Executive Director of Voice of Women. This NGO runs a range of projects that support the most disadvantaged and oppressed women and young girls in Western Afghanistan. Her shelter programme provides refuge to girls and women at risk as well as allows them to engage in literacy and income generation activities. The Australian office of Voice of Women opened in Adelaide last year and is currently located at Amnesty.

Ms Pakzad's work with women in jail and children in conflict with law aims to establish the rights of the victims of abuse. She also focuses on community paralegal and psychosocial aspects to support the most marginalized.

Ms Pakzad is the first and only woman in Afghanistan who has trained women entrepreneurs to run a restaurant, and a latrine production centre in Herat. She has also been internationally recognized as one of the most brave women in this current world. In March 2008, she was honoured by the State Department of United States of America to receive the Women of Courage 2008 award. In December 2008, her work was recognized and she was awarded the National Medal (Malali Medal) by the President of Afghanistan. In May 2009, because of her challenging work she was recognized by TIME Magazine as one of the world's influential persons.

Ms Pakzad has also been nominated for the 2009 Voice of Peace award by the Peace Organization, United States of America.

Suraya Pakzad was born in Herat, Western Afghanistan. She graduated from Kabul University, Faculty of Literature in 1990.


While the views presented by speakers within the Hawke Centre public program are their own and are not necessarily those of either the University of South Australia or The Hawke Centre, they are presented in the interest of open debate and discussion in the community and reflect our themes of: strengthening our democracy - valuing our cultural diversity - and building our future