2004 Profile in Courage Award recipient Dr. Sima Simar with Senator Edward M. Kennedy, May 24, 2004.

Background

In 2002, Sima Samar became the first women's affairs minister in Afghanistan's post-Taliban interim government. Prior to her appointment, Samar had dedicated her life to the preservation of basic rights for women and girls in Afghanistan. She fled her country in 1984 during the Soviet ocupation and moved to the border town of Quetta, Pakistan, where she founded the Shuhada Organization to support the education and health needs of Afghan women and girls. With dogged persistence and at great personal risk, she kept her schools and clinics open in Afghanistan even during the most repressive days of the Taliban regime, whose laws prohibited the education of girls past the age of eight. When the Taliban fell, Samar returned to Kabul and accepted the post of Minister for Women's Affairs, even as she continued to run her clinics and schools. But her persistent calls for equality and justice attracted the attention of Afghanistan's powerful religious leaders, who still saw no place for women in Afghan public life. She was taunted by male colleagues, and she began to receive thinly veiled death threats from Islamic conservatives hoping to silence her. She was ultimately forced to step down from her cabinet post, which was left unfilled. She subsequently was offered a non-cabinet position chairing the Independent Afghanistan Human Rights Commission, a position she still holds.