2004 International Women's Rights Prize Honors Work in Afghanistan and PakistanTuesday June 29, 10:49 am ETThe Peter Gruber Foundation Celebrates Courageous Efforts to Help Women and Children
ST. THOMAS, U.S. Virgin Islands, June 29 /PRNewswire/ -- Visionary educator Sakena Yacoobi and the Afghan Institute of Learning (AIL) have been selected by an international panel of experts to receive the 2004 Women's Rights Prize of the Peter Gruber Foundation. Professor Yacoobi is President of AIL, which she founded and leads and which serves more than 350,000 Afghan women and children annually.
Each year the Foundation presents a gold medal and a $200,000 unrestricted cash award to individuals and/or groups that have made significant contributions, often at great risk, to furthering the rights of women and girls and advancing public awareness of the necessity of these rights in achieving a just world. This year's prize, which will be shared by the Institute and its founder, will be presented on December 10, International Human Rights Day, at the United Nations in New York City.
Understanding the tremendous power of education, Sakena Yacoobi's parents sent her from her home in war-torn Afghanistan in the early 1970s to attend the University of the Pacific in Stockton, California. Once there, she worked feverishly to improve her reading and writing from the fourth-grade level and catch up with her classmates. After earning her degree in Biological Sciences, she went on to earn a Masters in Public Health from Loma Linda University in 1981. Since 1990 she has devoted her life to bringing education and health care to Afghan women and girls in both Afghanistan and the overflowing refugee camps of Pakistan.
After more than a quarter century of war and instability, the literacy rate of Afghans, particularly women, was among the lowest in the world. When many schools closed in 1995 and the foundations of education throughout the country were in danger of collapse, Sakena Yacoobi and two other concerned Afghan women founded the Afghan Institute of Learning to help address the lack of access to education for women and girls, their subsequent inability to support their lives, and the resulting impact on society and culture. They committed AIL, a non-governmental organization (NGO), to bringing peace and dignity to the Afghan people as they struggle to overcome oppression, devastation, and injustice.
During the Taliban years, AIL ran 80 underground schools as well as mobile libraries in four Afghan cities. By the end of 2003 the organization served more than 350,000 Afghan women and girls in Afghanistan and Pakistan's refugee camps through its girls schools and programs in teacher training, health education, human rights education, women's leadership training, and literacy. With its 470 employees, 83% of whom are women, it is a model and a leader in rebuilding Afghan civil society.
The official citations read: "The Women's Rights Prize of the Peter Gruber Foundation is hereby proudly presented to Sakena Yacoobi, President of the Afghan Institute of Learning, for her courageous vision and leadership in implementing quality education, human rights training, and safe healthcare for Afghan women and children. Despite significant personal risk during the time of the Taliban and in the aftermath of violence and war, she has worked tirelessly to improve the life, opportunities, and social infrastructure of Afghanistan's neediest residents and its refugees in Pakistan."
"The Women's Rights Prize of the Peter Gruber Foundation is hereby proudly presented to the Afghan Institute of Learning for expanding health and education opportunities for women and children in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The unwavering commitment of its dedicated teachers, doctors, and health care providers under the repressive Taliban regime and during post-war reconstruction has truly empowered hundreds of thousands of Afghan women and children, citizens and refugees alike."
Peter Gruber, founder of the foundation that bears his name, said, "It is a great disadvantage that women, who represent half the world's population, are restricted by laws or customs that hinder not only their basic human rights, but their contributions to the welfare of all. The work of Sakena Yacoobi and the Afghan Institute of Learning gives new life and hope to the women and children of Afghanistan and thereby to Afghan men and society as a whole. For the liberation of a person is the liberation of all persons, regardless of gender."
The Foundation's Women's Rights Advisory Board, a group of eminent individuals known for their expertise and commitment to women's rights, selects the annual winner or winners of the prize. Current members are: Dr. Linda Basch, Executive Director, National Council for Research on Women, New York City; The Honorable Bernice Bouie Donald, U.S. District Court, Western District of Tennessee; The Honorable Claire L'Heureux Dube, retired Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada; Professor Shadrack Gutto, Director, Centre for African Renaissance Studies, University of South Africa; The Honorable Navanethem Pillay, Judge, International Criminal Court, The Hague, and Women's Rights Prize laureate 2003; Kavita Ramdas, President, Global Fund for Women; and Zainab Salbi, President, Women for Women International.
The Women's Rights Prize was established in 2003 and is recognized as the leading international prize in the field. The co-recipients in 2003 were The Honorable Navanethem Pillay, the South African judge noted for her leadership of the United Nations' International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, and Pro- Femmes Twese Hamwe (Women Together for Women), an umbrella organization of Rwandan grassroots women's groups.
The Peter Gruber Foundation
The Peter Gruber Foundation was founded in 1993 and established a record of charitable giving principally in the U.S. Virgin Islands, where it is located. In 2000 the Foundation expanded its focus to a series of international awards recognizing discoveries and achievements that produce fundamental shifts in human knowledge and culture. In addition to the Women's Rights Prize, the Foundation presents awards in the fields of Cosmology, Genetics, Neuroscience, and Justice. Further information about the Peter Gruber Foundation and its awards is available from
The Nursing/Health Education program provides students with a broad knowledge-base and skill set in nursing, health education, vaccination, midwifery, and disease prevention. This six-month intensive course requires students to complete practical as well as classroom work and provides instruction on over 100 medical topics. Graduates are in high demand by employers because there are so few skilled Afghan female health professionals and a strong cultural preference that Afghan women receive health services from other Afghan women. Some Nurse/Health Educators have enrolled in Kabul University's Medical School and have been exempted from numerous classes because of the quality of training that they received at AIL. To date, 52 women have graduated from this course and are providing urgently needed health care services to thousands of Afghan women who would not otherwise have access to care. Nineteen more women are currently enrolled.
In accordance with traditional customs, families ask traditional birth attendants to help during the delivery. Most of the women who act as traditional birth attendants are illiterate and have never had any formal training. AIL's 4-week traditional birth attendant training course was developed and piloted by AIL doctors and health educators during 2003 in response to the requests of women for this training. Topics covered in the training include danger signs during pregnancy, preparing for a clean delivery, method of delivering a baby, normal deliveries, and child care. Birthing kits are given to the participants. The demand for AIL’s traditional birth attendant training workshop is high and many women have asked to participate in the course. During the evaluation component of previous traditional birth attendant training workshops, participants have expressed great thanks to AIL for this workshop. On behalf of all the participants of one traditional birth attendant workshop, one said:
"We are very much grateful to these Health Educators who came all the way to this camp to give us this important training. In order to make the lessons easy and more understandable, they translated the lesson plans in our own language, which really proved to be much helpful. We learned the right method of delivering a child. Many women in our areas died because of the problems arising during delivery. We were not able to help them since we never knew the right method of delivery. But now we know our mistakes. Through conducting this workshop, you have saved the lives of many women who might have died during the pregnancy or might have lost the life of their child."
To date, 30 women have participated in the 4-week training and other traditional birth attendants have received shorter training sessions on specific topics. The traditional birth attendants are now able to recognize danger signs earlier in a pregnancy and refer the mother to AIL’s health clinics for additional care. Some women have even come to AIL’s clinics to deliver their babies. CHI and AIL hope to offer more trainings to upgrade the skills of even more traditional birth attendants and improve the health and safety of more mothers and babies during birth.
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