2004 International Women's Rights Prize Honors Work in Afghanistan and Pakistan
Tuesday June 29, 10:49 am ET
The 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
CHI's project partner in Afghanistan, the Afghan Institute of Learning (AIL), greatly expanded its Women's Learning Center services to hard-to-reach, under-served rural women and children in Mir Bacha Kot over the last 18 months. CHI and AIL are offering classes like literacy and sewing to women and girls at 3 locations, a home school for girls, a home school for boys, and advanced classes for boys in subjects like Math and Science. In May 2004 alone, over 700 women and children, who do not have access to government schools, were studying in these classes.
One of the students of CHI and AIL's advanced classes in Mir Bacha Kot told about his experiences. He said:
"During the Taliban's regime we migrated to Iran to be safe and I worked to acquire bread for my family. There I used to sell biscuits and chocolates on streets. From morning to night, I was out. Hence, I couldn't study and I remained back from education. After Taliban's regime collapsed and we came back to Afghanistan, I wished to join school but my age didn't allow me which made me so hopeless. One day my father told me, 'I have heard that AIL has opened an Advanced course in our village. You can attend it.' I got very happy and went there to be admitted. There I was registered gladly. Now I can take a promoted test and study in school. My family and I are thankful to AIL for it was AIL who stimulated me and made feel prosperous like other youths who study in high classes."
In order to improve the quality of education in Mir Bacha Kot, CHI and AIL offered teacher training seminars and upgraded the skills of teachers. The seminars were so well-received that a neighboring rural community called Kalikhan asked for training for their teachers too. The teacher training seminars in Mir Bacha Kot and Kalikhan were noteworthy because AIL’s female teacher trainers provided training to the region's male teachers, an unprecedented and rewarding educational experience for these communities and a true model for gender equality in Afghanistan. To date, CHI and AIL have trained 108 teachers in Mir Bacha Kot and Kalikhan through this seminar.
CHI and AIL have also built a permanent health clinic in Mir Bacha Kot. This clinic is the first of its kind in these villages. The clinic treats common diseases, provides minor surgery, and especially focuses on mother/child health. Clinic staff distributes soap, shampoo, and home birthing kits. They provide vaccinations, and even deliver babies. In May of 2004 alone, clinic staff treated 2,459 patients and provided health education on topics like hygiene and disease prevention to 4,918.
The Mir Bacha Kot clinic includes a nutrition center, where clinic staff treats children who have problems from poor nutrition. Staff is also educating mothers about how they can make sure that their children get proper nutrition. Mothers learn lessons like how to take care of a child for good health and growth, how to use food, the benefits of mother’s milk, and how to measure height, weight, and arms.
All of this work in Mir Bacha Kot to bring education and health to the women and children in this community has led to some other important developments. After observing AIL’s method of working, a group of community members have begun their own community organization. They are planning to start a library and sports teams for Mir Bacha Kot children. Additionally, the local government school is now offering classes to girls in the afternoons. This is a tremendous step for Mir Bacha Kot, which has never had a girls school before.
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