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Barakzai Named International Editor of the Year 2004

A woman who founded an Afghan weekly focusing on women’s issues has been named "International Editor of the Year" by the US based publication Worldpress.org. Shukria Barekzai received the award, given to one editor outside of the US each year, as the editor-in-chief of Aina-e Zan, or "Women’s Mirror." Barekzai was honored for her courage, dedication to press freedon, and efforts to improve women’s lives in Afghanistan.

Surprised that such a small publication dedicated to women’s issues won the important award, Barekzai thinks that Afghanistan’s independent press is playing a large role in bringing stability to war ravaged country. This year marks the first time that any Afghan man or woman has won the award.

During the Taliban regime, women were forbidden to work or study outside the home, but now Afghan women are re-entering public life, and often leading the charge for greater civil liberties, equality and press freedom, thanks in part to the efforts of Mrs. Barakzai.

Women's Mirror, which is distributed for free, attempts to maintain unbiased and independent reporting in an atmosphere where the legacy of state censorship is still very evident. The purpose of the newspaper is to increase Afghan women's awareness of political, social and cultural issues. The newspaper has a current circulation of 3,000 copies per week in 12 provinces, and features articles on major news events, education, health, human rights issues and civil society. It is published in Afghanistan's two official languages, Pashto and Dari.

Pursuing freedom of expression, women's rights, and education for women and girls in a country undergoing radical transition has proved a major test for Mrs. Barakzai. Economic hardship, domestic violence, lack of education, and security instability remain daunting problems for Afghan citizens, particularly women.

Despite these obstacles, Mrs. Barakzai has been a major advocate for those who have been denied a public voice. Mrs. Barakzai has courageously asked questions about corruption and accountability in the post-Taliban era.

Mrs. Barakzai has long been a proponent of education for women. She organized and funded secret women's schools throughout the Taliban regime at great risk to her life. When the Taliban came to power, Mrs. Barakzai's parents and her six siblings fled the country. Forced to abandon her studies in geophysics at the University of Kabul, Mrs. Barakzai vowed to defy the newly imposed rigid restrictions on women and, from the confinement of her home, headed several underground schools.

Now over three million children � nearly a third of them girls � attend schools in Afghanistan, thanks in part to Mrs. Barakzai's untiring, trailblazing efforts. "The situation for Afghan women has improved dramatically since the Taliban fell," she said, "and the future is brighter than ever." Mrs. Barakzai says that what is now required for women, including those less educated in rural areas, is to coordinate a united campaign against the continuing suffering of all Afghan women.

In addition to her work in education and at Women's Mirror, Mrs. Barakzai was a member of Afghanistan's Constitutional Reviewing Commission. Nominated by President Hamid Karzai to this job, she worked for more than nine months reviewing each article of Afghanistan's Constitutional principles draft.

Although her work on the Commission has ended, the 500-member grand council, or Loya Jirga, adopted the new post-conflict Afghan constitution in early January 2004. Under article 22, it states that every Afghan citizen, whether male or female, has equal rights and responsibilities before the law.

Many women have called the constitution no less than a miracle in a country once dominated by conservative leaders and traditions. For Mrs. Barakzai, it is the first and most crucial step in gaining women's rights in the long term.

Mrs. Barakzai's work does not stop there. She is the president and founder of Asia Women Organization (AWO), which is a local humanitarian and non-profit NGO. Her aid agency Asia, which funds Women's Mirror, created secret schools during the Taliban regime, and continues them in the open today � teaching more than 150 girls around Kabul.

Mrs. Barakzai is at the center of political debates in the Afghan and international media and is instrumental in preparing Afghanistan for its future. She remains hopeful that the United Nations, the international community, and Afghanistan's own burgeoning civil society will continue to encourage the participation of women in social and political spheres within Afghanistan. Women's Mirror is a vanguard publication of these efforts, written by Afghan women for Afghan women.

The work that lies ahead of Mrs. Barakzai is daunting, yet the progress she has already made is incredibly inspiring. In times of great change, Mrs. Barakzai has demonstrated a constant dedication to press freedom and greater opportunities for Afghan women and girls.

Date posted: November 30, 2004 Last modified: May 23, 2018 Total views: 4578