Suraya Pakzad grew up during the years of armed resistance against the Soviet-backed government and earned a bachelor’s degree in Literature from Kabul University in 1992. Ms. Pakzad’s engagement with women empowerment began in 1998 when she set up covert schools for girls under the oppressive rule of Taliban, keeping a gallon of kerosene in the classroom to burn the books if raided by Taliban. Her perseverance and courage continues to provide inspiration for both women and men across Afghanistan. After the fall of the Taliban regime, Ms. Pakzad established the organization Voice of Women (VWO) to promote education for and offer job training and legal or social aid to women. The core aim of her work is to promote and establish women’s rights.
Ms. Pakzad continues to be actively engaged in transforming young girls’ and women’s lives through the VWO organization, which is based in Herat City. The VWO shelter program, for example, provides refuge to girls and women who have been subjected to some form of structural violence, and it allows them to participate in literacy and income generation activities. She also supports the most marginalized groups of Afghan society by giving paralegal and psychological and social support.
Ms. Pakzad has been recognized both within and outside Afghanistan for her commitment to protecting the rights of Afghan women. Her honors and awards include: Women of Courage (2008), National Medal (Malali Medal) from the President of Afghanistan (2008), One of the World’s 100 Most Influential Persons by Times Magazine (2009), Voice of Peace Award by the Peace Organization, US (2009), honorary Associate of Arts degree by the Burlington County College, US (2010), Clinton Global Citizen Award from the Clinton Global Initiative, US (2010). She also recently attended the Female Leadership Summit in Istanbul, Turkey under the auspices of Women’s Islamic Initiative in Spirituality and Equality (WISE).