2011 Vancouver Human Rights Lecture Series
Afghan physician Sima Samar (born 1957) has been internationally recognized for her human rights activism, especially on behalf of Afghan women, when she was appointed one of five deputy prime ministers in Afghanistan’s new government in December of 2001.
The appointment as women’s affairs minister was the most senior position ever held by a woman in her country, and Samar’s outspoken advocacy of women’s rights incurred the wrath of many of her conservative male counterparts and countrymen, cutting her political career short. Undaunted, Samar continued her lifelong crusade by chairing the Independent Afghanistan Human Rights Commission.
Samar was born in February of 1957, in Ghazani, Afghanistan. Her father was a civil servant and her mother was the first of his two wives. One of eleven children and a member of Afghanistan’s Hazara ethnic minority, Samar learned early on the meaning of sexual and racial inequality.
After living in refuge for over a decade, Samar returned to Afghanistan in 2002 to assume a cabinet post in the Afghan Transitional Administration led by Hamid Karzai. In the interim government, she served as Deputy President and then as Minister for Women’s Affairs. She was forced into resignation from her post after she was threatened with death and harassed for questioning conservative Islamic laws, especially sharia law, during an interview in Canada with a Persian-language newspaper. During the 2003 Loya Jirga, several religious conservatives took out an ad in a local newspaper calling Samar the Salman Rushdie of Afghanistan.
She currently heads the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC).
She is one of the 4 main subjects in Sally Armstrong’s 2004 documentary Daughters of Afghanistan. In the documentary, Sima Samar’s work as the Minister of Women’s Affairs and her subsequent fall from power is shown.