My Fight for Freedom and Human Rights in Afghanistan

Book-Review by Somaia Valizadeh

Outspoken is the title of a book by Dr. Sima Samar, who immigrated to the United States after the Taliban’s return to power in 2021. She recounts the memories of human rights violations, particularly the violations of women’s rights in Afghanistan, that have occurred in the past 45 years in 11 chapters and 350 pages. It was published in February 2024 in Canada and is also available in the United States, Australia, and the United Kingdom. I read the book in April, shortly after its release, and was deeply moved by its portrayal of the struggle women have endured for centuries against misogynistic governments in a patriarchal setting.
This book provides an unparalleled view of Afghanistan’s past and present, with stories that are both poignant and terrifying.‎ It demonstrates that Dr. Sima started the fight against gender discrimination and inequality from her home and continued it in the community against corrupt groups, mafia, and human rights abusers, including former Jihadi leaders.
Who is Sima Samar?
Samar is a medical doctor, human rights defender and activist from Afghanistan who is dedicated to ‎the empowerment of women and girls and has been fighting for equality and justice for most of her life.
Sima Samar was born into a ‎polygamous family in 1957. She learned early that girls had an inferior status, and she had to agree to an arranged marriage to be able to go to university. By the time she was in medical school, she had a son, Ali, and was becoming politically a revolutionary. In 1984 her husband was arrested under the pro-Russian Government, and she escaped to Pakistan. With her son and medical degree, she took off into the rural areas by horseback, donkey, and even foot to treat people who had never had medical help before.‎


Later she worked as a medical doctor in the refugee department of the Mission Hospital in Quetta, Pakistan. However, the lack of health services and facilities for Afghan refugee women made Samar try to build a hospital for Afghan refugee women and children in Quetta. In the year 1989, Dr. Samar established the Shauhada Organization (SO) in Pakistan.
Health care for Afghan women and girls, medical staff training, and education were the focus of the SO. In the following years, further branches of the clinic were opened also throughout Afghanistan.‎
After living in Quetta, Pakistan, for over a decade as a refugee, Dr. Samar went back to Afghanistan in December 2001 to become a cabinet member in the Afghan Interim Administration led by Hamid Karzai. In the interim government, she served as deputy chairperson and first ever Minister for Women’s Affairs. Sima Samar was forced to resign from her post after receiving death threats and being harassed for questioning conservative Islamic laws, especially sharia law, during an interview with a Persian language newspaper in Canada.
A year later she became the chairperson of Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) and received Life threads from fundamentalist leaders again. However, she declined an assignment-offer by the former government to the Embassy of Afghanistan in Norway to continue her struggle and served the AİHRC until 2019. She was responsible for directing human rights education projects throughout the country, implementing a national women’s rights education programme and investigating human rights violations. This task has led her to be watched even more by fundamentalists, along with the fight for women’s actual participation in public life and the battle against the imposition of the burqa.
A thorn in the side of the Taliban
After the return of the Taliban to power and the withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan twenty years later, Sima Samar spoke out about protecting the physical and mental health of Afghan women and children as a top priority at this time.
“Afghans are living in fear now, and they have been deprived of their future. Thousands are displaced in their own country, living outdoors without the most basic things: no water, shelter, food, sanitation, or showers. I am ‎a doctor. I worked in refugee camps in Pakistan. For a total of 27 years, I was a refugee in Pakistan, when I ran a hospital for girls and women and founded a humanitarian organization. I have seen a lot. I know what displaced people in this situation desperately ‎need to stay healthy. Mentally and physically, they need basic health care and a point of contact to answer their questions.”
Reading these words in her book are a source of hope for me. Sima Samar, a fearless woman, is the founder of schools and hospitals and is a thorn in the side of the Taliban.‎ Samar has received more than 20 numerous international awards for her work on human ‎rights and democracy. She is currently working on a new book about her memories of human rights violations. It will be published in Dari. I am longing to read it.

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