Special award ceremony will be held at the United Nations in New York City in conjunction with International Human Rights Day
NEW YORK – Sakena Yacoobi, founder and president of the Afghan Institute of Learning (AIL), is being honored today with the Peter Gruber Foundation's 2004 International Women's Rights Prize. Yacoobi earned this year's prize for her courageous vision and leadership in implementing quality education, human rights training, and safe healthcare for women and children in Afghanistan. The Global Fund for Women has provided grant support for Yacoobi's organization for nearly 12 years, and she was recently elected to the Global Fund for Women's board of directors.
AIL was founded by Yacoobi in 1995 to bring peace and dignity to the Afghan people, who were struggling to overcome oppression, devastation, and injustice during the Taliban years. To ensure women and children could have access to educational programs, Yacoobi led AIL to organize and operate 80 underground schools and mobile libraries in four Afghan cities. By the end of 2003, AIL was providing more than 350,000 Afghan women and girls in Afghanistan and Pakistan refugee camps with educational programs in teacher training, health, human rights, women's leadership training, and literacy. AIL is the largest non-profit organization in Afghanistan.
"Prof. Yacoobi has worked tirelessly to improve the quality of life, social infrastructure, and overall life opportunities and status for Afghanistan's women and girls," said Kavita N. Ramdas, CEO of the Global Fund for Women. "She has risked her own life, challenging the Taliban's stronghold to support human—and women's rights, and has made an incredible difference in the lives of tens of thousands of Afghan women. We are so honored that she has joined our board of directors,—bringing such amazing leadership experience."
The International Women's Rights Prize of the Peter Gruber Foundation is a gold medal award with an unrestricted cash award of $200,000. The prize is awarded 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.
"It is a great disadvantage that women who represent half of 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," said Peter Gruber, founder of the Peter Gruber Foundation. "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."
In addition to her work with AIL, Yacoobi has succeeded in increasing the literacy of Afghan women and girls despite decades of armed conflict and a ban on girls' education under the Taliban. She has inaugurated two health clinics and additional mobile health units, which deliver vaccinations, health care, and health education to more than 6,000 people a month. She opened literacy and vocational training classes in sewing and carpet-weaving for older girls and women in new rural areas. She has expanded professional-level options in math and computer science, nursing, and teaching. And she has employed 470 people in her organization—80 percent are women.
As a teenager, Yacoobi's parents sent her from her home in Afghanistan to the University of the Pacific in Stockton, Calif. Once there, Yacoobi worked hard to improve her reading and writing from a fourth-grade level to that of her college-level classmates. After earning a degree in Biological Sciences, she went on to earn a master's in Public Health from Loma Linda University in 1981. Yacoobi then returned to Afghanistan, where she has since devoted her life to bringing education and health care to Afghan women and girls who live in Afghanistan and in the refugee camps in Pakistan.
"When you see the joy and excitement in the students' faces, when you see them sitting on dirt floors, under trees, and in dark basements—anywhere to get an education, you forget all your trouble," Yacoobi said.
About the Global Fund for Women
The Global Fund for Women is a nonprofit grantmaking foundation that supports women's rights organizations in every part of the world. It is the largest foundation in the world that focuses exclusively on international women's rights. The Global Fund for Women envisions a just and democratic world where women and men participate equally in all aspects of society. Grants support women's organizations working to protect women from violence, increase girls' access to education, and improve economic opportunity. Since 1987, the Global Fund has awarded more than $37 million to seed, strengthen and link more than 2,500 groups in 160 countries. More information is available in six languages at www.globalfundforwomen.org.