H.E. Ambassador Shukria Barakzai
Shukria Barakzai was born on 2 January 1972 in Kabul Afghanistan into a noble family where education, especially that of girls, held an important place. Emanating from a prominent political family in Afghanistan, she learned the fundamental lessons of her life as a child that influenced the formation of her political personality and the causes she embraced to champion later in life.
From 1977 to 1988, Barakzai attended one of the capital city’s outstanding high schools for girls, Malalai, named in honor of the legendary heroine of the Second Anglo-Afghan War. After receiving her Baccalaureate, she enrolled at Kabul University where she majored in history and political geography. Her school and university years corresponded with major political and social developments in the country which left their marks on her. As a result of these upheavals, Barakzai, like millions of other Afghans, was forced to seek a life in exile.
However, she continued to champion the cause of her people especially that of Afghan women even in exile. In July 1999, she founded the Asia Women Organization (AWO) and served as its Director until 2005. Under her leadership, the AWO succeeded in operating, financing, organizing and maintaining a number of clandestine educational facilities for Afghan women and female children during the rule of Taliban when even engaging in humanitarian duties were outlawed for women. After the collapse of Taliban, AWO formally registered with the Ministry of Planning and has since expanded its humanitarian activities from provision of Educational Centers to that of engaging in provision of Health and Relief activities.
Moreover, as a staunch activist for women’s rights and democracy, she launched the weekly Aina-e-Zan (Woman’s Mirror) in February 2002 of which she continues to serve as Editor-in-Chief. The weekly, whose first issue corresponded with the fall of Taliban, focused on championing women’s rights and promoting the restoration of democracy and consolidation of democratic institutions in Afghanistan. In addition, the Women’s Mirror championed the emotional and mental well-being of Afghans and secured major achievements in this fight.
She continued her activism by becoming a member of the Founding Committee of the Female Journalists Union of Afghanistan. The Committee, established by the United Nations Women’s Fund (UNIFEM), became the cornerstone of dealing with the foundational affairs of journalistic work for Afghan women.
Because of her activism and advocacy for human rights and democracy, Barakzai was appointed member of the Constitutional Review Commission by President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan. During the appointment, which lasted for over 8 months from February 2003 to January 2004, she traveled to over 16 provinces and consulted with tens of thousands of people from across the country on constitution-related issues. These efforts resulted in the draft of the current constitution which was adopted by the Constitutional Loya Jirga in 2004.
In 2005, Barakzai’s political life entered a new phase when she successfully run for a seat at Wolesi Jirga (Lower House of Afghan Parliament) becoming one of the first woman MPs in the post-Taliban era. In her tenure at Afghan parliament, she advocated for human rights with a focus on women’s rights, consolidation of civil society and promotion of democracy. She organized a number of pro-democracy, pro-reforms and pro-human rights MPs into what became known as the Third Line Political Parliamentary Group from January 2006 until September 2010 and served as its chairperson. From March 2011 until early 2016, she chaired the Defense Committee of the Parliament.
In July 2010, she became a delegate to the Consultative Peace Jirga of Afghanistan convened in Kabul and attended by hundreds of delegates from across Afghanistan. The Jirga aimed at garnering national consensus about peace and reconciliation in the country. As an active delegate, she strongly spoke for safeguarding the achievements won by Afghan women over the past several years as one of the fundamental outcomes of a dignified and democratic peace. Her contributions were reflected into the National Peace Strategy.
However, Barakzai’s activism for human rights was not confined within the framework of established state institutions. In December 2008, she co-founded Afghanistan Rights Monitor (ARM) as an independent and impartial human rights organization tasked with monitoring the human rights situation in her country and delivering objective reports, analyses and statements thereon.
In her capacity as an Afghan member of parliament, she attended many international conferences where she also holds a number of important positions. For instance, she serves as an elected member of the Asia-Pacific Geo-political Group to the International Security and Peace Standing Committee of the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) in Geneva, Switzerland since March 2013. She is also a member of the Asian Parliamentary Women Caucus (a group of 20+ Asian countries) since June 2014.
Barakzai’s political and parliamentary activism earned her many enemies culminating in a suicide attack on her life on 16 November 2014. She survived the assassination attempt but sustained injuries.
Nevertheless, her consistent advocacy for human rights and democracy won acclaim and recognition both nationally and internationally. In 2004, President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan conferred on her the Medal of National Honour one of the most prestigious awards in the country. She was also acknowledged for her activism, among others, as Women Of The Year BBC Radio London (2005); International Editor of the Year – www.worldpress.org, United Nations, New York, USA (2005); Member of the Young Global Leader, World Economic Forum (WEF), Switzerland (2006); International Award for Democracy and Human Rights, Florence, Italy (2007); International Award of Outstanding Intellectuals, Cambridge University, UK (2008); Bravery Medal, the Netherlands (2009); Who is Who the worldpress.org (2011); The Leading Global Thinkers, Foreign Policy, USA (2015).
Barakzai is a prolific writer and a firm commentator. Hundreds of her articles, Op-eds, analyses and commentaries have been published inside and outside Afghanistan in such languages as Dari, Pashto and English; she makes regular appearances in Afghan and international media outlets as an expert on Afghanistan.