On March 18, Sima Samar, M.D., chair of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, offered a rare look at the challenges of Afghanistan women at CIEE headquarters in Portland, Maine, as part of the 2014 Justice for Women Lecture Series. More than 200 students, community leaders, and area residents attended the live event, and nearly 100 CIEE alumni and resident staff in 18 countries participated through live streaming.
Born and educated in Afghanistan, Dr. Samar has long fought for the welfare and rights of Afghan women, often at risk to her life. As chair of the first human rights commission in Afghanistan’s history, she oversees human and women’s rights education programs and investigates rights abuses throughout the country.
During the 90-minute discussion at CIEE, hosted by Lauren Lovelace, Afghanistan expert and executive director of the U.S.-Afghan Women’s Council at Georgetown University, Dr. Samar spoke about this incredible work, the challenges of educating about human rights, and the importance of women in society, citing the rise in the number of girls attending school as evidence that this message is finally gaining traction. Twelve years ago, girls in Afghanistan didn’t attend school; now, half a million attend classes every day. Also during her talk, Dr. Samar emphasized the critical role women play in creating peace. “There’s a lot of hope for the future in Afghanistan,” she said. “Unless you have the support of women in the peace process … that peace can’t be sustained.” Dr. Samar answered questions from the audience, including one from an alum of CIEE’s Work and Travel USA program and Civic Leadership Summit who was participating in the event from her home in Romania.
“CIEE is committed to helping alumni broaden their global perspectives long after they’ve completed their exchange programs,” said CIEE president and CEO Jim Pellow. “By streaming the Justice for Women Lecture live, alumni from Turkey to Ghana to Colombia and everywhere in between had the opportunity to hear firsthand the stories and perspectives of a woman who has overcome extreme adversity and remained dedicated to global causes grounded in universal values. Our hope is that Dr. Samar’s story of courage and determination will inspire all of us to take positive action in our communities.”
CIEE has partnered with the University of Maine School of Law for three years to present the Justice for Women Lecture Series, which brings internationally recognized and distinguished speakers to Portland, Maine, for global conversations about justice for women and girls in the developing world. Dr. Samar is the third speaker in the series, which was launched in 2012.