Women’s rights activist from Afghanistan wins this year’s Aurora humanitarian prize

Jamila Afghani, an educator, human rights defender and founder of the Noor Educational and Capacity Development Organization (NECDO), has won the seventh annual Aurora Prize for Awakening Humanity, a prize that includes a $1 million grant.

Jamila has dedicated over 25 years of her life to giving the women of Afghanistan access to education and was honored during a series of high-level events hosted by the Aurora Humanitarian Initiative in Venice, Italy, from October 14 to 16.

Before August last year, NECDO had more than 100,000 women enrolled in literacy programs, thanks to the establishment of small centers in many communities led by local women.

The organization also provided legal aid and psychosocial support to more than 10,000 women victims of domestic abuse.

After the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in August last year, Afghani was forced to leave her homeland, but she has not given up on its people.

NEDCO is still supporting women of Afghanistan and vulnerable families, shedding light on lack of access to education, domestic violence, and other contemporary issues faced by women, while providing financial aid to human rights defenders, journalists, and advocates.

Unable to attend the ceremonies personally, a tearful and humbled Afghani told her supporters via a video link that her country and her people in Afghanistan are experiencing “the darkest days of history.”

“Today my children are not allowed to go to school because they are young girls and my sisters are not [… allowed] to go to work,” she said.

“This is the biggest punishment a human being can have in one’s own country,” Afghani stated from her new home in Canada.

But she said “this recognition means for the people of Afghanistan, for the girls and women of Afghanistan, that humanity is alive” and gives hope to continue in their struggle.

The Aurora Prize Selection Committee met over the weekend to select the winner out of three finalists.

The other finalists included peace activist and body collector Hadi Jumaan from Yemen, the only one able to attend the ceremony in Venice, and Egyptian human rights lawyer Mahienour El-Massry, who was banned by her country’s authorities from traveling to the event.

“Our mission at Aurora is to recognize, celebrate and spread the work of humanitarians like Jamila Afghani around the world. Today’s modern-day heroes inspire and guide us and show us how to persevere in the face of seemingly overwhelming challenges. They remind us of our common humanity and encourage us to show the same commitment to serving the poor and marginalized,” said Lord Ara Darzi, Chair of the Aurora Prize Selection Committee and Co-Director of the Institute of Global Health Innovation at Imperial College London.

Every year, the Aurora Prize is granted by the Aurora Humanitarian Initiative on behalf of the survivors of the Armenian Genocide and in gratitude to their saviors.