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'Global Citizen,' Afghan Women's Rights Activist Returns to Campus

11/19/2010 —

Afghanistan’s leading women’s rights activist Suraya Pakzad, who received the Clinton Global Citizen Award this year, returned to Penn State Brandywine for a third time on Friday, Nov. 19 to update the campus community about progress and continued dangers for women and children in her native country. She addressed the continuous violence women face at the hands of the Taliban in pursuit of basic rights, such as education, health care and a sense of security.

Brandywine alumnus Aldo Magazzeni Bus ’72 introduced Pakzad by acknowledging her personal, selfless contribution toward this fight against injustice. “Being a warrior of women’s rights comes at a great price,” he told guests. “There is a tremendous price to pay, not only mental, but physical. Evil finds you in physical threats.” Pakzad struggles daily to protect her five children and stay alive as she fights a ruthless enemy to gain freedom for her people. “For there to be change, there needs to be sacrifice,” Magazzeni said.

Pakzad wanted first to share with the group the improvements made since her talk on campus last April so as not to “always bring sadness.” She spoke of progress, such as the appointment of three female ministers (there was only one before), the passage of a law criminalizing violence against women and cited increased participation by women in Parliament. She called these small steps “a sign of hope.”

However Pakzad’s concerns remain. Violence and limited government security leave the Afghan people, particularly women and children, unprotected from the Taliban and brutal violence that comes with their rule. She even took two of her own children out of school to be educated at home for fear of kidnapping. Suicide bombings are also still common.

Pakzad said the United States statement of withdrawal last year gave the Taliban renewed authority and confidence, saying they are more powerful now than ever before. “Mostly women and children are affected,” she lamented. “There are three million widows left by the three decades of war in the country.” They need to work and their children need a good education to survive.

But things weren’t always this way. Pakzad said her own mother experienced freedom and many of the rights women in America are privy to. “People think [the violence] is Afghanistan’s problem and the culture,” she said. “They think it’s the religion of the Afghan people. It’s not. It’s the culture of war.”

Paul Greene, associate professor of integrative arts, asked Pakzad, “What can we do at Penn State?”

“I believe woman can change the world,” she answered. To make that happen, Pakzad said she is working with Penn State Brandywine Chancellor Sophia Wisniewska to create a curriculum to formally educate her people and plans to submit an application to Parliament. She told Greene she will need books and even teachers willing to travel to India when the time comes to help train educators.

Pakzad ended her moving talk with words of encouragement and credited the hard work of strong American leaders and women for the equal rights that define the country. “I can promise you I am not going to give up. We keep fighting because we believe in freedom. We need you to raise your voices here,” she pleaded.

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