Two Afghan women have won this year’s N-peace award among dozens of change-makers and peace-builders from Afghanistan, Indonesia, Pakistan, Myanmar, Nepal and the Philippines.
The two winners, Maryam Dorani and Hasina Nikzad, have been working for peace and women’s rights in sensitive places such as Kandahar and Herat.
Ghayor Waziri met them in the capital, Kabul.
At a ceremony for the N Peace Awards in New York, outstanding individuals were recognized for transforming their communities and mobilizing for peace.
Maryam Dorani and Hasina Nikzad were the two Afghan women to receive the distinction.
Thirty-year-old Maryam is a women rights activist in Kandahar.
Ten years ago she started a social organization focused on women’s rights and peace.
“I have conducted training for women in different areas over recent years, in education, women’s rights, healthcare and handicrafts for supporting women economically and their rights in the society,” she says, “I also made a women’s radio to raise awareness and an internet café for women in Kandahar.”
The N-Peace awards are managed by the United Nations Development Program in partnership with the Institute for Inclusive Security.
This year a dozen people from different countries such as Pakistan, Myanmar, Nepal and Indonesia, who have demonstrated leadership in building peace and empowering their communities, were nominated.
Only 10 could take home the final awards and Afghanistan won almost half, with two Afghan women and men each awarded.
Maryam Dorani who won the Peace Generation Award explains the environment for women in Kandahar, where she works.
“More than other countries and even some other provinces of Afghanistan, Kandahar has more challenges because tradition is still dominant here,” she explains, “People are still not happy with women, especially young women working and their activities outside their houses… They are seen as second-class citizens.”
That’s Hasina Nikzad, who was also awarded for her work fighting for women’s rights in eastern Heart province.
She took home the award for transforming communities. Over recent years she has opened a school and taught women in the villages about their rights.
She says receiving the award has inspired her to keep working.
“I am very happy to receive this award,” she says, “As I do a lot of work for women’s rights, I always feel tired but I have never stopped my work and efforts. I believed that one day all of my tiredness would be gone, and now it has happened… I feel inspired again, as if people have recognized what my team and I have done during all these years.”
Insecurity is a big challenge for women in conservative Afghan society.
Hasina Nikzad says she has been threatened many times by different armed groups, but never stopped her work.
“I always have been threatened by different groups, for example once when my team and I were on the way to some villages, the Taliban tried to ambush us but the village gave us warning first so we cancelled the trip,” she says, “We never kept one cell phone number because they can find our number and threaten us … But I was never scared when they threatened me…”
The N-Peace Awards are instituted by N-Peace, which is a multi-country network of peace advocates in Asia, seeking to advance issues related to women, peace and security.
The organization supports women’s leadership for conflict prevention, resolution and peacebuilding.
Hisina Nikzad says the role of women is a very important part of achieving peace in Afghanistan.
“I don’t think the role of women is less in peace building, their role is 70% as important in peace building in society, because they are the ones who directly affect the male members of the families who are in conflict,” she says.
This year Afghan the number of Afghan men and women nominated for the N Peace awards has jumped to 46, and 15 of those were women.
While not everyone can win, it shows that enthusiasm for encouraging women’s rights is growing.