Afghan women and girls courageously fighting against discrimination and gender inequality, championing women's education, and having a transformative impact on their communities and society, are the recipients of the 2023 CEU Open Society Prize. Six outstanding representatives of this fight – Summia Tora, Pashtana Durrani, Munisa Mubariz, Tamana Zaryab Paryani, Aydin Sahba Yaqouby and Zeba Mirzayee – accepted the prize on June 23 at Central European University’s (CEU) 32nd Commencement Ceremony in Vienna, Austria.
“In a world plagued by patriarchy, the indomitable spirit of many Afghan women and girls has broken through the confines of silence and fear, stepping forward to voice the concerns and aspirations of women worldwide,” said CEU President and Rector Shalini Randeria. “As representatives of a new generation of Afghan female activists, the tireless work and dedication of these recipients to promoting the rights and well-being of women and girls in their country has inspired many, and their unwavering commitment to violence against women and gender injustice is a shining example of what can be achieved with passion and determination.”
Through their vision, courage and leadership, the six women receiving the award during the ceremony model the struggle for the protection of women's and girls’ rights in Afghanistan.
Summia Tora is the founder of the Dosti Network, an organization that has provided more than 600 Afghans with access to resources and information to flee persecution, and for those staying in Afghanistan, access to needed resources.
Pashtana Durrani is the Executive Director of LEARN Afghanistan, a grassroots organization that has carried out online education for 7,000 girls and boys in Kandahar, who were unable to safely and securely access schools.
Munisa Mubariz previously worked for the Finance Ministry advising organizations on strengthening civil society and promoting women’s rights and has led Afghan women protests against the Taliban.
Tamana Zaryab Paryani, a journalist and member of the Afghan women's rights activist group Seekers of Justice, is known for organizing protests against the Taliban.
Aydin Sahba Yaqouby has been advocating for the rights of Afghan girls to education since the Taliban takeover, urging the international community and policymakers prioritize the girls of her country. She also organizes online classes for girls in Afghanistan.
Zeba Mirzayee has led the Learning Center in Kabul, which offered free literacy classes for women, girls and boys, and for those students who had no financial means to pay for their education.
The CEU Open Society Prize is the university’s highest honor, given annually to an individual or group in recognition of their exceptional commitment to the ideals of an open society. It was first presented to Sir Karl Popper in 1994, and subsequent winners have included 2015 Nobel Laurate for Literature Svetlana Alexievich; medical humanitarian organization Medecins Sans Frontiers; the seventh Secretary General of the United Nations Kofi Annan; President of the Czech Republic Vaclav Havel; and former Minister for Health for Kerala, India, K.K. Shailaja Teacher. Last year’s recipient was the Ukraine 5 AM Coalition.
CEU is committed to the values of democracy, peace and justice, and stands in solidarity with the women and girls of Afghanistan. The current student body of the university includes 12 students from Afghanistan (6 females and 6 males). CEU is both an acclaimed center for the study of economic, historical, social and political challenges, and a source of support for building open and democratic societies that respect human rights and human dignity. ln the three decades since its founding, CEU has graduated more than 18,000 students, who are located currently in nearly 150 countries of the world. They include 56 graduates from Afghanistan (16 women and 40 men).
At CEU, the Open Society University Network’s (OSUN) Threatened Scholars Integration Initiative (TSI) over the years has contributed to 12 full scholarships for Afghan students and supports two Afghan women CEU graduates who are currently at the university as research and teaching assistants. In the aftermath of the Taliban’s takeover in 2021, through the collective efforts of the OSUN partners and the Open Society Foundations, almost 200 students were evacuated from Afghanistan. Currently, over 450 Afghans are enrolled in undergraduate and master's programs on OSUN campuses from Bishkek to Berlin, Vienna, and New York.