Vienna, June 23, 2023 – Afghan women and girls who are courageously fighting against gender discrimination and championing women's education are having a transformative impact on their communities and society. Six outstanding women engaged in this struggle – Summia Tora, Pashtana Durrani, Munisa Mubariz, Tamana Zaryab Paryani, Aydin Sahba Yaqouby and Zeba Mirzayee – are the recipients of this year’s 2023 CEU Open Society Prize. They will be awarded the prize on June 23 at Central European University's (CEU) 32nd Commencement Ceremony in Vienna, Austria.
“In a world plagued by patriarchy and violence against women, the indomitable spirit of so many Afghan women and girls has broken through the confines of silence and fear to voice the concerns and aspirations of women worldwide,” said CEU President and Rector Shalini Randeria. “As representatives of a new generation of Afghan women activists, the tireless work and dedication of the recipients of our Open Society Prize in promoting the rights and well-being of women and girls in their country has inspired many. Their unwavering commitment to fighting gender injustice calls for our urgent support. It is a shining example of what can be achieved with passion and determination to further the cause of women’s education.”
With their vision, courage and leadership, the awardees represent the ongoing struggle for the protection of rights for women and girls in Afghanistan. Pashtana Durrani, an Afghan feminist, activist, and educator, is the founder of LEARN Afghanistan, a grassroots organization that has created the country’s first-ever digital school network, offering education for 7,000 girls and boys in Kandahar who were unable to safely and securely access schools. Munisa Mubariz is a women’s rights and civil society activist who, before the Taliban took power in Afghanistan, worked as a monitoring and evaluation director in the country’s Ministry of Finance. In the face of Taliban oppression, Munisa, along with other activists, established a powerful women's movement, which conducted several demonstrations in Kabul and the provinces, and campaigned through media interviews, social media and indoor protests across the country to make their voices heard. Tamana Zaryab Paryani is a political activist and journalist widely recognized as a symbol of the women's struggle in Afghanistan and known for the fearless demonstrations she has led protesting against the Taliban rule. Imprisoned along with her four sisters for nearly one month, Tamana now lives in Germany where she continues to advocate for human rights, particularly the rights of women, and to shed light on the atrocities committed by the Taliban. Summia Tora is the founder of the Dosti Network, an organization dedicated to empowering persecuted Afghans by providing them with crucial resources for resettlement worldwide; and offering support for those remaining in Afghanistan. Through partnerships with organizations such as the World Bank, Malala Fund, United Nations, and Schmidt Futures, she champions education on a global scale, with a specific focus on refugees, women, and girls, in emergency contexts. Aydin Sahba Yaqouby is a young education advocate from Afghanistan who, since the Taliban takeover, has been advocating for the rights of Afghan girls to education. She has worked closely with The Malala Fund and UNESCO; and has spoken at multiple high-level panels urging the international community and policymakers to prioritize this issue. Aydin also organizes online classes for girls in Afghanistan. Zeba Mirzayee is a trained English language teacher and director of the Learning Center in Kabul, which offers a range of subjects for students who have no financial means to pay for their education, including free literacy classes for women, girls and boys.
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 (six women and six men). 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 currently located in nearly 150 countries. 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) has over the years contributed to 12 full scholarships for Afghan students and supports two Afghan women CEU graduates 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, around 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.
Notes for Editors:
One of the world’s most international universities, a unique founding mission positions Central European University as 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. CEU is accredited in the United States and Austria, and offers English-language bachelor's, master's and doctoral programs in the social sciences, the humanities, law, environmental sciences, management and public policy. CEU enrolls more than 1,400 students from over 100 countries, with faculty from over 50 countries.
In 2019 CEU relocated from Hungary to Austria as the Hungarian government revoked its ability to issue U.S.-accredited degrees in the country. As a result, CEU offers all of its degree programs in Vienna, Austria, and retains a non-degree, research and civic engagement presence in Budapest, Hungary, through its CEU Democracy Institute, the Institute for Advanced Study, the CEU Summer School and The Vera and Donald Blinken Open Society Archives (OSA), and its Hungarian language public educational programs and public lectures.
The six representatives of Afghan women and girls who accept the 2023 CEU Open Society Prize:
Summia Tora is the founder of Dosti Network, an organization dedicated to empowering persecuted Afghans and providing them with crucial resources and support. As an Afghan refugee who has personally experienced displacement, Summia possesses an intimate understanding of the challenges faced by displaced individuals. This fuels her drive to actively engage in refugee resettlement and advocate for the education of displaced students.
In response to the fall of the Afghan government in 2021 and Summia's own experience with displacement, the Dosti Network launched a global effort to connect Afghans with essential resources for resettlement worldwide, and to provide support to those remaining in Afghanistan. This comprehensive initiative prioritizes immigration, housing, healthcare, and education, with the aim of significantly improving the lives of persecuted individuals. Recognizing the transformative power of education, Summia has collaborated with organizations such as the World Bank, Malala Fund, United Nations, and Schmidt Futures. Through these partnerships, she tirelessly champions education on a global scale, with a specific focus on refugees, women, and girls, in emergency contexts.
Summia's achievements include being the first Rhodes Scholar from Afghanistan and obtaining master's degrees in both Public Policy and International Human Rights Law from the University of Oxford. Her unwavering dedication and commitment to her cause have earned her prestigious accolades, including being named an Echoing Green fellow, a Forbes 30 Under 30 honoree, and a recipient of the Davis Peace Prize. Her inspiring journey has captivated audiences and has been featured in renowned media outlets such as The New York Times, BBC, The Economist, and NPR.
Pashtana Durrani is an Afghan feminist, activist, and educator. By the age of 21, she had already founded LEARN Afghanistan, the country’s first-ever digital school network. Forced into exile by the Taliban takeover in 2021, she is currently a visiting fellow at Wellesley Centers for Women in the U.S. while continuing to provide education for hundreds of girls in Afghanistan despite the current ban on them attending school, providing them with a standard curriculum in addition to concrete skills. Pashtana is a regular commentator on TV and radio and has been the subject of articles and profiles including PBS , BBC , Elle (in French), Der Spiegel (in German) and Wellesley College. During her time at Wellesley, Pashtana is continuing her research on female education and maternal and newborn health.
Pashtana has been named a Global Education Champion by the Malala Fund for her outstanding work to advance Afghan girls’ education. The BBC nominated her as one of its 100 most influential women 2021 and she is also included in #Times100talks in 2022. Pashtana is a member of UNGEI’s Feminist Education Coalition; she is an Aspen New Voices Fellow, and she received the 2021 Tallberg-SNF-Eliasson Emerging Leader prize. Previously she has served as a global youth representative for Amnesty International and as a board member of the steering committee for the Global Environment Facility. She is a recipient of a UN Young Activists Award 2022 and the 2023 Global Citizen Prize Citizen Award 2023.
Munisa Mubariz is a women’s rights and civil society activist in Afghanistan. Before the Taliban took power in Afghanistan, Munisa worked as a monitoring and evaluation director in the country’s Ministry of Finance. After the Taliban took power and women lost basic rights to education, employment, and free movement, Munisa, along with other activists, established a powerful women's movement. The movement conducted several demonstrations in Kabul and the provinces, and campaigned through media interviews, social media and indoor protests across the country to make their voices heard in the face of this oppression. Munisa’s colleagues in Afghanistan continue the struggle despite many security challenges.
Tamana Zaryab Paryani is a political activist and journalist who, following the fall of the previous government in Afghanistan to the Taliban, fearlessly took on the challenge of leading demonstrations against the group. Her unwavering determination and dedication to the cause made her a prominent figure in the resistance movement, posing a significant threat to the Taliban's authority. In response, Tamana, along with her four sisters, was imprisoned for nearly one month, where they endured unimaginable hardships and were subjected to brutal torture at the hands of their captors. Despite the physical and emotional trauma they endured, their harrowing ordeal only strengthened their resolve to continue the struggle against the Taliban's oppressive regime.
Tamana currently resides in Germany. Having sought refuge in a foreign land, she uses her voice and platform to raise awareness about the plight of her fellow countrymen and women in Afghanistan. She tirelessly advocates for human rights, particularly focusing on the rights of women, and sheds light on the atrocities committed by the Taliban.
Aydin Sahba Yaqouby is a young education advocate from Afghanistan who, since the Taliban takeover in August 2021, has been advocating for the rights of Afghan girls to education through different platforms. Aydin has worked closely with The Malala Fund and UNESCO to protect and promote the rights of Afghan girls to education and has written for The Malala Fund’s online publication, Assembly, to raise awareness about the ongoing crisis in the country. Aydin has also spoken at multiple high-level panels in arrangement with organizations such as UNICEF, Education Cannot Wait, and Advocates for Afghan Education, urging the international community and policymakers to prioritize this issue. In addition to her advocacy work, Aydin organizes online classes for girls in Afghanistan.
Zeba Mirzayee is the director of the Learning Center in Kabul, which is co-Funded by FIVESTONES and Kabul Equal. The center offers a range of subjects for students who have no financial means to pay for their education, including free literacy classes for women, girls and boys. After the Taliban’s ascent to power and the imposition of many restrictions on women students and teachers, Zeba – a trained English language teacher – decided to help address this by forming small groups of English and mathematics classes for Afghan girls in her own home. Zeba’s efforts and plans were disrupted following the closure of the center. The center is currently open, offering education by male teachers to male students.