Jonathan Mann Award to Dr Sakena Yacoobi from Afghanistan
Dr Yacoobi uses a non-confrontational, participatory approach to mobilize local leaders and communities in the education, health and empowerment of Afghan girls and women. Her interactive educational methodology and grassroots approach are spreading throughout Afghanistan.
Global Health TV Interview
Under the Taliban’s rule in Afghanistan education for girls was banned. Founder of the Afghan Institute of Learning, Prof. Sakena Yacoobi, has ensured that girls and women can access education – through undergrounds schools when necessary. Prof. Yacoobi talks with Global Health TV’s Stephen Horn about the challenges she has faced and how she managed to overcome these to deliver education to more than 350,000 women and children in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Global Health Council’s Press Release (pdf):
AFGHAN CRUSADER FOR RIGHTS OF GIRLS AND WOMEN TO RECEIVE 2010 JONATHAN MANN AWARD FOR GLOBAL HEALTH AND HUMAN RIGHTS
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Dr. Sakena Yacoobi, a champion of health care and education for Afghan women and children and the founder and executive director of the Afghan Institute of Learning (AIL), is the 2010 winner of the Jonathan Mann Award for Global Health and Human Rights, established in 1999 to honor Dr. Mann and highlight the vital link between health and human rights.
Dr. Yacoobi considers health care and education as basic human rights, and takes a holistic approach to advancing health and human rights, particularly for women. AIL currently serves 350,000 women and children each year in Afghanistan and Pakistan and has provided education, training and health services to more than 6.9 million Afghans since 1995.
“Dr. Yacoobi has demonstrated what one woman can do to raise the status of girls and women and unleash their potential in even the most repressive environment,” said Global Health Council President and CEO Jeffrey L. Sturchio. “At considerable personal risk, she has worked relentlessly to provide girls and women with the education and health care they deserve, despite the obstacles in her way. Her work embodies the deep commitment to human rights at the core of the Jonathan Mann Award.”
Growing up in Afghanistan, Dr. Yacoobi saw firsthand the damage that inequality and a lack of education and health care can inflict upon women and children. Fortunately, her own father supported her desire to attend school, even in the United States. Dr. Yacoobi could have stayed in the U.S. after graduation, but decided to return to help her countrywomen.
At the height of the Taliban regime in 1995, Dr. Yacoobi founded AIL to fight oppressive traditions that left women uneducated and put their lives at risk. AIL believes that “all Afghan women can be catalysts for change in Afghanistan. With an education that teaches them how to think and to educate others, as well as an awareness of their human rights, women can create a better future for all Afghans… we know that educated women will educate families, communities, and the nation to bring lasting peace.” And AIL believes the same is true for health: Health education is integral to AIL’s activities, as knowledge about health empowers individuals to care for themselves and their families.
In his recent book, “Half the Sky,” New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof writes how Dr. Yacoobi was able to operate 80 clandestine schools for girls during the Taliban regime. “’It wasn’t easy, and it was very risky,” she recalls. “I negotiated that if people supplied houses and protected the schools and students, then we would pay the teachers and provide supplies. So we had 3,800 students in underground schools. We had rules that the students would arrive at intervals, no men were allowed inside, and people would work as lookouts.”AIL began by providing literacy, primary and secondary education, university classes and teacher training for women across Afghanistan. AIL pioneered the concept of Women’s Learning Centers in Afghanistan, which teach literacy, health education, human rights education, religious study and income-generating skills. AIL was the first organization to offer human rights and leadership training to Afghan women.
AIL has integrated health programs into its work and now operates seven clinics that provide prenatal care, safe delivery, well-baby care, immunizations and primary care services. AIL also operates mobile medical outreach campaigns, trains and supports community health workers and developed a nurse/midwife/health educator course that graduates some of the most highly sought-after healthcare providers in Afghanistan.
Dr. Yacoobi’s ability to ally AIL with traditional leadership has been critical to her success, but she also cultivates Afghan women’s leadership. AIL is one of the largest employers of Afghan women and promotes women to management positions: Of AIL’s 480 employees, more than 70 percent are women. Women trained through AIL have moved on to become representatives in the Afghan Assembly and candidates for parliament.
In the words of Habiba Surabi, the governor of Bamiyan province who received AIL teacher training, “It was AIL that trained me and was sending me to camps in order to hear and feel the problems of my poor countrymen, that is why people in America call me ‘People Minister.’ The training and experience I received from AIL is unforgettable for me.”
Dr. Yacoobi still lives with bodyguards and a complicated security system, frequently changing cars and travel routes. Every day there is a new death threat. But these are not the stories she tells. Instead, she holds her hands over her heart and her eyes shine when she describes the pride and joy she feels when seeing young women who were educated through AIL now working as doctors, teachers or managers.
Afghan women “come into our programs with nothing and they leave with not only an education and income-generating skills to help provide for their families, but with hope in their hearts and a healing in their souls,” Dr. Yacoobi said. She firmly believes that when the war is over, the Afghan people will be self-sufficient and a people who respect the rights of every person. Her vision is to transform the way that all people regard human rights for women – and for all.”
The award, sponsored by John Snow, Inc., International Association of Physicians in AIDS Care (IAPAC) and the Global Health Council, is bestowed annually to a leading practitioner in health and human rights and comes with a substantial financial reward.1
The Global Health Council is the world’s largest membership alliance of public health organizations and professionals dedicated to saving lives by improving health throughout the world. The Council’s members work in 140 countries on six continents. www.globalhealth.org