Samar, Sima (1957–)

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Samar, Sima

Sima Samar is a physician, advocate for democracy and women's rights in Afghanistan, and Afghanistan's Minister for Women's Affairs.


Samar was born on 4 February 1957 in Jaghoori, Ghazni, Afghanistan. Her family is from the Shi'ite Muslim Hazara minority. She received a medical degree from Kabul University in 1982, the first Hazara woman ever to do so. After the communist government of Afghanistan arrested her husband in 1984, she went to Quetta, Pakistan, and became a humanitarian relief worker and supporter of the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA). She never heard from her husband again.

In 1987, she received funding from the Church World Service and several other organizations to establish a women's hospital in Quetta. In 1989, she organized the Shuhada Foundation to provide medical care and education for Afghan women refugees and their children in Pakistan.


In December 2001, she became minister for women's affairs in HAMID KARZAI's interim Afghan government. She resigned in June 2002, when conservatives threatened her with a death penalty for allegedly questioning the relevance of Islamic law in an interview during a visit to Canada. She was acquitted of the charge of blasphemy by the high court of Afghanistan and given a new position as chair of Afghanistan's Independent Human Rights Commission.

She has criticized the practice of forcing Afghan women to wear the burqah, and has cited the negative health effects on women of restricting the amount of sunlight upon their bodies. Samar currently serves as the chair of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission.


She received many awards for her human rights work, including The Ramon Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership, 1994; The John Humphrey Freedom Award in 2001; The Paul Grunninger Human Rights Award from the Paul Grunninger Foundation in Switzerland, 2001; Freedom Award, Women's Association for Freedom and Democracy, 2002; International Human Rights Award, International Human Rights Law Group, 2002; and the Perdita Huston Human Rights Award, 2003. In 2005, Samar was appointed by the UN to be special envoy to the Darfur region of Sudan.


Samar's work is still ongoing, but she surely will be remembered as one foremost female activists in Afghanistan today.


Name: Sima Samar

Birth: 1957, Jaghoori, Ghazni, Afghanistan

Family: Married (husband disappeared after his arrest in 1984); one son

Nationality: Afghan

Education: M.D., Kabul University, 1982


  • 1984: Flees to Quetta, Pakistan, following the arrest of her husband
  • 1987: Establishes a hospital in Quetta
  • 1988: Organizes the Shuhada Foundation
  • 2001: Becomes minister in Afghan interim government
  • 2002: Resigns position as minister
  • 2005: Appointed UN special envoy to Darfur


Emadi, Hafizullah. Repression, Resistance, and Women in Afghanistan. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2002.

"The Plight of Afghan Women: Interview with Sima Samar, Minister of Women's Affairs." Afghanistan Online. Available from

                                               Senzil Nawid

                         updated by Michael R. Fischbach