Issue 1: trans­forming tomorrow

/ 6. Interview with Sima Samar

An interview by Alexander Görlach 11|25|2020

"I believe women are one of the main reasons for continuation of humanity"

Sima Samar

She was the first Minister of Women’s Affairs in Afghanistan after the Taliban lost power in 2002. Ever since, for many women in Afghanistan almost everything changed, as Sima Samar recapitulates in this interview.

Görlach: You were the minister for women’s affairs in Afghanistan. Many might be compelled to think that there are not many rights for women in this country altogether. What do you answer them, how is the state of affairs for women in the country these days?

Samar: Yes, I was the first minister of women’s affairs in 2002 after the Taliban regime was removed from power. The country was destroyed and no basic social services existed and women were practically in prison. Afghanistan was maybe the biggest prison for the women in the world. But since then a lot has been achieved, for the first time in our history the equality of men and women was guaranteed in the Constitution. And it was the first time ever that domestic violence was criminalized.

Görlach: Women’s access to education and health care improved? 

Samar: There were no women at University now it is almost 28-30 percent of the students are girls. Women in media, we never had camerawomen, we have so many now. Women lead business and head of the company. Today 3000 women are in the police force, more than 2000 are in the army. But this is not the reality in every corner of the country. Women do not have access to school in the areas under control of Taliban. Their violence against women is high, with Covid-19 the violence has also increased, so have child marriages, and forced marriage, due to poverty.

Görlach: When you look back on your work which hurdles and obstacles you had to overcome?

Samar: So many obstacles were there, first the lack of recognition of women’s ability and secondly the lack of resources, for promotion and protection of human rights of women. Thirdly, the very conservative mentality and using religion to reduce the freedom and rights of women was so common, in fact it is still a problem. Fourthly, the lack of education and lack of awareness about their rights. It improved a lot in the past 19 years after the end of the Taliban regime. And there are other factors such as poverty amongst women and economical dependency of women from the male member of the family. The lack of strong political will for promotion and protection of human rights by the leadership which was using women for symbolism rather than really give them the political support and resources.

„I believe women are one of the main reasons for continuation of humanity, they always play very constructive nonviolent role in the family and society if they are given the chance to do so.”

Sima Samar

Görlach: You have spoken out against the burqa and public seclusion of women. How are such statements being perceived in today’s Afghanistan?

Samar: The environment as I said has improved a lot, but we still have a lot of women who are forced to wear the burka. I do not mind if they chose to wear it. But when it is forced then it is violation of human rights. With burka, you are faceless. We need to have face and to be recognized.

Görlach: What role do women play for the social fabric of Afghanistan?

Samar: I believe women are one of the main reasons for continuation of humanity, they always play very constructive nonviolent role in the family and society if they are given the chance to do so. Still with very conservative society women in the family are the ones, who try to keep the family together. Give an example, when a child does something wrong, usually runs to the mother to save him or her from the aggression of the Father. It’s so obvious that the mothers are taking even the responsibility for some things done by their child.

Görlach: Do you see modernisation underway in the various branches and traditions of Islam that might lead eventually to a wider recognition of women?

Samar: When a religion, any religion, is used as a political tool than that is not good because religions do not give you the right to oppress and violate the rights of any human being. According to Islam every human being is born equal and with dignity. Any violent act is against this human dignity. I believe that it is are personal matter to practice religion which obliges you to not harm others.


Sima Samar

Short Biography

A renowned advocate of human and women's rights, Dr. Samar was appointed as the inaugural chair of the AIHRC in June 2002. Prior to her appointment as the chair of AIHRC, she was elected as the vice chair of the Emergency Loya Jirga and also served as the Deputy Chair and Minister of Women's Affairs in the post-Taliban Interim Administration of Afghanistan IAA.
She also served as UN's Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Sudan between 2005 and 2009. She is currently serving as the Chair of Asia Pacific forum of National Human Rights Institutions (APF) as well. Dr. Samar also heads the National Commission on the Prevention of Torture in Afghanistan.
Dr. Samar has participated in many international forums on human rights, democracy and transitional justice. Her contributions to the same have been widely recognized and she is the recipient of several prestigious awards.
Dr. Sima Samar has recently been appointed as the new member of United Nation’s Secretary-General’s High-Level Advisory Board on Mediation. On December 3rd, 2019, she was also appointed as a board member of the United Nation’s Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel on internal Displacement.
Dr. Sima Samar is currently serving as the Special Envoy to the President of Afghanistan and State Minister for Human Rights and International Relations of Afghanistan.


1: Interview with Annette Schavan

The future of religions will be determined by how they integrate women, says Annette Schavan, former Federal Minister for Research and Education. The committed Catholic was also the Federal Republic’s ambassador to the Apostolic See.

2: Interview with Margot Käßmann

Margot Käßmann has retired from many offices. Her engagement with Ring for Peace is an exception. Alexander Görlach talks with the former regional bishop about peace, women, fundamentalism and why the assembly in Lindau can make a difference.

3. Interview with Margrit Wettstein

Margrit Wettstein works for the Nobel Prize Museum in Stockholm. Only few people know better than her, which women ever received the Nobel Prize and which fates are behind these women. Alexander Görlach asked Margrit Wettstein to tell us, who she thinks are the most important award winners.

4. Interview with Azza Karam

Learn why Prof. Azza Karam thinks that it is inevitable for the UN to work with religious leaders and movements. And find out what challenges Azza Karam identifies for women, if they pursue religious leaderships.

5. Interview with Gunnar Stålsett

The ecumenical unity of the churches depends in particular on the question of the extent to which women and men are equal, explains former Bishop Gunnar Stålsett. Stålsett believes that for women in the Orthodox Church to have more rights, a religious leader is needed who is willing to risk his own future for the future of the Church.

6. Interview with Sima Samar

She was the first Minister of Women’s Affairs in Afghanistan after the Taliban lost power in 2002. Ever since, for many women in Afghanistan almost everything changed, as Sima Samar recapitulates in this interview.

7. Interview with Antje Jackelén

Learn, what’s behind the five Ps that make the poisonous cocktail too many people are drinking of right now. The Archbishop of the Church of Sweden also explains, why she recommends cultivating resilience, coexistence and hope to deal with this poisonous cocktail.


8. Interview with Sharon Rosen

Read, what Sharon Rosen thinks is the difference between practical work and dialogue. And what is necessary for a fruitful conversation between religions.

9. Interview with Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati

Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati tells us, why she moved to India and why she thinks that the situation of women in India has improved in the past 25 years.

10. Interview with Rachel Rosenbluth

Rachel Rosenbluth is one of the first Jewish women to be ordained as a rabbi by an orthodox institution in Israel. Read why she sees herself as a bridge builder and how she accepted the invitation to participate in a ten-day Sufi pilgrimage festival in India.

11: Interview with Ani Zonneveld

She is the first Malaysian Grammy winner and founded the non-profit organization Muslims for Progressive Values. This organization calls for Muslim societies to pay more attention to human rights. Learn why many young Muslims like Zonneveld believe Islam needs reform.