When the Taliban seized power in August 2021, hundreds of women’s rights activists fled Afghanistan, fearing reprisals from the militant group. But Mahbouba Seraj, one of the most prominent rights campaigners in the country, refused to leave, even though she holds a US passport, the media reported.
Despite intimidation from the Taliban, the 75-year-old has continued to advocate for the rights of women and girls and operate a network of shelters for women fleeing domestic abuse, Radio Free Europe (RFE)/Radio Liberty (RL) reported.
Seraj’s work and courage were recognised when she was shortlisted for the Nobel Peace Prize earlier this month. She was nominated jointly with Narges Mohammadi, the jailed Iranian human rights activist and lawyer. The winner is expected to be announced in October.
In announcing the nominees on February 1, the Peace Research Institute Oslo said both women have shone “a spotlight on the non-violent struggle for human rights” and are “highly deserving nominees to share the prize, based on their tireless efforts to improve women’s rights in Iran and Afghanistan,” RFE/RL reported.
Seraj said that winning the prize would be a “great honour for me and for Afghanistan”.
“This nomination is the result of all the sacrifices and efforts of Afghan women,” she said. “From the girls who have taken to the streets of Afghanistan and raised their voices to those who have lost their lives, been imprisoned, or suffered.”
Many Afghan women have praised Seraj for standing up to the Taliban and fighting for the rights of women and girls, RFE/RL reported.
“Women who work in these difficult circumstances inside Afghanistan deserve to be acknowledged,” Samira, a Kabul-based rights activist who did not want to reveal her full name for fear of retribution said.
Halima Kazem, an Afghan-American historian at Stanford University, said Seraj’s nomination has put an “important spotlight on the fight that women and girls in Afghanistan are waging against the Taliban and other societal pressures.”
Seraj has been outspoken in her criticism of the Taliban’s policies on women in her appearances in international media and forums, which Kazem said has energised “resistance by women in Afghanistan and mobilised support abroad”, RFE/RL reported.