“Our duty is to serve oppressed people, women included, who experience violence … We always help the oppressed.”
Magheferat Samimi is a tireless human rights activist, especially in the field of protecting women against violence and assisting survivors of violence.
As Head of the Afghan Human Rights Organization (AHRO) in Jowzjan, Sari-Pul and Faryab, she reports on and intervenes in a broad range of rights issues, and is widely respected for her work as a mediator.
Her work on women’s rights includes forced and underage marriage, sexual abuse, abductions, imprisonment, torture and murder, in addition to self-immolation and other types of suicide.
Magheferat is also Head of the Civil Society Network in Jowzjan province, a body with 40 different agencies that was established in cooperation with the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA). UNAMA has worked extensively with Magheferat in the fields of human rights and civil society development.
She has actively participated in the Afghan People’s Dialogue on peace, and earlier this year was elected the Chairperson of the Jowzjan Provincial Advocacy Committee on Peace.
Magheferat's story. In her own words.
My name is Magheferat Samimi, Head of the Afghan Human Rights Organization in Jawzjan, Saripul and Faryab provinces. I am also Head of the Civil Society Network in Jawzjan province.
I went to Pakistan when the Taliban almost reached Kabul [in the mid-1990s]. There I joined the Afghanistan Human Rights Commission and worked in Pakistan for three years.
I returned to Afghanistan in 2002 and visited a number of prisons where inmates were serving sentences from 10 to 100 years for different kinds of crimes. I also visited prisons in Pakistan. We established a blood bank over there. We were making prosthetic limbs for women and child victims of war, and sent over 600 children to Germany for help.
Besides this, we provided assistance to refugees and were also engaged in raising awareness for youth. We encouraged disappointed youth to look towards a brighter future, when the hard days would come to an end and it would be possible to return to their country.
In 2002 we registered almost 5,000 refugees in Pakistan. I finished their documentation process with UNICEF there. When we reached Jalalabad, we received a warm welcome from our people. After that I came to Jawzjan.
Since then I have been in charge of the zone level for Balkh, Samangan, Jawzjan, Sarepul and Faryab provinces. After two years of hard work and due to a large pressure of work, other people were hired for other provinces. I am still covering three provinces.
Since 2002, I have been covering the issues of forced marriage, violence against women, threats and torture, murder, suicide (including hanging and self-immolation), underage marriages and extortion of land. The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) office supports us. I am always in contact with UNAMA and when I face problems, challenges and difficult cases, I work with them to find a solution.
When I first came to Afghanistan, to Jawzjan province, nobody knew what human rights meant. There was no awareness. At that time I didn’t have an office. I was taking cases to attorneys and to the courts. I was always following cases of violence against women and children. I had a case involving the marriage of a child aged 7 years old. I shared the case with the police and they arrested the Mullah who had performed the marriage ritual.
There were cases of self-immolation, mostly related to underage marriage. Since I started my job, I have saved hundreds of women from death by self-immolation and other types of suicide.
I often had to work at night. We visited different districts and remote localities.
One father of a girl came to my office and said that his daughter wanted to commit suicide. We went to the residence of that man along with the police and other relevant officials. This was in a remote locality in Qarghan district. We found out that the girl was trying to eat some kind of poison due to violations against her by her father-in-law. If we had not reached the house, then the girl would have succeeded in committing suicide.
I want to serve the thousands of women, children, youth and others who live in poverty and are victims of violence. I want to advocate for their rights to education and other basic rights. Due to my hard work in serving people in the three provinces of Jawzjan, Faryab and Sarepol, people have come to understand the importance of my work. Now they respect me and behave well towards me. They know that I am fighting for their rights.
With the cooperation of elders, religious scholars and the Ulema council I have found solutions to cases as old as six, 10 and even 14 years. I have followed cases in coordination with the appropriate government institutions. I have addressed cases of child sexual abuse and advocated for such practices to be stopped.
Previously, victims were not referring their cases to the authorities due to cultural constraints. Being a victim was considered shameful, but now the trend has changed. Girls are now referred to us from remote localities and they share their experiences of violation with us.
When it is possible, some girls who have been imprisoned in their homes flee during the night, coming to us for help. We have addressed cases involving sexual abuse and rape of five and six-year-old girls, including punishment for the perpetrators.
I am committed to continue serving the Afghan people: to prevent rape and sexual harassment of children; to prevent underage and forced marriage; to prevent kidnappings and to prevent the violation of women. Afghans should not be victims to these crimes.
Besides our other activities, we are planning to raise awareness, to help people know their legal rights. Along with other problems, there are problems of literacy and poverty which contribute to violations. In order to overcome these problems, we hope peace and stability will be maintained. All these atrocities could be controlled by peace and stability.
In order to address these challenges, I hope the Government will increase its support to the empowerment of civil society organizations and human rights protection agencies.
I would like to end by congratulating the UN on their 70th anniversary. They have contributed so much in supporting civil society and human rights protection agencies, and have been successful in this respect. With the assistance of the UN, we have managed to be effective and produce good achievements. I hope the UN will continue their support and pave the way for us to prevent violation and injustice, so we may better serve our society.
Strong UN. Strong Afghanistan.
The UN in Afghanistan celebrates its partnership with Afghans who are making a difference for a strong Afghanistan.