Alumni Highlight

Mary Akrami
Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Congratulations to 2009 Advocate Mary Akrami and the Afghan Women Skills Development Center (AWSDC) on the opening of a restaurant in Kabul that is fully run by women who have gone through the AWSDC shelter program for victims of domestic violence and forced marriages.

Mary is the founder and Executive Director of AWSDC in Kabul. In 2003 the organization established the first known shelter for women at risk in Afghanistan. This shelter continues to be a space where women and young girls, who are victims and survivors of violence, can access not only physical protection, but health care, education, legal aid, and rehabilitation services as well.

The shelter she created serves as a safe haven for women and young girls. No one is ever turned away and residents are allowed to stay at the shelter as long as they need. Since the establishment of this shelter, under Mary’s lead, several women have made the unprecedented choice of not only denouncing their abusers publicly but taking their cases to court. Mary remains dedicated to the shelter and vulnerable women despite constant threats. She understands the risks the women take by coming to the shelter and is available to them 24 hours a day.

The restaurant is fully run by women who have gone through her shelter program. The women who stay in the shelters, first face many risks by leaving their homes and again encounter more risks when they attempt to reintegrate into society after the shelter. Mary’s goal for the restaurant is “to provide the shelter residents with the opportunity to utilize their skills and earn their livelihood in an honorable way for themselves and their dependents.”

Mary has spent her career advocating and campaigning for women’s inclusion in the political and peace building processes in Afghanistan. She has been leading AWSDC in the field of women’s rights and has, since its founding, initiated community-based peace councils that provide women with a safe environment for conflict resolution. These councils have served as a mechanism to challenge the traditional role of society in instances of domestic violence against women and girls. This setting allows for women and men to have productive conversations that lead to peaceful solutions and create opportunities for women to contribute to and participate in the political process at the local level.

Under Mary’s leadership, AWSDC has become a recognized and well respected capacity building organization throughout the region. They have been selected multiple times to train other organizations in peace building and conflict resolution techniques, as well as in women’s engagement in local political arenas and community based endeavors. In 2007 she was honored for her work by the US Department of State by receiving the first “Women of Courage Award.” Mary also took part of the 2010 Afghan Peace Jirga as well as the 2011 Grand Assembly for Peace Process. Mary was also the keynote speaker at the launch of the 2015 Front Line Defenders Annual Report.

Mary has worked at the local grass roots level all the way up to the international level. She has participated in the Pak-Afghan Peace Jirga, Commission of the Status of Women’s meetings, as well as being a fellow in the Human Rights Advocates Program at the Institute for the Study of Human Rights at Columbia University in New York. Mary is currently on the Board of Directors for Afghan Women’s Network (AWN). AWN is a comprised of 125 women’s organizations in Afghanistan that work together to strengthen cooperation and integration of women into Afghan society.

In addition to the restaurant, Mary will continue to focus her work on abuse prevention and protection of women’s rights. She has not stopped her peace building efforts. She still works on the regional, national, and international level engaging in peace talks and forums. One of Mary’s lifelong dreams is to create the first female television channel in Afghanistan. She knows that may be a difficult endeavor, but she is optimistic that it can and will happen in the future.

HRAP has played a very positive role in Mary’s work and life since 2009. Through social media HRAP alumni are able to not only keep in touch but reach out to participants from other years and have now created an international network of advocates. Mary says of HRAP, “It enhanced my courage to speak out for women’s rights with a new strength of mind.”  

Read more about Mary Akrami on our Advocates page.

-Elyse Greenblatt, September 2016