Khwendo Jirga founder and first female Afghan Air Force pilot among recipients of 2015 International Women of Courage Award

Tabassum Adnan

Hailing from the formerly Taliban-controlled Swat Valley, Tabassum Adnan is a women’s rights advocate. Married at just 13 years-old, Ms. Adnan divorced her husband after 20 years of physical and mental abuse – a move that caused her to lose her children, her home, and money.

Abandoned and impoverished, she started her own NGO, Khwendo Jirga, or Sister’s Council. Khwendo Jirga is the first ever women-only Jirga, meeting weekly to address issues of honor killings, acid attacks, and swara, which is the act of handing over women as compensation for crimes or as a resolution of a dispute. Khwendo Jirga is also a staging ground to launch awareness campaigns for local women’s causes, including on issues related to women and their security, and mobilizes women to vote, offers free legal assistance to survivors of violence, and regularly meets with elected representatives to promote women’s interests in the district. Ms. Adnan’s calls to action in a child rape case resulted in her being invited to join the Grand Male Jirga in prosecuting the suspects – the first time in Pashtun history that a woman was an active participant in a Jirga. Ms. Adnan continues her work and advocacy despite numerous threats, as well as recommendations from friends and colleagues to keep a low profile.

Captain Niloofar Rahmani

Captain Niloofar Rahmani is the first female fixed-wing Afghan Air Force pilot in the history of Afghanistan. Captain Rahmani was only 18 years old when she heard an announcement in the media about the recruitment of young women into the Afghan Air Force, including the opportunity for pilot training. Soon after, she enlisted in officer training and graduated as a Second Lieutenant. In July 2012 – just two years after hearing the recruitment announcement – Captain Rahmani graduated from flight school and completed her first solo flight in September in a Cessna 182, an American four-seat, single-engine light airplane. She continued to expand her skills and challenge all odds when she graduated from advanced flight training and became qualified to fly a C-208 military cargo aircraft. Unfortunately, after her story was publicized, Captain Rahmani and her family began to receive threats from the Taliban and from members of her extended family, who disapproved of her career and ambition. As a result, her family has had to take tremendous caution and relocate several times in Afghanistan. In spite of these threats, Captain Rahmani remains determined to continue her career in the Afghan Air Force and work as frequently as her security situation permits. She is also deeply committed to encouraging other young women to join the cadre of female AAF pilots.

Following is a list of all the people who will be honored today.

Captain Niloofar Rahmani, Afghan Air Force (Afghanistan)

Ms. Nadia Sharmeen, journalist, women’s rights activist (Bangladesh)

Ms. Rosa Julieta Montaño Salvatierra, Founder and Director, Oficina Jurídica para la Mujer (Bolivia)

Ms. May Sabe Phyu, Director, Gender Equality Network (Burma)

Ms. Béatrice Epaye, President, Fondation Voix du Coeur (Central African Republic)

Ms. Marie Claire Tchecola, nurse, Ebola survivor and activist (Guinea)

Ms. Sayaka Osakabe, Founder and Representative, Matahara Net (Japan)

Ms. Arbana Xharra, Editor-in-Chief, Zeri (Kosovo)

Ms. Tabassum Adnan, Founder, Khwendo Jirga (Pakistan)

Ms. Majd Chourbaji, External Relations Director, Women Now for Development Centers (Syria)

Full biographies are available here.

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