Afghan Women Experts
The Onward for Afghan Women project is a resource for connecting Afghan women leaders in exile with meaningful opportunities to continue their advocacy and influence policy, discourse, and action on the ongoing crisis in Afghanistan. The Onward for Afghan Women initiative is in regular touch with these experts — most of whom are now in the United States — and is happy to connect journalists, policymakers, think tanks, academic programs, and others with opportunities for these leaders to meaningfully engage.
The experts below are just a portion of a vast and growing network of Afghan women leaders willing to share their expertise. Please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org with the expert or expertise you’re looking for and we will do our best to connect you with an accomplished Afghan woman leader.
H.E. Roya Rahmani
Distinguished Fellow, Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security
Roya Rahmani is a Distinguished Fellow at GIWPS. Roya is a former Afghan diplomat who served as Afghanistan’s first female ambassador to the United States and non-resident ambassador to Mexico, Argentina, Colombia, and the Dominican Republic from December 2018 to July 2021. Before entering government, she worked for several nonprofits that primarily focused on women’s rights and education. She received a bachelor’s degree in software engineering from McGill University in 2003 and a master’s degree in public administration and international law at Columbia University in 2009.
Visiting Scholar, The George Washington University
Muqaddesa Yourish is a former Deputy Minister for Commerce and Industry of Afghanistan and currently a visiting scholar at George Washington University. She previously served as the Country Director for Lapis, a top strategic communication firm of MOBY Group. She has a strong track record of serving for the Afghan Government and private sector in a wide range of capacities such as a Commissioner for the Independent Administrative Reforms and Civil Service Commission of Afghanistan (IARCSC), and Director of Human Resources for the Kabul Municipality. Muqaddesa is an MBA graduate with highest honors from the Akron University, United States of America and has a BBA and a Diploma in National Security and International Relations from the Pune University, India.
Co-founder, Afghan Women’s Network (AWN)
Roshan Mashal is a defender of women’s rights in Afghanistan. She played a leading role at the Afghan Women’s Network, where she advocated for social services for women and helped prepare the ground for the implementation of humanitarian projects. She graduated with a degree in journalism from Kabul University. She taught Afghan students in Peshawar, Pakistan and returned to her homeland during the Taliban period and taught Afghan girls hidden in their homes. Now, she is a member of the board of Central Afghanistan Welfare Committee (CAWC), The New Afghanistan Women Association (NAWA), and Afghanistan National Education Coalition (ANEC), UNESCO National Council Executive Board, and Women’s Network of MENA and Southeast Asia. Roshan is a member of the 1325 technical committee and has advocated for social services for women, the women peace and security agenda, women’s leadership and political participation.
Executive Director of Women for Justice Afghanistan (WJO)
Humaira Rasuli is a prominent Afghan human rights lawyer and an instrumental force behind some of the most landmark reforms for women’s rights in Afghanistan over the past two decades, such as the Anti-Sexual Harassment Law. An activist from a young age, she became the Director of Medica Afghanistan, an NGO that supported female survivors of violence after the US invasion in 2001. She is also the co-founder and executive director of Women for Justice Afghanistan, where she leads a team of lawyers, psychologists, and activists to strengthen women’s access to justice and investigate sexual violence cases. For her contributions to the Afghan women’s rights movement, she has received several national and international awards, including the 2021 Asia Democracy and Human Rights Award. She is currently a visiting scholar at William & Mary University.
Executive Director, Afghan Women’s Network (AWN)
Mary Akrami, a leading human rights activist, is the Executive Director of the Afghan Women Network (AWN) and former Executive Director of the Afghan Women Skills Development Center (AWSDC). She has been a staunch advocate for the prevention of violence against women and helped establish the country’s first shelter for women at risk. She has also promoted women’s participation in peacebuilding and conflict resolution, including in the 2010 Peace Consultative Jirga & the 2011 Grand Assembly for Peace Process. Mary received the 2007 International Women of Courage Award from the U.S. Department of State, an N-Peace award, and was appointed a member of the Supreme Council of National Reconciliation and peace. She is an alumnus of New York University’s Human Rights Advocacy Fellowship.
Senior Journalist & Head of Political News Section, Tolonews
Anisa Shaheed is one of the most notable journalists in Afghanistan with more than 13 years of experience, covering stories on current affairs, politics, elections, human rights, and security. She began her career as a political reporter, served as head of news at the independent TV channel Tolonews, and finally decided to return to reporting in the field. She was recognized by Reporters Without Borders for “courageous” reporting amid the coronavirus outbreak, and for her sensible covering of the attack on the maternity ward of a Kabul hospital last year. She was also named “The Face of Afghanistan’s Freedom of Expression” by Afghanistan’s Free Speech Hub network.
Journalist, Human Rights Activist, & Managing Director of the Killid Group
Najiba Ayubi is an award-winning Afghan journalist and activist for human rights and freedom of the press with over two decades of experience covering news stories in the country. She has worked under anonymous threats and attacks from government entities for her reporting on politics and women’s rights. As Managing Director of The Killid Group, she leads a team of reporters working in print, broadcast and online media that includes two of the country’s most popular magazines (Killid Weekly and Mursal Weekly) and eleven radio stations with a total of 12 million listeners and about 100 affiliated radios. She has refused calls for censorship and is passionate about independent media. Najiba is also the co-founder of the Afghan Independent Media Consortium and the Freedom of Expression Initiative, serves as head of the International Association of Women in Radio and Television (IAWRT) Afghanistan chapter, and won the International Women’s Media Foundation Courage in Journalism Award in 2013.
CO-Founder, Afghan Women’s Network (AWN)
Asila Wardak is a diplomat by profession, human rights and women’s rights activist from Afghanistan, and one of the founders of Afghan Women’s network (AWN). She serves as Director General of UN Affairs and International Organizations in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and was elected a member of the Organization of the Islamic Cooperation’s Independent Human Rights Commission. She holds a Master’s Degree in International Relations and Diplomacy from the US. She also served as Minister Counselor to the Permanent Mission of Afghanistan to the United Nations in New York and as Director General of Human Rights and International Women’s affairs of Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Afghanistan, Safeguard/Social Development Specialist for the World Bank and worked with different organizations such as UNDP, Asian Development Bank, UNAMA, CARE and Canada Fund where she served many Afghan women during Taliban regime with provision of aid assistance and carried many trainings and capacity building programs for women and worked in very hard environment for women’s rights. Read more…
Former Deputy Minister for Policy in the Ministry of Finance
Naheed Sarabi formerly served as the Deputy Minister for Policy in the Afghan Ministry of Finance. Previously, she assisted in developing the Afghanistan National Peace and Development Framework (ANDPF) and served as the Director of the Afghan National Development Strategy (ANDS), where she oversaw the preparation and implementation of plans for its 22 National Priority Programs. She has also held the positions of Assistant Resident Representative for UNDP, Afghanistan and is a Commissioner for the International Commission on Inclusive Peace at Principles for Peace Initiative.
Fashion Designer & Founder and Director, Abnoos
Rika Sadat is an entrepreneur, businesswoman, and one of Afghanistan’s most prominent fashion and costume designers. In addition to equipping the sets of some of the country’s most famous television shows and movies, she has used her fashion business to work in direct opposition to the Taliban’s strict and oppressive rule. She is the Founder and Director of Abnoos, a women-led luxury silk COVID-19 mask business and modeling company, which she developed under the Taliban to create employment opportunities for women suffering during the pandemic and Afghanistan’s rising humanitarian crisis. Through Abnoos, she also ran an innovative women’s dress design shop in Herat city to provide alternatives to Afghani traditional local costumes and dresses. Her products were widely circulated through the Afghan provinces, and supported and delivered to the American Company Eneref Institute and Dulles Dynamics.
Visiting Assistant Project Scientist at University of California, Irvine Psychologist and Public Servant
Shahba Shahrukhi is a psychologist, public servant, and politician. She currently serves as a Visiting Assistant Project Scientist at the University of California, Irvine. Previously, she worked as a professor at the Department of Psychology of Balkh University and a psychologist consultant at the Women’s Protection Center in Mazar-e-Sharif. Motivated by the lack of equality for women in Afghanistan’s traditional society, she launched a candidacy for the National Parliament of Afghanistan, and received the second most votes among female candidates. She continues to serve her community today as a member of the Afghan Youth Leaders, and works to advance equality, political participation, and the right to education for Afghan women and girls. She has a Bachelor’s degree in psychology and a Master’s degree in public policy.
Director of the Afghan Women’s Educational Center and Senior Fellow at the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security
Palwasha Hassan is the Director of the Afghan Women’s Educational Center and Senior Fellow at the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security. She holds a master’s degree in Post-war Recovery Studies from York University, UK, and is a former fellow at the United States Institute of Peace. Palwasha is a dedicated women’s rights activist pioneering many critical works to promote women’s rights and civil society in Afghanistan. Her achievements, among others, include the first women’s legal support organization Roazana (1997), Women and Street Children Center (1998), Women, Children Safe Home Network Manager (1999), Irfan Cultural Center. She co-founded a visionary women’s rights movement in Afghanistan by setting up the Afghan Women Network that has played a pivotal role in Women’s rights advocacy for the last 26 years.
Social and Political Activist and Former Deputy Speaker and Member of Afghanistan’s Youth Parliament
Muqadasa Ahmadzai is a political and social activist who works to promote gender equality and mobilize women in Afghanistan. Previously, she served as Deputy Speaker and Member of the Youth of Nangarhar Province in Afghanistan’s Youth Parliament, where she spearheaded initiatives for broader female political participation and established the National Youth Council. She has also worked to improve women’s and girl’s education in the Nangarhar province. She is the Founder and Director of the Kor Association, an organization that coordinates local advocacy efforts and media campaigns, and led cultural events to raise awareness of women’s rights, child labor, and peacebuilding. Continuing through the COVID-19 pandemic to combat disinformation and support women’s health, her activism uniquely blends art and community action into peace campaigns. She also participated in Afghanistan and Pakistan Peace Dialogues to represent the voice of Afghan women and traveled to Taliban-controlled territories to highlight the needs of women’s participation in peace processes.
Civil Society and Women’s Right Activist
Laila Jafari is a prominent civil society and women’s rights activist in Afghanistan. She is also a member of High Peace Council (HPC), a government body constituted to facilitate peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban. Before the fall of the Afghan government, she worked as the Director of Political Organizations & Integration of Civil Society Institutions at the State Ministry for Peace to give the opportunity for organizations left out of the peace process to take part in the Intra Afghan peace negotiations.
Consultant, World Bank, Kabul Office, Afghanistan
Yalda Royan is a senior development professional and women’s rights activist with extensive leadership experience in government, national and international NGOs. She has spearheaded women’s rights initiatives in Afghanistan as a gender advisor for the Ministry of Women’s Affairs Organizational Restructuring and Empowerment project, the Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development and Independent Directorate of Local Governance. She also served as the Gender and Youth Program Officer for the United States Institute of Peace, Gender Coordinator for Oxfam GB, Gender Specialist to Counterpart International and Deputy Chief of Party for Promote Musharikat, where she sought to advance women’s political, economical and social participation. She has worked as consultant for World Bank to respond to GBV issues in public health sector. Currently she works as a Consultant to VOICE, Afghanistan program. She has vast expertise in designing and leading gender initiatives across women’s empowerment, GBV, conflict resolution, and peace and security, and holds a master’s degree in gender and women’s studies from Kabul University.
Former Member of the Wolesi Jirga and Human Rights, Civil Society and Women’s Affairs Commission Chairperson
Naheed A. Farid was the youngest ever Member of Parliament elected in Afghanistan’s history upon her election. During her tenure, she authored, sponsored, and co-sponsored important women’s rights and human rights legislation including the Child Protection Law, the Citizenship Law, the Labor Law and the Elimination of Violence Against Women Law. She is currently a board member of the Farid Foundation, which implements annual projects to deliver legal, health, and educational facilities and services to women and children. She is also an advisory board member of the Afghanistan-U.S. Democratic Peace and Prosperity Council (DPPC) that advocated for structural government reform with international partners and is now the only registered anti-Taliban lobbying organization. Previously, she also worked with various NGOs including the World Food Program.
Country Representative, Afghan Women’s Resource Center (AWRC)
Maryam Rahmani is the Country Representative for Afghan Women’s Resource Center (AWRC) – a local women’s organization working in six provinces of Afghanistan. She worked to advance women’s economic empowerment at the village and district levels, and has established women-led community-based organizations, technical institutes for women and girls, and trainings for women council leaders. She is also a new elected Board Member for Afghan Women Network (AWN) – March 2018 as well as a Core Member for the Women’s Regional Network (WRN). She is a Steering Committee Member for Afghan Coordinating Body for Afghan Relief and Development (ACBAR) and Core Member for Women’s Regional Network (WRN). She graduated from economics faculty – Kabul University in 2007, and has her Master’s in Business Management from ISBM (India School of Business Management), India.
“An Afghan girl power culture wave is, of course, an unrealistic image for a country where the majority of women is still illiterate but still am happy that I can reach Afghan women at the grass root level and can contribute to their development.” Maryam
Civil Society and Human Rights Activist
Hasina Jalal has been a tireless advocate for women’s empowerment and democracy in Afghanistan for many years. She is currently pursuing a PhD in Public and International Affairs at the University of Pittsburgh. She has an MBA from the American University of Afghanistan and another master’s degree in Women’s and Gender Studies as a Fulbright scholar. She has broad government experience as the former Director of Program Design and Donor Coordination at the Ministry of Mines and Petroleum and as a policy expert and research team leader for the Administrative Office of the President. She also founded the National Association of Afghanistan Civil Society, the Afghanistan Women Empowerment and Capacity Building Center, and the South Asian Feminist Alliance. For her commitment to civil society and gender equality, Jalal was recognized with the N-Peace Award from the UNDP Asia Pacific Regional Office in 2014 and the 45 Most Influential Afghan Women’s Award in 2020.
Saleha Soadat is an award-winning journalist from Afghanistan with over 10 years of
experience in digital media and public affairs reporting. As an Afghan female journalist
writing about women’s and children’s human rights issues, Saleha was a trailblazer in
her industry. After the Taliban takeover of Kabul in August 2021, she evacuated to the
United States where she remains dedicated to using her talents and the power of the
pen to stand up for justice.
Saleha was born and raised in Kabul; and throughout her early life, she experienced
inequality, discrimination, injustice, and civil war. After 9/11 and the arrival of US forces
along with the international community to expel the Taliban, things got comparatively
better: she and other Afghan women became hopeful because they got the opportunity
to get an education and to grow professionally. Read more…
Horia Faizi Sardarzada
Former Director-General of Early Childhood Care and Education at the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs
Horia Faizi Sardarzada formerly served as the Director-General of Early Childhood Care and Education at the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, overlooking ECCE services to support the women’s economic empowerment agenda and children’s preparation for official learning in Afghanistan. Previously, she worked as Deputy Program Director of the Women’s Economic Empowerment National Priority Program of World Bank in Afghanistan, a gender mainstreaming effort towards women’s economic empowerment and as a Gender Expert with UN Women at the Office of the Afghan President on UN Affairs, where she provided assistance on carrying out the gender-related issues of the One UN Agenda in Afghanistan. She also served as a board member and research fellow for the Afghanistan Center for Policy Studies and as a board member of Women’s Initiatives for Sustainable Energy, where she helps educate women on energy efficiency and promotes women’s empowerment in the energy sector. Beyond this, she previously served as a WEP Asia Global Citizen Fellow for the Ban Ki Moon Center for Global Citizens. For her work, Sardarzada has been recognized nationally and internationally, such as through being nominated as a candidate for the N-Peace Awards in 2018 and young figure of the year 2019 in Afghanistan.
Lima Anwari is a strong advocate for the inclusion of Afghan youth, marginalized ethnic groups, and women in the peacebuilding process and in the government. She champions the causes of youth education and political participation across Afghanistan, and has held positions with the International Rescue Committee, International Development Law Organization (IDLO), USAID, and UN Women. Currently, she serves as a Core Group Member for the Women’s Regional Network in Afghanistan, where she seeks to strengthen and advance the WPS agenda. Previously, she also worked to influence policy regarding youth and women empowerment and as a legal services provider in Kabul.
Former District Governor of Charkint District, Balkh Province
Salima Mazari, one of the only three women district governors in Afghanistan, served as the District Governor of Charkint District in Balkh province. Considered a fearless military and political leader, she has long been a driving force in the fight against the Taliban. Prior to the fall of Kabul, she formed a security commission to recruit local militias into the fight against insurgents and negotiated the surrender of over 100 Taliban soldiers in her province. Salima continues to advocate for the rule of law and rights of women and children. She is a graduate of Tehran University, and has held various roles in universities and international organizations.
Founder and Head, Green Home
Zahra Yagana is an advocate for a life free from violence against women and girls in Afghanistan. She is the Founder and CEO of a nonprofit organization, Green Home, that helped provide scholarships and healthcare to children affected by suicide bombings. For over 15 years, she has worked as a civil society and environmental activist, project manager, consultant, and country coordinator in several governments, NGOs, and INGOs. She holds a Bachelor’s of Law and Political Science. She is the author of the best-selling book, Light of Ashes, which speaks of her own experiences as a woman who had been a victim of violence and then worked to end it.