International Editor of the Year Award

2004 Recipient

Shukria Barakzai

Speech:’s International Editor of the Year Award luncheon
United Nations, New York, N.Y.
May 9, 2005

In the Name of God.

Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.

First of all, I want to offer you best wishes from the people of Afghanistan, and especially from the women of Afghanistan. These are people who were living for many years in the harshest conditions. Even now, in the 21st century, in 2005, despite what you have heard, women are struggling in very harsh conditions for their status as human beings and for their human rights in a country that has unique traditions, beliefs and values.

Afghanistan is a country that was forgotten by the people of the world. No country had any interest in it after the downfall of the Communist regime. But because of the tragic event of 9/11, the downfall of the Taliban, the existence of Al Qaeda, and the support of the international community, the people of the world began to pay attention to this country again.

Now I want to speak of the new Afghanistan.

Twenty-five years ago, Afghanistan was a peaceful country. But now, the inhuman events and conditions that arose 25 years ago — the warlords, aggression, administrative corruption, the kidnapping of children, the smuggling of narcotics, the lack of security, and the terrible economic and health conditions, are growing worse, not better. Now the people of Afghanistan, especially women and children, are victims of a group of criminals under different names.

The two-faced policies of the U.S. and other superpowers, their support of the warlords , is the reason that security, reconstruction and new construction and democracy are not happening in my country.

Afghanistan could be an example of a new democracy. The existence of 300 free and independent publications, 48 radio stations, and 16 television channels in a country where four years ago there was nothing that could be called free speech, is excellent news. The modern constitution guarantees equal rights of men and women with specific articles for the judiciary and legislative process, especially for reestablishing the rights and social status of women and their political participation. The participation of millions of men and women in the first representation of democracy on election day, utilizing the right to vote, the attendance of more than four million children in school, and the interest of the people in free parliamentary elections in a country where there are still guns and gunmen are moments of pride for our people and models for other developing countries.

Of course, without the support of the international community, these successes would have been difficult or impossible, and I want to thank each and every one of them.

But I also hope that those who are interested in the process of peace and democracy in Afghanistan, who understand the values of the Afghan society, and who wish to support the Afghan people, will learn lessons from the failed policies of the last three years, policies that do not protect the security of Afghanistan but are obstacles to it. The support of armed groups and outlaws, a key part of U.S. policy, does not support the people and has slowed down the democratic process.

Furthermore, my existence as an Afghan woman journalist does not indicate the certainty of freedom of speech, the establishment of women’s rights, or the individual immunity of Afghan women from violence. The rebuilding of Kabul must not be taken as a measure of the reconstruction of Afghanistan. When we talk about Afghanistan, we should discuss conditions in the entire country. In many provinces and villages, which are in very bad condition, there is no difference between the period before the Taliban regime, the time of the Taliban, and now.

Child marriage, forced marriage, and violence against women are still common and accepted practices. You should know that one out of nine mothers dies in childbirth in Afghanistan, which has the highest maternal mortality rate in the world and one of the highest infant and child mortality rates as well.

It is also important to tell you that it is still a great risk to be a journalist. Journalists are often jailed and their lives are threatened.

Distinguished guests. Let me congratulate you for the daily success of the power of the pen over the gun. Let me thank the World Press organization for its promotion of freedom of expression, democratic values and human rights, and Teri Schure for her endless efforts and for her sincere friendship.

I ask you, members of the media, to come to Afghanistan to assess the real picture for yourselves as opposed to viewing a polished version on TV. And I ask you then to broadcast this reality, to write about or discuss it, in order to help the people of Afghanistan secure the democracy they desire for their country.

For more information, please contact Shukria Barakzai at or