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Oct. 10 2009 - 7:51 am | 188 views | 3 recommendations | 15 comments

Afghan Woman Loses Nobel Prize To Obama

semaFrom what I can tell–10,000 miles away from New York City–the big story of the week back home is US President Barack Obama’s winning the Nobel Peace Prize.

But here in Afghanistan the big story is about the nominee who didn’t win the prize. That would be Dr. Sima Samar, an incredibly courageous Afghan woman who has risked her life for much of the past decade, treating women and girls in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Dr. Samar is the chairwomen of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, a very influential organization in Kabul. She has won more awards from human rights organizations than I can list here, but you can see them for yourself on her Wiki page.

Dr. Samar was the first Hazara woman to obtain a medical degree from Kabul University, back in 1982. After a four-month residency at Wazir Akhbar Khan Hospital in Kabul, she was forced to flee for her life as Soviets and Mujahedeen fought bloody street battles in the capital.  She returned to her home village of Jaghoori, where she began treating the sick in rural Afghanistan. Soon the Russians arrested her husband and, once again Dr. Samar fled, this time with her young son, to Pakistan. In Pakistan she founded a clinic to treat refugees of the war in Afghanistan and has since described the conditions in the refugee camps as “appalling.”

Dr. Samar returned to Afghanistan in 2002, where she assumed the post of Deputy President and later Minister of Women’s Affairs  in the interim government of Hamid Karzai. She was forced to resign after making negative comments about sharia law and her life was constantly under threat. She is vocally opposed to the Burka, saying the the lack of sunlight on women’s skin causes Afghan women to have an unusually high instance of bone diseases.

Dr. Samar has likely saved the lives of countless women and girls who’s medical problems would otherwise have been ignored and their eventual deaths, unnoticed. Guess that’s not enough for the gang up in Oslo.

Better luck next year, Doc.


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  1. collapse expand

    Thanks for this. I’d love to read a story about this link between burka-wearing and bone disease; any links you can share?

  2. collapse expand

    Well put, P.J. It’s a shame that none of the more deserving candidates were considered for pure political showmanship. And Obama doesn’t even have the cojones to reject the award knowing he doesn’t deserve it.

  3. collapse expand

    Thank you for bringing our attention to this woman, P.J. It’s so appreciated!

  4. collapse expand

    Caitlin,

    I Googled around a bit, hoping to find a decent article about the health issues connected to Burka wearing for you, but most of the good stuff seemed to be behind pay walls. Of course health issues aren’t my forte(K. Drummond bait anyone?)so maybe I just didn’t know where to look.

    Mr. Hawk, I meant no editorial comment about Obama, I tend to check my opinions about US domestic politics at the door of the Afghan Desk Kabul bureau. That said, my ire lies mostly with the Nobel committee, as they’re the ones who made the decision.

  5. collapse expand

    Truly Dr. Samar deserved this prize far more than Obama. I lost faith in the Nobel process years ago. This year only reminds me of why I lost faith. Dr. Samar is a true hero.

  6. collapse expand

    Ghandi lost and Kissinger won; explain that! There will always be someone else who all too obviously deserves recognition more than the one who got it. Don’t see why this takes anything away from our good president. BTW was Dr. Sima Samar even nominated?

  7. collapse expand

    Proudly recommended. The Nobel committee can turn itself into an elitist niche group if it wants.

  8. collapse expand

    Inlaw,

    Local media here reported that Dr. Samar was nominated and those were the sources I used before writing the post. Then this morning I checked the Nobel website and found this: “The names of the nominees and other information about the nominations cannot be revealed until 50 years later.” The consensus here is that she was nominated, but Afghan reporters–like reporters everywhere–have been wrong before.

    Thanks for the rec Zaid!

    • collapse expand

      Thank you for your response, Mr Tobia. These things (awards) are very mysterious to me. I think the huge amount of $$ makes this one so “prestigious,” else why would anyone care? However, I do wish it could have assisted the good Dr. in her work. Perhaps the publicity the committee’s oversight generates will help her.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
  9. collapse expand

    Hello, I think I can help with the bone disease question. When deprived of sunlight, particularly UV light, children will develop rickets and adults develop a bone condition referred to as osteomalacia. The obvious sign is severe bowing of the legs in both cases. Osteomalacia is not osteoporosis as they can be pathologically distinguished. If the only time a person is outdoors, she is fully covered, vitamin D cannot be converted to its active form. Vitamin D is necessary for bone health. If the diet is not supplemented in the active vitamin D form, this condition will result. My PhD friend from Jeddah Saudi Arabia has told me she has seen this condition in women who always wear a burka when going outside. I teach this subject (vitamin D metabolism) in medical school. I hope this helps.

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    About Me

    I’m a writer and reporter living in Kabul, Afghanistan. For the past four years I’ve been an investigative reporter at various Village Voice Media weeklies, and before that I worked on documentary films in New York City.

    I am currently a journalism mentor and news editor for The Killid Group, a not-for-profit radio and print organization based in Kabul, with five radio stations and many bureaus throughout Afghanistan.

    My writing has appeared in The Washington Post, Philadelphia Inquirer, Christian Science Monitor, Village Voice, Modern Drunkard and other fine publications.

    Originally from Philadelphia, I’ve also worked in south Florida and Nashville, Tennessee.

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    Contributor Since: June 2009
    Location:Kabul, Afghanistan