Founder of Young Women for Change
Noorjahan Akbar’s amazing courage in fighting for women’s rights in Afghanistan has inspired many, both men and women, to recognize the importance of gender equality and to act against violence and unfair treatment of women in Afghanistan. Young Women for Change, a women’s rights organization that Noorjahan cofounded, is actively participating in helping the women of Afghanistan stand up and claim their rights apart from inspiring many to support their efforts.
Noorjahan’s active participation in supporting gender equality and women’s rights stems from her amazing compassion and dedication towards the welfare of her fellow Afghan women. Having received education during her younger years, a privilege that most women in Afghanistan did not have, Noorjahan was exposed to the truth that women should be treated equally with men and should not be seen as inferior. She has since developed a heart for helping other women through inspiring and encouraging them into standing up for their rights.
Noorjahan’s Early Bio
Compared to many women born in Afghanistan, Noorjahan was very fortunate. Born to a Dari literature teacher and a freelance journalist and author in Kabul in 1991, Noorjahan had a rare opportunity to experience education. Such a privilege was difficult to receive in Afghanistan during this time, especially for women, who were looked down by the community. This allowed her to be exposed to the many things that were only available to men.
At a young age, Noorjahan already had a fondness for reading literature and writing because of her writer father. In her own personal profile, she tells of how her father brought her up with a deep love and appreciation for literature. She often tells of how her parents’ love for her has developed her compassion for others.
Noorjahan first learned to speak and write English when she and her family moved to Peshawar, Pakistan after the Taliban entered Afghanistan. She also started learning about computers, where she was excellent at.
Starting a Career Early
Due to the financial challenges that the family faced, Noorjahan had to start working at a very young age. Her first job was at Radio Adazi, where she worked as a writer for children’s programs. Later on, Noorjahan became the executive assistant of the Huma Media Group as well as the assistant and writer of the Huma Monthly Publication—both aimed helping the children and teenagers to voice out their concerns in order to move those in the government and private organizations to act on the issues regarding education, health care, and many other basic needs of the young people.
In 2001, Noorjahan and her family returned to Afghanistan. She helped start an English language center, which focused on educating the women in the Qalaye Fatehullah region of Kabul. Around 400 women were given the privilege of learning to speak and write English because of the language center.
Noorjahan’s experience in being a part-time writer and journalist developed her confidence and courage to help her fellow Afghan women by teaching them to stand for their rights through giving them education. Her decision in building a language center for women was indeed a challenge, since women were given very little importance and value in their society and the language center would present a threat to those who radically believed in the superiority of men over women. Yet, despite all these challenges, Noorjahan still found it important and worth the risk, often stating during interviews how she believes that women should be treated equally with men.
In 2004, she worked as a translator for the Welfare Development for Afghan Women, which was an independent organization that fought for women’s rights in Afghanistan. Her amazing personality and hard work were immediately noticed by her employers and she was soon promoted to project manager.
Noorjahan entered college in 2005 at the International School of Kabul, which was the only American school in Afghanistan. She did, however, face the challenge of not being able to enter due to lack of finances to pay for the school fees. Through a stroke of favor, she found out about the school’s need for a translator and immediately applied for the position. The school agreed to give her a scholarship as a working student.
In many of her interviews, Noorjahan would often recall how the students at the International School of Kabul received the kind of education that most public schools in Afghanistan could not provide. It was also in this year that she started working with the Radio Television of Afghanistan, where she wrote stories for a kids’ TV show.
In 2006, Noorjahan started working as a translator at GTZ-BEPA (German Technical Cooperation—Basic Education Program for Afghanistan). She extensively aimed her efforts to help educating children and as a result, a collection of six short stories—compiled into a single book—was published and given to the children of Afghanistan. While working on these short stories, Noorjahan would spend a lot of her time with children, often letting them prepare drawings and hearing their thoughts about the book. Her work in GTZ was focused on the welfare of both women and children. She later on assisted the organization in collecting 300 couplets and songs of traditional Afghan women’s music.
Writing Afghan Children’s Songbook with the Help of the American Embassy in Afghanistan
In 2008, Noorjahan was given a wonderful opportunity of further continuing her education at George School in Pennsylvania, United States. Through the support of the school, as well as several individuals who were inspired by her work regarding women’s rights, Noorjahan was able to study and complete the remaining two years of her high school. After graduating from George School, Noorjahan was accepted into Dickinson University, where she is studying sociology.
One of Noorjahan’s most famous collaborations is with the Afghan Children’s Songbook, a collection of folklore music and games intended for Afghan children. Funded by the American Embassy in Afghanistan, the project enabled Noorjahan to work with the children and their families, where her love and passion for the care of women and children was further developed. She believes that once the project is completed, it will help build up awareness in child welfare through promoting child literacy and folkloric music.
Voices for Hope Teaches 100 Afghan Children Creative Writing
In 2010, Noorjahan started a creative writing program called Voices for Hope, which was dedicated to helping children write and think creatively. With the assistance of the volunteer group Youth in Action Association, Noorjahan was able to successfully promote the program and help 30 children.
During the course of the program, Noorjahan was able to learn more about the importance of letting the young generation express themselves. This inspired her to continue and develop another program which she called Stories to Heal, which helped over 100 Afghan children through creative writing.
The Birth of Young Women for Change
In April 2011, Noorjahan co-founded the Young Women for Change, an Afghan organization which is dedicated to encouraging and empowering the young women in Afghanistan to stand up for their rights through education and social awareness. Noorjahan worked with the organization until October 2012, when the organization finally became self-sufficient. From its inception, the Young Women for Change has grown into an organization with hundreds of willing volunteers and has raised public awareness regarding women’s rights.
Joining Advocacy for Dignity
Noorjahan’s work with the Young Women for Change has greatly improved the way women have been treated in Afghanistan over the past years. In July 2011, Noorjahan participated in the Advocacy for Dignity, a protest march against street harassment for the women in Kabul. This was done after an extensive study where Noorjahan learned that 18 out of 20 women in Afghanistan have experienced street harassment. The protest march was a success, which was joined by over 50 youth and was supported by the local police, even helping them distribute flyers to raise public awareness for the fair treatment of women.
More recently, Noorjahan Akbar became one of the recipients of the 2012 Women of Distinction Award from the National Conference for College Women Student Leaders for her efforts in promoting women and children’s rights in Afghanistan.
Throughout Noorjahan’s career, she has written hundreds of articles, blogs, and programs, which have inspired many to help the children and women of Afghanistan. Her perseverance and optimistic view that change will occur regarding the treatment of Afghan women and children has enabled her to continue working for their rights despite all the challenges that she and her fellow women are facing. Her dream of living a life that is dedicated to promoting gender equality and education in Afghanistan is truly an inspiring story. It teaches us that even at a young age one can make a difference that can benefit an entire nation.
Noorjahan Makes it to Forbes
Noorjahan's crusade caught the attention of Forbes. They included her in their list of Women Changing the World. According to Forbes, "Dozens of women flock each day through the discreetly marked doors of Akbar’s Sahar Gul Cafe, Afghanistan’s first all-female Internet café. Through Young Women for Change, she is ensuring that Afghan girls and women have a safe place to connect to the world and have a platform to socialize, study and advocate. (Source: Forbes)”
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Those who want to help Noorjahan may get in touch with the organization through Twitter or their official website which are both available on Contact Details within the Biography Tab.
Organizations and Programmes Supported
- Young Women for Change
Achievements and Awards
- 2012: Received the Woman of Distinction Award from the National Conference for College Women Student Leaders at Maryland, USA