‘We All Want to Be Free’

Noorjahan Akbar '14, speaking during an April 8, 2013 Glamour Magazine Award recognition ceremony in Stern Great Hall. Akbar returned to campus April 25. Photo by Carl Socolow '77.

Noorjahan Akbar '14, speaking during an April 8, 2013, Glamour Magazine Award recognition ceremony in Stern Great Hall. Akbar returned to campus April 25, 2016. Photo by Carl Socolow '77.

Global women's advocate returns to campus

by MaryAlice Bitts-Jackson

Renowned human-rights activist Noorjahan Akbar ’14 returned to Dickinson April 25 to co-lead a discussion about photojournalists in contemporary Afghanistan and the complexities they face, bringing truth to light in the aftermath of war and an oppressive regime. These are challenges that Akbar, who heads a blog on women’s rights in post-Taliban Afghanistan, understands well.

Undergraduate luminary

A native of Kabul, Akbar began to write professionally at age 14, penning children’s radio programs for Radio Free Europe and publishing a book of short stories for children. After attending two years at an American high school, she entered Dickinson in 2010 with assistance from the Afghan Girls Financial Assistance Fund, formed by Leo Motiuk ’66.

As an undergraduate, Akbar co-founded Young Women for Change, an organization focused on women’s social and economic empowerment. She also penned articles for Al Jazeera America, The New York Times, Save the Children International and Afghan newspapers; founded Kabul’s first all-female Internet café; led national human-rights campaigns and protests; and published a book of Afghan women’s writings that was distributed in several Afghan provinces. That short story collection was the springboard for Free Women Writers, a blog she founded in 2013 that corrals articles, poems, narratives and essays around women’s rights.

Her work quickly garnered international acclaim. As a sophomore, Akbar was invited to attend The Daily Beast’s Women in the World Summit, where she appeared alongside Hillary Clinton. She also was chosen for Forbes’ Top 100 Most Powerful Women in the World issue and Newsweek’s 150 Fearless Women Who Shake the World. Akbar received the American Association of University Women’s Woman of Distinction Award in 2012 and was selected for the grand prize in Glamour magazine’s Top 10 College Women  in 2013.

Sharing the message

After graduation, Akbar earned a master’s degree in journalism and public affairs from American University. Her blog has grown to include 120 contributors and reaches more than 30,000 readers weekly. She also is a keynote speaker on issues relating to the rights of women and girls, education and sustainable global development.

Akbar’s April 25 visit to Dickinson, organized by The Clarke Forum for Contemporary Issues, included an interview with student project manager Sam Weisman ’18 (international studies, international business & management); a public Q&A with Baktash Ahadi, a former military translator from Kabul; and a screening of the documentary Frame by Frame, which Ahadi co-produced.

Dubbed “informative, revelatory and full of astonishing photography” (Village Voice) and a “bracing tribute to the power of photojournalism” (Hollywood Reporter), Frame by Frame hits home for Akbar, whose sister is an Afghan journalist and whose friends are profiled in the film.

“I love this school, and I love this movie, so I am glad to be talking about it at Dickinson,” said Akbar, during an informal conversation before the public screening. “There is a lot of dedication to this cause. We all want to be free.”

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Published April 26, 2016