About the Author: Ruth Bennett serves as the Public Affairs Advisor for the Office of International Women’s Issues. This entry is one in a series of profiles of the 2009 International Women of Courage Award recipients.
Wazhma Frogh believes in changing systems from within, and is willing to stake a lot on her beliefs. In 2002, when she visited a conservative district in northeastern Afghanistan, the activist overheard the local mullah urging male worshippers to stop her plans to start a literacy program for women. Ms. Frogh marched into the mosque, she told a Christian Science Monitor reporter, and challenged the mullah to hear her out. She recited a number of Koranic passages that supported education, and she decried the use of Islam to justify domestic violence and child marriage. The mullah listened, and then endorsed her plans to start the literacy program.
Ms. Frogh uses her scholarly knowledge of Islam to convince religious leaders to modify their views of women – views, she claims, that are often rooted more in provincial local traditions than in the real essence of the faith. "My goal is to really represent Islam,” she told the Christian Science Monitor. “It's not a religion that oppresses women."
Her activism began at a young age. In the eighth grade, she offered tutoring to her landlord’s children in exchange for reduced rent, so as to ensure that she and her sisters would be able to continue school. At age 17, she used her internship at a prestigious Pakistani newspaper to expose poor living conditions and abuses of women’s rights in Afghan refugee camps in Pakistan.
Ms. Frogh currently works as the Afghanistan Country Director for Global Rights, an international human rights organization. She’s launched public debates on domestic violence and marital rape in Afghanistan, both previously unmentionable topics in her country. She persuaded mullahs to join her in a month-long campaign of speaking out against domestic violence, and, by mobilizing a group of over 35 civil society organizations, convinced the government of Afghanistan to take action against child rape. Ms. Frogh also provides training to policewomen on issues surrounding domestic violence and child abuse.
Wazhma Frogh’s bold outspokenness for women, children, and social justice makes her a target in her conservative and volatile society. Her bravery creates safety for those whom the laws make vulnerable, and her commitment to peaceful change through the force of her intellect and persuasive skills creates both opportunity and inspiration for other women to do the same.