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Finland’s International Gender Equality Prize awarded for humanitarian work among Afghan women

Government Communications DepartmentMinistry of Social Affairs and HealthPrime Minister's Office
Publication date 11.12.2023 13.45
Press release

The International Gender Equality Prize was awarded to the Afghan Women Skills Development Center, which works to promote and protect the rights of women in Afghanistan. The organisation does important humanitarian work to promote the safety of Afghan women.

Prime Minister Petteri Orpo presented the EUR 300,000 Prize to the organisation’s representative Mahbouba Seraj in Tampere on 11 December 2023. 

“Finland has strongly supported gender equality and women’s rights in Afghanistan for 20 years. Even today, we continue to provide this important support as widely as possible in the current situation. Finland will not forget Afghan women,” says Prime Minister Petteri Orpo.

“The Afghan Women Skills Development Center is doing vital work to defend women’s rights and gender equality. The situation in Afghanistan is extremely difficult especially for women and organisations advocating their rights, which further emphasises the importance of the work done by this year’s recipient and the courage this work requires, “says Minister of Social Security Sanni Grahn-Laasonen, who is responsible for gender equality issues.

Afghanistan is an example of a country where women’s human rights are systematically suppressed. After the Taliban seized power, girls have been denied access to secondary education and women to higher education. 

The task of the Afghan Women Skills Development Center is to provide Afghan women with training and to support their skills development and economic empowerment. The organisation operates in eight provinces around the country. It cooperates with the UN Refugee Agency UNHCR, and the purpose of this cooperation is, first and foremost, to provide protection to women and families who are in danger. Women can, for example, bring their children to have a medical examination or spend time with them at small family centres. At these centres, the organisation also provides women with humanitarian assistance, such as food, hygiene products and money.

“After more than 40 years of war, there are an estimated 3.5-4 million female widows in this country. After the Taliban came to power, they can no longer go to work or earn a living except in a very limited way. We are trying to make the Taliban understand that these women are the only breadwinners of their families, that it is necessary for them to work, and they must be able to move out of their homes,” says Mahbouba Seraj, Executive Director of the Afghan Women Skills Development Center.

Impact of the work done by the organisation was emphasised in the selection of the recipient of the Prize

Nearly 500 nominations for the Prize were submitted from all over the world. The recipient of the Prize was decided based on the proposal made by an international prize jury.

“The situation in Afghanistan is desperate and dangerous when it comes to the rights of women and girls. The Afghan Women Skills Development Center operates at the grassroots level and brings hope for a better future in extremely difficult conditions. It has been an honour to chair a jury consisting of distinguished international experts. In selecting the recipient, the jury emphasised the impact of the work that the organisation to be awarded has done. We were unanimous in our decision,” says Saara-Sofia Sirén, Chair of the prize jury and the President of the National Council of Women of Finland. 

The jury also included human rights activist Zarifa Ghafari, actress Krista Kosonen, news anchor Richard Lui, co-founder and President of GWL Voices Susana Malcorra and CMI ‒ Martti Ahtisaari Peace Foundation’s Chair of the Board Alexander Stubb

Prize was now awarded for the fourth time 

The International Gender Equality Prize is a government prize administered by the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health. Tampere has been a partner of the Prize and the host city for the award ceremony since 2017. The partners of this year’s Prize are CMI ‒ Martti Ahtisaari Peace Foundation and the National Council of Women of Finland.

In 2021, the Prize was awarded to the We Will Stop Femicide Platform, an organisation that does groundbreaking work combating violence against women in Türkiye and whose work has global relevance.

In 2019, the Prize went to Equality Now, a global non-profit organisation, which defends the rights of women and has succeeded in changing discriminatory laws and ossified practices in different countries.

In 2017, the Prize was awarded to Federal Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel. She directed the prize money to a Nigerien organisation that works to stop domestic violence. The organisation decided to use the funds to build a residential shelter for women.

Further information

Minna Merikoski, International Affairs Specialist, City of Tampere, Tel. +358 40 841 6917, [email protected]
Anttoni Saarinen, Expert, Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, Tel. +358 295 163 141, [email protected]
Niilo Heinonen, Special Adviser to the Minister of Social Security , Tel. +358 295 163 603, [email protected]


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