A visionary educator and the institute she helped found in Afghanistan were the recipients of this year’s International Women’s Rights Prize presented at the United Nations yesterday.

The prize was created by the Peter Gruber Foundation, a charitable organization based on St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands that gives out several annual international awards. The Women’s Rights Prize–which consists of a gold medal and $200,000 in unrestricted cash–is presented each year to individuals and groups that “have made significant contributions, often at great personal risk, to furthering the rights of women and girls,” and that have advanced public awareness of the necessity of those rights.

The 2004 recipients, Sakena Yacoobi and the Afghan Institute of Learning, were honored for their work bringing education and health care to Afghan women and girls in both Afghanistan and the overflowing refugee camps in Pakistan. Yacoobi and two other women founded the Institute in 1995 to help address women’s lack of access to education after the Taliban shut many of the country’s schools that same year.

During the Taliban rule, the institute ran 80 underground schools and established mobile libraries in four Afghan cities. By the end of 2003, the organization had served more than 350,000 Afghan women and girls through its programs in teacher training, health education, human rights education, women’s leadership training and literacy, according to the Gruber Foundation.

Other things to cheer about this week:

— A 73-year-old female doctor announced her plan to run for Egypt’s presidency next October. Nawal Saadawi, who has been imprisoned and censored for her outspoken feminist views, acknowledged the candidacy was largely symbolic but said she wants to get Egyptians thinking about reform and the separation of church and state.

— Members of Lesotho’s government told Reuters this week that they planned to grant women full legal equality and property rights within a year, marking a major step forward in a country where women are legally minors and are subject to the will of their husbands or fathers.


Arnold Insults Nurses

California’s governor added salt to an already deep wound in his relationship with the state’s registered nurses on Tuesday, when he labeled them “special interests” who are only mad because “I kick their butt.”

In early November, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger issued an executive order to maintain the current patient-to-nurse ratio of 6-to-1 in the state’s hospitals, despite the nurses’ claim that the ratio places undue strain on them and poses a risk of mistakes on the job.

In response, a small group of registered nurses staged a protest at the convention hall where the California Governor’s Conference for Women and Families was taking place. When Schwarzenegger took the stage on Tuesday to begin the conference, he told the largely female 10,000-person audience:

“Pay no attention to those voices over there,” he said. “They are the special interests. Special interests don’t like me in Sacramento because I kick their butt.”

The California Nurses Association called the remark “completely insulting,” and its leaders told reporters they plan to sue to prevent Schwarzenegger’s executive order from being implemented.

The governor “is horrendous when it comes to issues of health care and women,” the association’s executive director, Rose Ann DeMoro, told the San Francisco Chronicle.

Other things to jeer this week:

— A Cambodian shelter for former prostitutes shut its doors last Friday after gunmen kidnapped 92 of its inhabitants and made death threats against the staff, the shelter’s director said. Eighty-four of those kidnapped had been rescued from a Phnom Penh brothel just two days earlier.

— Pharmaceutical advertisements for medication to treat cardiovascular disease show evidence of gender bias, according to a new University of Toronto study. Of 919 ads examined, only 20 percent featured women and the researchers expressed concern that such gender inequity may contribute to known disparities in how physicians treat men and women with similar heart problems.

— By Robin Hindery.