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Raising Our Voices: Speaking Out Through Sisterhood

Noorjahan Akbar has something momentous to say, but not because she’s a renowned human rights activist, an Afghan woman fighting for gender equality, or one of Newsweek’s “150 Fearless Women Who Shake the World.” She is all those things, but what she has to say is not about herself or her impressive list of accomplishments. It’s about you.

“You have a voice. Your voice is valid. Your voice is powerful,” said Akbar to the Lincoln community during the school’s International Women’s Day celebration in March, one of a series of events dedicated to bringing powerful women and thought leaders to campus. Her time at Lincoln, made possible by the support of the Joseph R. and Jeffrey R. Paolino Fund, felt familiar to Akbar, the product of an all-girls education through Grade 8.

“I found so much sisterhood, so much support in that environment,” said Akbar. “My success is truly built on the shoulders of other women.”

Akbar’s story began in Afghanistan and Pakistan, but continued in the United States where she attended high school and graduated from Dickinson College. From young adulthood to today, Akbar has worked tirelessly for women’s social and economic empowerment. As the founder of Free Women Writers, a collective of Afghan women who use storytelling to work toward gender equality and social justice, and as a part of Women for Women International, she has made it her mission to speak out so that other women around the world  have the opportunity to speak for themselves.

“You may think that you have had an ordinary life, but there simply is no such thing. All of our stories enrich what it means to be a woman in this beautiful and complex world. And all of our stories have one incredible thing in common: the ability to let someone know that they aren’t alone,” Akbar told the audience, students and community members alike.

Noorjahan Akbar at Lincoln School

Meredith Sullivan ’17, one of the student co-organizers of Lincoln’s International Women’s Day event, said, “I’m so grateful we all got to hear Noorjahan speak, which fit perfectly with the theme for the day, “Owning Your Narrative.” She was an inspiration to many and encouraged all of us to take the theme to heart and our own stories.”

Akbar shared her belief that no matter the arc of your story, its power is in the telling. In the field of gender equality, silence can be interpreted as acceptance of the unacceptable.

“As women, and perhaps particularly Afghan women, we are often the subject of the conversation, but we are so often missing from the table. Writing is a great tool to connect and a great tool to advocate," said Akbar.

Alana Esposito ’03, a journalist who connected Akbar with Lincoln, met her at a Women for Women International event and was moved by her mission.

“Noorjahan’s message—essentially that education and independence and a commitment to social justice are the keys to a brighter future—is an important one for everyone, not just students and not just girls,” said Esposito. “However, I thought it might particularly resonate in Lincoln girls because it goes hand in hand with the confidence and consideration for others that the school tries to instill in its students.”

Whether here at Lincoln, or beyond in the world, consideration for others and connection with other women may be the surest path to achieving the goal of gender equality.

“It is true what you’ve learned here—sisterhood can change the world,” said Akbar. “As women, you have immense power. You have the power to lift up someone else, to truly hear them, to make someone feel important, and that may be the most important thing of all.”

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