Tuesday, March 8, 2011

International Women's Day

Unintended Beauty, her story…

Sharbat Gula (Pashto: شربت ګله, literally "Flower Sharbat") (pronounced [ˈʃaɾbat]) (born ca. 1972) is an Afghan woman who was the subject of a famous photograph by journalist Steve McCurry. Gula was living as a refugee in Pakistan, during the time of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan when she was photographed. The image brought her recognition when it was featured on the cover of the June 1985 issue of National Geographic Magazine, at a time when she was approximately 12 years old. Gula was known throughout the world simply as "the Afghan Girl" until she was formally identified in early 2002.

An Afghan (Pashtun) by ethnicity, Gula was orphaned during the Soviet Union's bombing of Afghanistan and sent to the Nasir Bagh refugee camp in Pakistan in 1984. Her village was attacked by Soviet helicopter gunships sometime in the early 1980s. The Soviet strike killed her parents—forcing her, her siblings and grandmother to hike over the mountains to the Nasir Bagh refugee camp in neighboring Pakistan. She married Rahmat Gul in the late 1980s and returned to Afghanistan in 1992. Gula had three daughters: Robina, Zahida, and Alia. A fourth daughter died in infancy. Gula has expressed the hope that her girls will receive the education she was never able to complete.
1984 photograph, “Afghan Girl” 

At the Nasir Bagh refugee camp in 1984, Gula's photograph was taken by National Geographic photographer Steve McCurry. Gula was one of the students in an informal school within the refugee camp; McCurry, rarely given the opportunity to photograph Afghan women, seized the opportunity and captured her image.

Although her name was not known, her picture, titled "Afghan Girl", appeared on the June 1985 cover of National Geographic. The image of her face, with a red scarf draped loosely over her head and with her piercing sea-green eyes staring directly into the camera, became a symbol both of the 1980s Afghan conflict and of the refugee situation worldwide. The image itself was named "the most recognized photograph" in the history of the magazine.

Search for the Afghan Girl

The identity of the Afghan Girl remained unknown for over 17 years; Afghanistan remained largely closed to Western media until after the removal of the Taliban government in 2001. Although McCurry made several attempts during the 1990s to locate her, he was unsuccessful.

In January 2002, a National Geographic team traveled to Afghanistan to locate the subject of the now-famous photograph. McCurry, upon learning that the Nasir Bagh refugee camp was soon to close, inquired of its remaining residents, one of whom knew Gula's brother and was able to send word to her hometown. However, there were a number of women who came forward and identified themselves erroneously as the famous Afghan Girl. In addition, after being shown the 1985 photo, a handful of young men falsely claimed Gula as their wife.

The team finally located Gula, then around the age of 30, in a remote region of Afghanistan; she had returned to her native country from the refugee camp in 1992. Her identity was confirmed using biometric technology, which matched her iris patterns to those of the photograph with almost full certainty. She vividly recalled being photographed—she had been photographed on only three occasions: in 1984 and during the search for her when a National Geographic producer took the identifying pictures that led to the reunion with Steve McCurry. She had never seen her famous portrait before it was shown to her in January 2003. 


 More recent pictures of her were featured as part of a cover story on her life in the April 2002 issue of National Geographic and she was the subject of a television documentary, entitled Search for the Afghan Girl, which aired in March 2002. In recognition of her, National Geographic set up the Afghan Girls Fund, a charitable organization with the goal of educating Afghan girls and young women. In 2008, the scope of the fund was broadened to include boys and the name was changed to Afghan Children's Fund.

The Sharbat Gula Justice Center

Educating and Empowering Women World WideMen and women are two wings of the same bird, unless they work in synchronicity the bird can not soar. 

Sharbat Gula Justice Center's mission is to promote human rights in societies that are undergoing transition from war and its associated social upheaval. They provide educational facilities, legal advocacy for victims of gender apartheid and vocational resources and training for women and girls. The core of their work is to assist women in Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan. While their geographic focus is on this triad, they promote equality between men and women worldwide, and work within the international framework and mandates adopted by the United Nations for developing nations. Their work is non-partisan and has broad based institutional support as the most effective means of transitioning developing nations from disorder to one governed by rule of law.

Her Life Revealed

Sharbat Gula which means "flower nectar" in Afghanistan's main language (lingua franca), of Pashto, is the most iconic recognizable face in the world, yet VERY few who recognize her haunting green eyes, know where she is from or her struggle.

Upon finding her after 17 years, she was asked what she most wanted in her life. What she asked for was not for herself but for her three daughters. Her wish has been the education of her three young daughters. To this end the Sharbat Gula Justice Center was created; to provide the means for the education of girls and women in Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan. While their geographic focus is based on this trinity, they assist women worldwide, building schools, providing vocational training and legal asylum for victims of gender based persecution. Their work revolves not around 'charity' but JUSTICE. It is only JUST that everyone, most importantly WOMEN have the same opportunities that exist for men, if not more so, for women are the first teachers of children and the creators of future generations. This work and programs on behalf of women have inspired other NGO's and policy makers to focus on women as the focal point of effective "nation building". Women's rights promotion and socio-economic development opportunities for women have been cited and documented by numerous United Nations studies to be the most effective remedy for societies in transition who wish to join the group of developed nations.


§  Victimization and Third World: being orphaned, a girl and a refugee.

§  Beauty Standards/Awareness: how do you think Sharbat Gula conceived her own beauty as opposed to the Western standards?

§  Reaching Goals/ Motherhood/ Main Wish: Education for her daughters.

§  Recognition/Achievements/ (Un)intentionally.

Reflect Upon the Following extracts:

When they met again, McCurry told Sharbat her image had become famous as a symbol of the Afghan people. "I don't think she was particularly interested in her personal fame," McCurry said. "But she was pleased when we said she had come to be a symbol of the dignity and resilience of her people."

The award-winning photographer said his original image of Sharbat had seized the imagination of so many people around the world because her face, particularly her eyes, expressed pain and resilience as well as strength and beauty.

When Sharbat agreed to have her picture taken for the second time in her life, she came out from the secrecy of her veil to tell her story. She wanted the people around the world who knew her face to know that she survived the refugee camp in Pakistan.Sharbat said she fared relatively well under Taliban rule, which, she feels, provided a measure of stability after the chaos and terror of the Soviet war.

According to Matson and McCurry, Sharbat Gula has returned to anonymity; the latest publicity about her name and face is unlikely to draw attention to her in Afghanistan. "She will not give another media interview and she wishes not to be contacted," Matson said.

"Clearly she has become a symbol that National Geographic has used to illustrate the circumstances of refugees like her, and many people have inquired about her," he said. "She stood for an entire group of refugees, not just Afghan refugees. She has helped us with our mission of educating people about other cultures and regions—and she's helping us again by drawing attention to the lives of Afghan women and girls in general."                                                                                                                                             

Have a nice week you all.
A special mention to all women within our group and beyond on this day...


  1. It was thought that Arab world rebellions were going to improve the difficult situation of women, but it´s disappointing to know that women, who have taken part in rebellions, are said to go back home and take care of their children. They aren´t allowed to decide about political changes or their future.
    An interesting article in the Pais:


  2. Thanks for your post, Mª Ángeles, as well as your interest.