A woman in black clothing speaks into the microphone.
February 02, 2024

O’Connor Justice Prize awarded to Afghanistan’s former education minister

Rangina Hamidi honored for her pursuit of justice for women

Rangina Hamidi, the former education minister for Afghanistan, was honored with the annual O’Connor Justice Prize on Jan. 27.

The O’Connor Justice Prize was established 10 years ago to reward extraordinary people working to advance justice and uphold human rights across the globe. Past recipients include U.S. President Jimmy Carter, South African President FW De Klerk and last year’s winner Louise Arbour, a former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. Hamidi joins their ranks this year at the first O’Connor Justice Prize ceremony since the passing of its namesake, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. 

Hamidi acknowledged this in her remarks at the ceremony in Scottsdale.

“I feel a special honor because I'm the last honoree to have received this award during Justice O'Connor's lifetime,” she said. “I feel privileged to learn that when Justice O'Connor learned about me, she concluded her remarks by saying, ‘Rangina is a woman of courage.’ While we all sense Justice O'Connor's loss of presence tonight, I know she's with us in spirit.”

Hamidi was chosen for the award by an advisory board made up, in part, by Ambassador Barbara Barrett – who moderated a Q&A with Hamidi during the ceremony – and Justice Ruth McGregor, a former clerk of Justice O’Connor’s who remained her lifelong friend. 

In addition to serving as Afghanistan’s education minister, Hamidi has worked for years to advance justice for all Afghans, particularly women. Born in Afghanistan, her family lived as refugees in Pakistan after the Soviet invasion and eventually landed in America, where she became a citizen. After finishing college, she returned to Afghanistan, where she launched Kandahar Treasure, a social enterprise allowing Afghan women to work and earn a living through the sale of hand-crafted embroidery. Despite leaving Afghanistan in 2021 during the Taliban takeover, Hamidi still returns to her home country often to help, all while serving as a professor of practice at the Thunderbird School of Global Management at ASU.

“This year's honoree embodies that concept as an educator, a serial optimist, a change agent, and an entrepreneur,” said Willard H. Pedrick Dean, Regents and Foundation Professor of Law Stacy Leeds in her remarks. “She has accomplished so much, but remains tireless in her work to empower others and to advance gender justice and human rights and to support other women in their leadership journey. I see with such clarity how she personifies the type of relentless faith in humanity and pragmatism that was also Justice O'Connor's brand.”

Hamidi spoke with students at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law the day before the ceremony in a fireside chat moderated by Dr. Chris Howard, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Arizona State University. The talk was wide-ranging, touching on the importance of education and how her father’s death at the hands of a suicide bomber changed her life and worldview.

She echoed those thoughts in her Q&A with Ambassador Barrett the next night.

“Education is the essence of justice, of understanding justice,” she said. “We talk about human rights, we talk about the rule of law. But if you don't have the base of knowledge of understanding what does law mean and how it applies to us as living citizens in various communities and countries across the globe, without education and without the proper understanding of what the definition and the purpose of laws are, it is close to impossible to bring justice.” 

Written by Lindsay Walker