Syeda Ghulam Fatima, head of the Bonded Labour Liberation Front (BLLF), is among four finalists nominated for the Aurora Prize for Awakening Humanity, the New York Times reported.
The prize, which was created by scholars Vartan Gregorian, president of the Carnegie Corporation, Noubar Afeyan and Ruben Vardanyan, awards a winner $100,000 and designates and organisation which inspires his or her work to be the beneficiary of $1 million.
Fatima’s work came into the spotlight when Humans of New York photojournalist Brandon Stanton highlighted the plight of bonded labour in a photo series during his visit to Pakistan.
Stanton described her as “a modern day Harriet Tubman”. “She has been shot, electrocuted and beaten numerous times for her activism. Quite literally, she places herself between the workers and their owners.”
The BLLF, he said, is working to set up Freedom Centres throughout Pakistan so bonded labourers have access to legal aid and advocacy.
She was honoured with a Global Citizen award in New York last year for her dedication to civil rights and labour laws in Pakistan. She works for compliance with the International Labour Organisation’s labour standards in Pakistan and campaigns for the rights of brick kiln workers and female domestic staff in Pakistan.
Fatima is also a member of the Provincial Committee for Abolition of Bonded Labour Punjab and the District Vigilance Committee.
The other finalists for the prize include Marguerite Barankitse, founder of Maison Shalom, which began as a shelter for orphans during the ethnic upheavals of the 90’s in Burundi, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo; Dr Tom Catena, a physicist who founded the Mother of Mercy Hospital in Sudan’s Nuba mountains and Reverand Bernard Kinvi, a Togo priest running a Catholic mission in the Central African Republic which has saved many civilians regardless of their background.
The four finalists were chosen from among 200 nominees after the award was announced last April during the centennial events of the Armenian genocide, in which as many as 1.5m Armenians were killed during the collapse of the Ottoman Empire.
“They’re not celebrities. They’re surprised that some people in the outside world even noticed them,” Gregorian said of the Aurora Prize finalists.
The prize was named after genocide survivor Aurora Mardiganian who told the story of the massacre of her relatives in a book and film.