Portrait of Mutilated Afghan Woman Ayesha Wins World Press Photo Award

Photo of Ayesha drew global attention to struggles of Afghan women.

February 11, 2011, 10:45 AM

Feb. 11, 2011— -- A photo of the mutilated face of Ayesha, an Afghan woman whose nose and ears were cut off by members of the Taliban, has been awarded a top photography prize, the World Press Photo award for 2010.

The portrait by South African photojournalist Jodi Bieber was featured on the cover of TIME Magazine in August 2010, with Ayesha's piercing eyes staring directly into the camera over a hole in her face where her nose was removed. The cover set off wide debate over whether the image was too graphic for a mainstream magazine -- or too powerful to hide.

Bieber will receive a cash prize of 10,000 euros (about $13,500) for her work, which beat out over 100,000 images from nearly 6,000 photographers around the world.

The story of Ayesha has drawn global attention to the the plight of Afghan women. The 18-year-old woman, once known simply as "Bibi," was brutalized by her own husband, a member of the Taliban.

Ayesha was married when she was just 12 years old. She endured years years of abuse. At times she was forced to sleep in the stables with animals. After she tried to run away, she was caught, and the village men handed down their sentence. Ayesha's husband sliced off her nose and ears while his brother held her down.

Left for dead, she managed to crawl to her uncle's house, but he refused to help her. Ayesha kept on until a relative finally took her to a hospital run by an American military medical team. The hospital cared for her for more than two months, ensured her safety, and gave her something she had not received before -- kindness.

ABC's Diane Sawyer met Ayesha, then 17, during a trip to Afghanistan in January 2010. Sawyer was visiting a secret shelter for battered women in Kabul, one of several shelters and counseling centers that have helped about 1,500 Afghan women escape from abusive husbands and in-laws.

Ayesha's Story Highlights Widespread Abuse of Afghan Women

Ayesha came to the United States in August to undergo eight months of reconstructive surgeries. Living with host families in California and accompanied by aides who are fluent in her language, Farsi, Ayesha received round-the-clock care and regular counseling. She apparently loved listening to Afghan music on YouTube and making necklaces out of beads for her new families.

The long process of reconstructive surgery continues, but last fall, Ayesha was fitted with a special prosthetic nose, which she can apply herself every day with a special skin adhesive. Thanks to the Hollywood-style effects, Ayesha can again face the world without drawing stares.

In October, Ayesha was honored at an event in California where the public got to see her new nose. With a broad smile, Ayesha received the Enduring Heart award at a benefit for the Grossman Burn Foundation, the Los Angeles area organization that provided her facial reconstruction.

"This is the first Enduring Heart award given to a woman whose heart endures and who shows us all what it means to have love and to be the enduring heart," said Maria Shriver, then California's first lady, as the award was placed around Ayesha's neck.

"Thank you so much," Ayesha said to the crowd in English.

At the benefit, Ayesha also met former first lady Laura Bush, whose work has focused on the struggles of Afghan women.

Last December, Ayesha's father-in-law, who helped in her mutilation, was arrested for abetting the crime, and Afghan police promised to continue searching for her husband and brother.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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