“Tostan’s pioneering work has given women in Senegal self-confidence and the tools to bring an end to destructive social conventions” such as female circumcision, the Anna Lindh Memorial Fund said in a statement.
“With respect for local traditions and values, the organisation has given women the vision of a dignified life and the power to try to improve the quality of life,” the jury said.
Tostan – which means “breakthrough” in Wolof, the most commonly used language in Senegal – was created 10 years ago by Molly Melching, an American who has lived in the African country for three decades.
The organisation is aimed at helping educate women in rural areas about human rights, democracy, health, hygiene and income-generating projects.
As a result of the Tostan programme, 1,527 villages have put an end to female circumcisions and child marriages, the Memorial Fund said.
Melching, who accepted the prize on Thursday from the hands of former Swedish prime minister Ingvar Carlsson, said Anna Lindh “symbolizes the values Tostan stands for and is an important role model for women around the world”.
The Swedish foreign minister was fatally stabbed in September 2003 by a then 24-year-old man while shopping in an upmarket Stockholm department store without a bodyguard.
Tostan is “a fantastic example of of how others are continuing to work in Anna Lindh’s spirit,” Carlsson said.
Last year, the prize went to Israeli journalist Amira Hass, whose reporting from the West Bank and Gaza has helped contribute to a better understanding of Palestinian life under Israeli occupation.