Dr. Sima Samar opened several hospitals, health clinics and schools for girls and women in Afghanistan through the nonprofit Shuhada Organization she established in 1989. She is now head of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission.
She also provided medical care at refugee camps in Pakistan.
Caroline Kennedy, president of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation, called Samar "a woman of extraordinary political courage and physical bravery."
"In the face of constant danger, she has persevered, providing critical medical care and crusading political support for her countrywomen," Kennedy said in a statement.
Samar's work often concerned the intersection between civil rights and physical health. For example, according to the Canadian group Rights & Democracy, she told Taliban officials that Afghan women forced to wear a head-to-toe burqa received insufficient sunlight, exacerbating a common bone condition.
Two former state legislators - Cindy Watson, a Republican from North Carolina, and Paul Muegge, a Democrat from Oklahoma - will also be honored, for standing up to the hog industry and pressing legislation to protect the environment and the health of their constituents.
The award, given annually to public servants who stand up to strong opposition, is named for President Kennedy's 1957 Pulitzer Prize-winning book, "Profiles in Courage."
Past recipients include Sen. John McCain, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan and President Ford. The recipients will be honored May 24.