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Campaining for Afghan women's rights

  • 22 June 2021
I was born Hazara in Afghanistan. It is a place where my people suffer constant persecution and discrimination, and additionally, where women are considered second-class citizens. When I was two years old, my parents fled Afghanistan. We first arrived in Iraq and were subsequently given refugee status in Iran. Despite the challenges of growing up a foreigner in Iran, I completed my teaching degree, and also qualified to be a lawyer.

I lived and worked in Iran for 25 years, where I became a passionate advocate for the rights of refugee women. I established Persian and English literacy classes, training programs in computers and in handicrafts. Eventually, primary schools and high schools for Afghan children in Iran were established.

When a new government came to power in Afghanistan in 2001, I returned in 2003 to register the schools for Afghan refugees which I had established in Iran. Despite the change in government, the Taliban still had significant influence in many parts of the country. Domestic violence was common, but if women complained about their problems, it fell on deaf ears.

Seeing and hearing about this suffering was excruciating. I wanted to help. I returned to the province of my birth in Afghanistan and, together with the government, the United Nations, and other international NGOs, we established the Commission for the Rights of Women. I became the Director of the Department of Women’s Affairs for ten years.

We worked tirelessly to ensure that women’s voices were heard and so that they could gain access to legal aid and other essential services. We set up community centres to create avenues for communication and relationships between women, and where they could learn basic literally, cooking, and handicraft skills. We also established a park and gym for women to use.

My background as a Hazara and my work as a women’s rights advocate meant that I could not live safely in Afghanistan. I feared for my life and that of my children. In 2013, I came to Australia as a refugee.

'At the height of the pandemic, when the Prime Minister told temporary migrants to return home, many Hazaras asked, "where can we go? We have no home outside of Australia. Australia is home".'

Here, I had to start all over again. In 2018, decades after first training as a lawyer and teacher, I completed my High School Certificate at Bankstown Senior College and, with my two children, started university in