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Shabnam is a visionary young woman who grew up as a refugee in Pakistan before she called Australia home at the age of 15. Since then she has persistently worked to positively shift the way our communities see and talk about a young, former refugee, woman of colour. Her passion to empower and motivate those around her to realise their potential, follow their aspirations and keep challenging traditional stereotypes and the status quo knows no bounds.
Having worked in Australia, India, America and Europe to promote education and global citizenship, she has co-founded two not for profit organisations helping refugees and asylum seekers in Australia and abroad. She has also earned her black belt in Karate and holds several national and international titles.
I was born in Afghanistan but soon after my family fled to Pakistan when the war struck. I spent my childhood and early teenage years in Pakistan living a ‘quiet life’ barely knowing anything about the world and how it functioned apart from occasionally questioning certain traditions and customs that didn’t make sense to me such as; why more girls were dropping out of school than boys or why I was not supposed to develop any interest in a physical sport and martial arts but it was completely okay for boys or why my father had to answer questions raised by ‘the community’ if I or my mother came home late, etc. you get the idea.
And then my parents chose Australia as the next destination because Pakistan didn’t really work out for their plans of keeping their children safe and giving them a better future. That was the first time I was officially given the title “refugee” which came with its own unique set of stereotypes and my occasional questions became a lot more frequent as the years went by.
Refugees, gender equality, human rights, advocacy, empowerment, sports, confidence building, living in different cultures, dual identity, young leadership etc.
Everything I have done, has kept my community/ies and their livelihoods at the top of my mind. Coming from a refugee background I understand the struggles and feeling of being alone and lost but conversely, all the different roles I have held have shown me that I am not alone and that there are good people out there who fight for causes I feel so passionately about including gender equality, leadership through sports, advocating for those whose voices are often not heard – often deliberately.
Whilst some may say I have been privileged for the opportunities I have had and the roles I have held, I have to admit that most of my work so far hasn’t really been explicitly planned. Every highlight has been achieved through working hard to improve myself as a productive member of the community and jumping at opportunities that would allow me to grow and effectively advocate for the disadvantaged.
Coming to Australia in 2009, as a newcomer, I had not thought that within five years I would be representing the country at the United Nations headquarters in New York. Looking back now, it was probably one of the very critical experiences of my life, more of an awakening one, where I realised that I can do whatever I set my mind to and I shouldn’t have to fit into the stereotypes of how someone like me should live her life given my circumstances and my background.
Contributing towards achieving a more just and fairer world where we embrace our differences as our strength and not let it divide us; where things like someone’s choice of clothing, their gender, religion, country of birth, skin colour, accent, etc do not determine their future and access to opportunities available to the rest.