Sixty-Third Commission for Status of Women (CSW) NGO Consultation Day, March 10, 2019 – Gharsanay IbnulAmeen (Woman of Distinction)

The first time I met Gharsanay IbnulAmeen was on Saturday, March 9, 2019.  She was gracious enough to meet me after having arrived from Kabul, Afghanistan the night before.  For those of you that may not know this, the journey from Afghanistan to North America is arduous and can take more than 30-hours. 

The first thing that I noticed, when I saw her at the lobby of her hotel, was her very petite stature – slim and barely 5 feet tall.  After a few minutes, I was absorbed by her passion, vocal cadence, and dedication to gender equality and empowerment of women.  This, combined with her intelligence, maturity and spunk, reminded me of another feminist, Ruth Bader Ginsburg.  I couldn’t help but to think, could this be the making of an Afghan version of Ruth Bader Ginsburg?  Time will tell, but this Afghan certainly hopes so. 

Although she came from a family that valued education, but due to lack of available resources, which are further accentuated for girls and woman, she learned, at a young age, to negotiate within these limited means.  Growing up in a conservative, patriarchal society, she became intimately familiar with the concept of gender inequality and it’s dire ramifications on girls and women.  She soon learned that for a girl to achieve any success, she has to work twice as hard, if not more, than her male counterparts. 

In 2014 she graduated from the local high school with top honors, and soon set her vision on attending the Afghan American University (AAU) in Kabul, approximately 197 kilometers west of Nangarhar, her home province.  Because of the distance, IbnulAmeen wasn’t able to travel to AAU to take the entrance exam, so she encouraged and convinced 17 girls from her community to take the exam in an effort to generate the numbers needed for the AAU to come to her province and locally administer the exam.  Her efforts paid off.  She was accepted with a scholarship and graduated with a degree in law.

At age 22, Gharsanay IbnulAmeen is the youngest recipient of the Women of Distinction Award for CSW 63 – an international recognition for leadership, and outstanding contribution to gender equality, human rights, and women’s empowerment.  She was recognized for her work in girl’s education, leadership and ethnic harmony. 

She is also a special assistant to the President of Afghanistan, Ashraf Ghani, and co-founder of Afghan Girls Sustainable Education Project.  The Project serves girls from the ages of 14 to 19, and takes a two prong approach to promoting education:  1) increase school enrollment by holding discussions with families, tribal elders and local mullahs (local religious leaders) about the importance of education; and 2) support girls in completing school.   

She co-founded the Project as a means to minimize the impact of barriers such as, limited/lack of resources; oppressive, misogynistic regimes and gender inequality; poverty, extreme violence and prejudice that continue to threaten girls’ progress.  The Project provides girls with leadership training and links them with other youth from around the world.  To date, they have reached approximately 1000 girls.  In her keynote address, she stated, “Through the training, the girls came to better understand themselves and community mapping at grassroots level.  They learn how to develop an action plan and see themselves as effective forces of change”.  

She travels across Afghanistan, including to remote and Taliban controlled areas, to support girls’ education and empowerment.  She has spoken with tribal leaders advocating for girl’s education.  She has joined prayer congregations to meet with mullahs (local religious leaders) and discuss the importance of girl’s education, from an Islamic perspective.  She openly discusses the issues of hygiene and menstruation as part of a girl’s developmental journey – a journey that should lead to opportunities and possibilities, not one that should compound her status further.      

She wants to see Afghan women present in all peace discussions and negotiations. She wants to ensure women’s hard fought advances are not compromised, but recognized.  And that this upward trajectory will continue, supported and guaranteed, not repressed or regressed.  

Finally, she hopes that her story will inspire other women.  Living in a developing nation with limited resources and challenges, she sees, at grassroots, the aspirations of Afghan youth for a better tomorrow.  She emphasizes the crucial role of UN in mandating gender equality, human rights with a measure of accountability.

In closing she states, “we want to leave a world where our children won’t have to face gender based or any type of discrimination”.