In honour of International Women’s Day on March 8, VIU’s Chair of the Status of Women, Joy Gugeler, and the Faculty of International Education hosted a panel for three women to share their experiences coming to Canada from their war-torn countries.

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Left to right: Hamasa Tahmina Durrani, Ghadir Kishawi, and Anastasiya Kryvanos. Photo by Molly Barrieau

The first speaker was Anastasiya Kryvanos from the Ukraine. Kryvanos graduated from high school last year and is currently studying sociology at VIU with hopes of using her education to defy gender imbalances in her home country.

Being the daughter of a military father, she has lived all around the globe, and her father experienced the conflicts in eastern Ukraine, witnessing the drastic lack of protection for women and children.

Kryvanos highlighted the unfortunately high demand for the sale of Ukranian women. “Trafficked women make more money in a week [for the criminals] than law enforcement does in a year [in Canada],” she said.

She also spoke about how family support is the only way many women in the Ukraine can survive. “My grandmother’s retirement fund is about $36 [per year], and she worked her whole life in the subway system,” she said.

While she feels safe here in Canada, she still has her worries regarding her home country after she completes her degree. “There’s a psychological impact of the war zone that doesn’t make you feel safe,” she said. “And I know that, at any second, my dad could be sent back.”

The second speaker, Ghadir Kishawi, immigrated to Canada in 2011 from Palestine. As an English-Arabic translator with a BA in Computer Science, she settled in Nanaimo after her husband completed his MBA at VIU.

“I wish for Palestine to become a free country,” she began. While International Women’s Day is still celebrated in her home country, it used to be a state holiday. Now, many Palestinian women are in Israeli jails, and many more are exposed to various kinds of violent oppression and are displaced from their homes. Still, Kishawi positively highlighted the many feminist movements Palestinian women have established to fight back.

She also pointed to her religion as a means to symbolize the need for gender equity. “Islam is the first religion to recognize women and give them rights,” she said. “Our prophet Mohamed said before he died, ‘Treat your women well and be kind to them.’”

Speaking third was 23-year-old Hamasa Tahmina Durrani. Durrani was born and raised in Pakistan before moving to Afghanistan, and eventually to Canada in 2013 to attend Vancouver Community College.

“My name, Hamasa, means ‘to bring change,’” she said. To live up to her name, she is calling for people to stop allowing men to harm women in Afghanistan and across the globe.

“It doesn’t make sense to me,” Durrani said. “You can’t just do that with a woman who wants to live and have a good life. A woman is a mother, a daughter. Treat her equally.”

Durrani spoke about the issue of child marriages in Afghanistan. “Once your daughter passes age seven, they are considered a machine ready to have kids,” she said. “If these problems don’t make sense to me, and I’m from Afghanistan, I’m sure they don’t make sense to the rest of the world.”

Screen Shot 2016-03-21 at 4.21.51 PMTo further illustrate her point, Durrani highlighted August 11, 2015, when a group of men killed a 27-year-old Afghan woman in public, after blaming her for burning a Quran. They proceeded that she must pay the ultimate price and began to beat her, drove a car over her body, and finally burned her corpse.

Durrani spoke about the stand for gender equality her own family took in Afghanistan. “Hijabs are fine; they are part of my culture,” she said. “But it is not fine to force me to wear one. I never do something when someone forces me. My dad didn’t force me to wear a hijab and people thought he was the worst person in the Muslim community. But to me, he was the best.”

Now, grateful for the higher level of acceptance and equity they have received in Canada, all three women plan to use their education and experiences to spread this mindset.

While women in Canada are generally treated more equally than many other areas around the globe, there is still progress to be made, said Gugeler. Conversations like these, from wage-gaps and domestic abuse, to the damaging effects of human trafficking are vital for change.

Durrani pointed to a photo of six different skulls. “In this picture you can see skeletons. Do you see any difference between mine and yours?” she asked the crowd. “No, because there’s not. We are all the same.”

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