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Hila Taraky is a McMaster graduate and co-founder of Lifeline Afghanistan. Her mother Marufa Shinwari is a McMaster graduate and PhD student in Gender Studies and Feminist Research. (Photo by Georgia Kirkos/McMaster University)

Mother and daughter McMaster grads help launch program supporting Afghan refugees

McMaster alumna Hila Taraky and her mother Marufa Shinwari, a PhD student at McMaster, are drawing on their experiences as refugees, working with community partners across Hamilton to support those displaced and targeted by the Taliban in their home country of Afghanistan.

Mar 15, 2022

When Marufa Shinwari returned to her hometown of Kabul, Afghanistan for the first time in over 20 years, she saw a beautiful sight – women out on the streets and holding positions of power in society.

But within days, that striking image for Shinwari would be shattered.

“Very brutally, a girl was killed on the streets of Kabul by a fundamentalist group,” recalls the McMaster PhD student.

The woman who was killed, a 27-year-old Muslim named Farkhunda Malikzada, had been falsely accused of burning a Quran and was publicly beaten and burned alive by a mob as hundreds watched. The 2015 event angered many across the nation and prompted calls for change.

“It shocked me badly,” says Shinwari, who says the disturbing incident continued to weigh on her even after returning to Canada, which has been her home since 1998.

Shinwari fled Afghanistan in the early 1990s with her family after being targeted by the mujahideen (Islamic radical fighters). Her status as a foreign-educated woman, having studied law in Tajikistan and taught at Kabul University, made her a target.

The brutal killing of Farkhunda Malikzada would be a pivotal moment in Shinwari’s life -- a life marked by an enduring tie to Afghanistan and its women.

Shinwari’s passion for social justice and the furthering of women’s rights is something she shares with her daughter, Hila Taraky. And so, it was with great shock and horror that the two watched as Afghanistan’s capital city of Kabul was seized by the Taliban in August 2021.

“August was just marked with a lot of trauma,” says Taraky, a McMaster graduate. “I saw my mom reliving the trauma of 20 years ago and trying to lend a hand to people who are in the exact same situation that we were in.”

The two started reaching out to their professional and personal networks in Canada and Afghanistan to try to help in the evacuation efforts.

“The focus became rescue and evacuate those who would be targeted right away," says Taraky. "Because when you think of the Taliban, you think of people being decapitated, women being beaten, you know, horrendous things."

Both women drew from their backgrounds working with immigrants to Canada. Shinwari had spent years helping settle government-assisted refugees and serves as the executive director of the Immigrant Culture and Art Association (ICAA). Taraky, a business lawyer, had developed a network through her involvement with the not-for-profit service sector in Hamilton.

“So, the contacts were there and all of a sudden, everyone who's anyone is being, you know, nudged by us and we are doing our own nudging to find a way to help these networks,” says Taraky.

Please read the full article as published in the Daily News