Gender, Sexuality and Women's Studies

Meet Ghezal Durrani, scholar, survivor and community activist

December 17, 2019

Q: What year of your studies are you in?

This is my second year at Simon Fraser University (SFU) as a transfer student from Langara College, but I am in my fourth years of academics. I am majoring in Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies (GSWS) and minoring in criminology. My first introduction to GSWS was GSWS 205. This class opened my eyes to social injustice and gender inequality. I am a Muslim woman which means that my inclusion and voice have been invisible for many years.

Also, being a survivor of partner violence for 13 years and leaving the abusive relationship, then facing abuse by the system, led me to major in GSWS. I have a 15-year-old daughter and I want to raise her a strong and independent young woman because she will have to fight for her basic human rights only because she is a woman. Women have been second-class citizens for centuries. Our voices have been shut out but now it is time for change. It’s time to see the commonality among each other is humanity and love.

GSWS raises awareness about inhumanity and violence against other beings which all genders face in their life. My passion for human rights has always lead me to the right doors.

Q: What are you enjoying about the GSWS program?

What I really enjoy about my field of study is learning. I just love to learn and expand my knowledge, then share it with others. I have fought hard to get my education, so I do not take my learning for granted. My passion for knowledge and education is unlimited.  

Q: Could you please tell us about the societies or organizations you volunteer for and what your role is in each? 

My volunteer experience has helped me form core values. I began volunteering with Hastings Sunrise Community Policing. I decided to volunteer there because I wanted to join the Vancouver Police Department (VPD). I have gained more insight into crime, poverty and racism that contribute to criminal behaviours, and how we usually blame individuals for these societal problems.

After witnessing social injustice, I applied to and was accepted by the Crisis Centre where I could help people rather than just label them and arrest them as criminals. I was able to support those individuals who suffer from depression, loneliness, poverty and other mental health issues. I volunteered while attending school full-time, raising my children as a single parent, and working part-time. I felt I could relate to people overwhelmed by life.

Later, I was a student representative on the Education Council at Vancouver Community College. I was a student representative at the Board of Governors at Langara College and also was board chair at the Chair of the Board Assessment Task Force. I accepted these positions because I believe in giving back to community. By being involved in issues that impact society, I wanted to be a voice to speak for students’ rights. I volunteered with the Student Advisory Committee for Only Yes Means Yes with West Coast Leaf because I know how important students’ voices are and how we can change policies around rape culture on campuses.

I was determined to volunteer with Amnesty International because I have a strong passion for human rights. I stayed with them only briefly because of my school load and parenting responsibilities. Therefore, I decided to volunteer at Urgent Action Letter where I wrote letters to national government policy makers about recent human rights violation cases to make them conscious of the results of their decisions and to let them know that the world is watching. This project was important to me because it really fits my passion for social justice.

At SFU, I decided to volunteer with the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences’ Connection Mentorship Program. As a mature student, I thought my experience of being othered by younger students helped me perceive how difficult it is to navigate campus life, and I found this opportunity to give back to my community. Community, belonging and diversity are an important part of my values in life, so whatever volunteer work I have done is based on my strong principles of creating a positive, inclusive and accepting community for all.

Q: What are your plans for school and beyond?

My current plans for school are to stay in the present and complete my degree. I anticipate completing in spring 2020. I have thought about many options in careers such as joining the Vancouver Police Department, youth probation officer, legal advocate or women’s advocate, and human rights activist. Right now, I am taking it one day at a time and one project at a time and when an opportunity comes, I will take it.   

Q: Who or what are your major sources of inspiration?

In my life, I have always looked up to people who stand for social justice, equality and freedom by putting their lives at risk. There are people like Mother Teresa, Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, and Martin Luther King, Jr., but there are also heroes in our everyday lives whom we take for granted. I respect and follow the aforementioned individuals, but I get most of my inspiration from those who are struggling everyday but still get up in the morning and face life with gratitude: My friends and my professors who stood with me in my hard times and supported me to believe myself. People close to me have taught me to never give up hope in humanity when there is darkness, and how to give selflessly without any attachments. My everyday heroes are my professors who teach for the sake of empowerment and social change, and my friends who believe in humanity and community.   

Q: Do you have any advice for other students? 

I am a student myself in this journey of life, so what works for me might not work for someone else. Therefore, I hope that my choices in life one day inspire and help someone on a deeper level. I hope that people see my strengths, courage and passion, not only my struggles. I would like others to see that I have always focused on my own journey and never compared myself with others and believed in my own uniqueness and imperfect being. I want people to see that I work hard everyday to stay honest and truthful with myself and my decisions. That can be a challenge for many of us in today's society because we are constantly being forced to fit into certain categories or groups. Allowing ”me” time to reflect on my day and what I can improve is still a process. Working on being a fair and just human being is my long-term goal.  

Q: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

I would like to live life to the fullest and feel the pain, sadness and happiness because there is growth in each of these emotions. I love to live as an example of this with authenticity. I know I have a lot to offer to people and that I can learn from them too. I hope that one day I will have a platform where I can reach a wider audience.