Women’s rights are human rights: The story of Sheila Qayumi

Sheila Qayumi is an Afghan refugee but, more importantly, she is an advocate for women’s rights.

For years, Sheila fearlessly defended women’s roles in Afghan society. In August 2021, her courageous efforts suddenly put her life at risk. It was no longer safe for her, so she decided to flee Kabul as the Taliban took over the city. In doing so, she had to leave family members behind.


Sheila arrived in Calgary with her son and pregnant daughter-in-law in September 2021. In Afghanistan, she worked as an English teacher and as a program manager at Equality for Peace and Development (a non-profit, non-governmental organization dedicated to empowering women and youth). She was also an activist for peace and defense of women’s rights.

She supported women’s networks in 20 Afghan provinces to make sure women were participating meaningfully in the peace process. For over 7 years, Sheila also advocated for change in customary practices in Afghanistan. These practices often deny women, especially those who are widowed or divorced, fundamental rights like voting or going to school.

From her new home in Calgary, Sheila still bravely fights for women’s rights. She is now an interpreter and counselor for the Calgary Catholic Immigration Society, and is still a board member of Equality for Peace and Development. She has found stability and meaning in her new role, but her heart remains in her activist work. Her goal is to support the women in her community as they integrate into Canadian society by encouraging them to go to school or take classes and find jobs.

Sheila remains very active in her community. With the help of other Afghans, she organizes celebrations and events to let newcomers get together and share their experiences, learn from each other and integrate into society.

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