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Refugee Women in Politics That You Should Know About: Golriz Ghahraman.

They smash gender norms, they challenge entrenched beliefs: Welcome to the first in our 'Refugee Women in Politics' series. Every day this week we will introduce you to a new refugee politician, each of whom has made unique contributions to the fight for gender equality and refugee rights.


Did you know, that only 8% of global world leaders are female? 8 percent!!! Clearly this is a shame, not only from an intellectual perspective, but from a pragmatic one too. Having an almost all-male cast of world leaders cannot be right or practical, particularly when making decisions that overwhelmingly affect women (eg policies on care-giving, paid maternity leave, sexual & reproductive health, abortions etc).

From an economic perspective it also makes no sense: It has been revealed through countless studies (take a look at the findings from Catalyst and the NWBC), that gender balance within working environments has consistently positive effects on company performance rates. In the family sphere too, it is far better to have a balanced power structure with mother and father enjoying equal status within the home.

I won't monologue for too long, as it is a fairly established fact by now that women and men are equal, and gender equality is a good thing.


Well first of all, clearly there should be. I mean...

But why are there not? Well, unsurprisingly, studies have revealed that there are inherent gender biases ingrained into our systems of choice: choices about who we promote, choices about who we want to be our boss.. and choices about who we want to run our country.

When we vote we often unconsciously favour the male candidate due to gender stereotyping: "this man will be strong and reliable vs. this woman will be emotional and unreliable." Of course this is nonsense, but it occurs at a deeply unconscious level, and this leads to systematic and subtle errors of judgement which are difficult to winkle out.

To find out more about unconscious gender bias and the way this impacts on our political choices, let's take a quick look at this vid from Dr Cecilia HyunJung Mo, political science professor at Vanderbilt University. She explores the conditioning effect of gender bias, and how it recently effected the American presidential elections:


Let's take an already underrepresented and unfairly stereotyped group: Female Politicians. And now, let's take an even more unfairly sterotyped and deeply stigmatized group: Refugees. So let's combine these two repressed groups into a cheeky Venn diagram: Refugee Female Politicians.

Have you heard of any? Um, no, me neither. You know why that is? Yeah you've guessed it- because there are hardly any! It turns out our Venn intersection is minuscule, and it's no wonder, considering the disadvantages faced by women and by refugees- if you want to become a refugee politician AND you're a woman.. yeah that's pretty hard.

The reason for lack of refugee women in politics is twofold: first, you have the socio-cultural disadvantages that all women face in gaining access to power. Then you have the specific obstacles that all refugees face: a long and cumbersome asylum-seeking procedure, the basic concerns of establishing a safe living environment, trying to maintain a stable family life, trying to process the traumas of war and of cultural displacement, learning a new language, education, finding a job, and culturally assimilating. This is a huge challenge faced by all refugees.

On top of these challenges, women face even more difficulties inherrent to their culture. A study by the UNHCR explored this in detail,

"Even when there are efforts to include refugees in decision-making, women are sometimes prevented from participating for several reasons. In some cases, family and childcare responsibilities preclude them from participating in activities outside the home. In others, the inferior status of women within society, cultural traditions, and their lack of experience and leadership skills means that they are unable to play a constructive role in decision-making positions. In addition, refugees still tend to be seen by humanitarian actors as ‘recipients’ of refugee protection and assistance and not as agents of change."

Here is a great infograph from UN Women, which provides the facts and figures about refugee women, and the lack of funding and prioritization of their rights. Click on the picture to start:


Okay, so we've taken a look at gender inequality and how this effects the political landscape, and the additional setbacks that refugee women face when gaining access to political decision-making. But here's the good news: They are still making it happen!

In the last year alone, there have been four women elected to power in countries that have NEVER had a female president before:

Yes, change is in the air and we are currently seeing a flourish of fresh female politicians taking center stage all over the world, both in the West, and also in the Middle East, Africa and Asia.

There are also more refugee females entering politics than ever before, which brings me to the reason for writing this article: Golriz Ghahraman.

The other day I read an interview in The Guardian with newly elected New Zealand MP, Golriz Ghahraman. She is the FIRST EVER refugee to be elected to parliament in New Zealand, and it is in celebration of this huge acheivement that I decided to write this series. So, in honour of Golriz Ghahraman I present, 'Refugee Women in Politics Thta You Should Know About'. Enjoy!


Golriz Ghahraman arrived in New Zealand as a refugee from Iran, aged 9. She grew up in the multicultural area of West Auckland where her family lived on benefits until her parents were able to rebuild their life and start their own business.

“My eternal gratefulness to New Zealand is that I got to grow up in a very diverse place. So the fact we didn’t have anything was actually OK. I remember that freedom and getting to grow up with lots of different types of people; and that was just part of being Kiwi.”

Ghahraman studied Human Rights Law at Oxford University, and then went on to work as a lawyer for the United Nations. She returned to New Zealand in 2012 and worked as a Barrister, specializing in human rights law and criminal defense. In 2017 she stood as a Green MP candidate in the NZ elections, and won a seat!

Ghahraman is a committed human rights activist and environmental campaigner who frequently speaks up on international issues in defense of minorities and environmental reform. During her time working for UN, Ghahraman helped develop specific strategies that catered to women in the recognition that their needs are different, and they are disproportionately affected by natural disasters and war atrocities.

In the video below, Ghahraman describes her experience working for the UN International Tribunals, noting the fact that they were mostly comprised of men in senior positions, with a 'sea of women in support roles'. She recalls the moment at the Khmer Rouge tribunal when she realised she was the ONLY female lawyer!

Ghahraman's mother was a revolutionary in Iran, and remains a huge inspiration to Ghahraman. She describes her mother's struggle for freedom and fight against religious oppression: her refusal to sit at the back of the lecture hall because she had a baby with her, and her refusal to sit the mandatory religious exams. Eventually this culminated in them moving to New Zealand to seek refuge, as it became too dangerous for them to remain.

Golriz Ghahraman is active on Twitter and her feed is awash with support for various causes, Green Party memos, and condemnation of governmental corruption, environmental destruction, racism and misogyny- oh I could go on!

Although there are some big issues in New Zealand, as with the rest of the world, the country has always been welcoming of refugees- most notably in the recent 'Tampa Crisis', when a boat of 433 Indonesian asylum seekers was turned away from the Australian border (due to Australia's sinisterly named 'Pacific Solution' policy), but accepted by New Zealnd, and welcomed by cheering crowds.

Ghahraman identifies as Kiwi, but also as an Iranian refugee; these identities are not mutually exclusive, and Ghahraman is a wonderful example of this.

Ghahraman continues to advocate for womens rights and global change, combining this with her passionate work for the national Green Party. A true example of a strong empowered refugee woman in politics.

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