Fourth-year Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies student Ghezal Durrani’s story is that of determination, perseverance, and resilience despite the odds typically stacked against those who immigrate to Canada in similar circumstances. Reflecting upon her past as a teenage bride, her experience with education, and her life’s journey (so far), Ghezal’s story is nothing short of inspiring.
“I am driven to learn not only academically, but personally as well to grow and become a better human being,” she says.
Immigrating to Canada in 1999 as a young bride, Durrani recounts that she had “a grade 7 certificate and could not speak English at all.” As a wife at fifteen and a mother at sixteen, she says she “grew up fast” and lived in “an unsafe environment for thirteen years.”
An adult now, Durrani has been living safely with her two children for the last 8 years and is the first woman in her family to graduate from university.
Despite facing many obstacles, she says she “did not allow anyone or any challenge to stop me from getting my education or keep me from standing and speaking against injustice, inequality, and violence."
Choosing to study in the Department of Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies at SFU was a natural choice, according to Durrani.
“Being a racialized female Muslim, I have experienced both social injustice and oppression, so getting my BA in GSWS was an easy decision.”
Her major offered her a deeper, intersectional understanding of the challenges women face globally: “Women in many communities and countries still encounter oppression and inequality, so understanding the history of oppression against women has provided me more insight into how much work we still need to do in order to ‘hopefully’ create an equal society for all genders.”
Durrani recounts that so many courses and instructors inspired her along the way, and that she’d be hard-pressed to say she had a favourite.
“I learned from each of my professors and each taught me something amazing.” While she says Dr. Jennifer Marchbank’s “passion infectious,” each GSWS instructor she had “encouraged creativity which provided students the opportunity to expand their learning process.”
Durrani explains that GSWS offers a unique way of learning compared to other courses she has taken: “It’s not like the traditional teaching class environment where you only have exams and write term papers. I learned more from the course materials when I had the option of making posters using course themes, doing presentations, engaging in group discussions, doing weekly reflections, making short videos or podcasts, or making short booklets using course themes. GSWS has provided these opportunities for all students.”
On top of attending university full-time while working part-time and parenting her two children as a single mother, Durrani did not let that prevent her from participating in extracurricular activities at SFU.
She was a “club member with Toastmasters for 8 months before COVID” and she volunteered with the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences as a welcome leader, mentoring new students of different ages, which she says was “a great experience and opportunity to give back and empower new students.”
Durrani credits Claire de Lisser (Coordinator, Undergraduate Advising at Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences) with connecting her to a network of “mature students who needed support navigating the campus and support with finding their courses on campus” and maintains a friendship with one of her 80-year old mentees that she spent time with prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I will always find time to show my gratitude and appreciation to those who have been parallel supports and part of my journey,” she adds.
Once her BA is complete, Durrani intends to “work with the United Nations where I can reach more people and spread my wisdom and education to stop violence, especially against children, women, LGBTQ2+ community, and the elderly because these groups suffer the most in our society.”
Durrani is careful to emphasize, however, that the completion of her degree" does not mean an end to my learning and growth.” After the completion of her BA, she would like to return to SFU to get her master’s degree, hopefully in the humanities department.
With the knowledge and wisdom of a mature student who has demonstrated remarkable resilience, Durrani has a wealth of invaluable advice to share with her fellow students as she graduates.
Whether young or older in age, Durrani recommends getting to know yourself, before anything else.
“Know your own weaknesses and strengths before trying to teach or learn because outside sources and people will try to make you doubt yourself and your self-worth quickly”, she says.
“I was told many things, but I was honest with my values and beliefs and clear about my passions and goals which helped me with my success in life,” she points out.
Her ultimate message is to live a life that appreciates beauty, kindness and inclusion, even while you endure hardship and become stronger for it.
“Life is beautiful and there are many opportunities for all, so we do not need to step over one another to get to the top. We need to pull each other up when we reach the top because this is how we can create an equal society for all. I have failed some classes, but I come back stronger each time because I take failure as a good learning opportunity and it humbles me that I am human and not perfect. I look at failure as a key which can open many other doors that I had not thought about before. Be honest, be humble, and be kind and be a student first before a leader!”
This story was originally published on the Gender Sexuality, and Women's Studies website on June 22, 2021.