I was born in Iraqi Kurdistan in a time of internal conflict and war and I moved to Sweden as a political refugee in 1997.
I had the most amazing childhood anyone could ask for, despite not having much. I got to grow up in a democratic society with respect for my rights, a great education and I never felt discriminated because of my gender. I was aware of how lucky we were, as my parents constantly reminded us of what we came from.
In 2003 I went back to Kurdistan for the first time since we had fled the war and, as I was still very young, I lacked knowledge and understanding about concepts such as women’s rights and feminism. As I grew older, however, I started to notice the division of and differential treatment of the genders on my frequent trips back to Kurdistan. Growing up in Sweden, I found it very strange to see how dominant the men were and how big their role was in the Kurdish society, compared to the women. I developed an interest in women’s rights, only deepened by my travels home.
Today, I am extremely proud to run my own organization and foundation which aims to both empower and assist displaced and abused women and children. We provide psychological support, empower young girls who were trapped in sexual slavery by ISIS, educate people on human trafficking and prostitution in Cambodia as well as other issues. Part of our work has seen over 300 young girls in villages outside of the town Siem Reap in Cambodia take part in educational programmes alongside their mothers. Our recent work has included educational workshops on sexual health, hygiene, women empowerment and children’s rights for over 300 young people, many of whom are trying to rebuild their lives after being victims of human trafficking.
I am passionate about women’s rights because women representation in leadership is lacking. Because Female Genital Mutilation still is practiced in many parts of the world. Because ‘honor culture’ is murdering women who claim their own freedom. Women around the world are venerated as daughters, wives, sisters, and mothers – so long as they stay silent and deferential to male authority. I am my own person and I should not have to base my self-worth on whose daughter or wife I am. The same goes for the women my organization fights for.
This is a subject very close to my heart and I cannot express what I felt when I was selected as an EDD Young Leader 2018 and found out that I would be able to share my work on an international stage. I am passionate about women and girls rights and so I hope to inform and inspire action from those I meet at EDD this year.
More on Taffan: https://youngleadersfordev.org/author/taffan-ako/