International Women’s Day 2024 Spotlight – Katira Ahmed, HMEF Coach

Together we can change lives

As we celebrate International Women’s Day, we shine a spotlight on one of HMEF coaches, Katira Ahmed. Katira currently works for a charity organisation that offers disability services to the Brisbane community and co-authored a paper on the overt and covert racism in children’s picture books in Australia, which also explores how diverse family structures are represented in children’s picture books. Katira is passionate about education, particularly in the area of girls’ education, refugee education, race in education, history of education, international and comparative education. She finished her master’s degree in 2023 and now plans to pursue a PhD to conduct research in one of her interest areas. Her conviction is that education needs to be reformed to allow intersectionality of leaners such as people from diverse backgrounds.

Katira’s career in education, and her advocating journey to create opportunities for access to education for all, started after a teaching opportunity in China in 2018, when she took a career change from her bachelor’s degree in nursing. Her passion for education and reform also originated from her own experiences as a refugee child and not having access to formal education before diving head-on into schooling in a foreign country. As Katira emphasized how her experiences shaped the meaning of education for her, she said, “My story isn’t unique.  Many experience issues of isolation, racism, discrimination, and bias when navigating the education systems of western countries like Australia. These experiences led me to becoming a lifelong learner and believer that education truly is the key to success and will impact individuals and their communities for generations.

Katira, who has over five years of experience in teaching and education, is especially passionate about girls’ education because, historically, more girls lack access to school and education than boys. She raised an example of how in some countries, girls are threatened with violence and death if they attend school and yet, there are girls and women who risk their lives to be educated. Katira brought up other instances based on her own experiences, where she has seen children in China being discriminated from inner city schools due to their residential status and due to political systems. She has also witnessed girls being deterred from entering university due to their gender and the cultural expectations that women don’t require nor need higher education. Katira asserted that these systems of gender discrimination and bias exist across the globe and in various educational settings, and they must be dismantled to uphold the rights of all to accessing quality education.

Katira went on to describe that her final research project for her master’s degree at the University of Melbourne highlighted how girls and women often face issues such as sexism, harassment and inappropriate behaviours. Based on this research on how gender negatively impacted female academics career progression to senior academic positions in Australian universities, Katira revealed, “Female academics experienced issues such as pressure to return quickly after maternity leave, lack of funding for their research, comments on their bodies, derogatory statements and not being told of important meetings. These issues were only being experienced by women in these positions while their male counterparts were encouraged and given benefits that were denied for women in these spaces.”

In the spirit of this year’s International Women’s Day theme, which is Count Her In: Invest in Women. Accelerate Progress, Katira believes increased investment is one way of addressing these issues that face girls, women and minority groups. Investment of finances, time and effort will positively impact how and when girls receive education. For Katira, investment ranges as widely from donating used school supplies and offering meals in schools to changing societal and cultural views of girls and ultimately turning the tide in favour of girls and women internationally.

When we asked Katira to share some examples of initiatives that promote equal access to educational resources and opportunities for women from diverse backgrounds, she named the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) which actively promotes girls and refugee education from grassroots community participation, the Malala Fund which advocates for the secondary education for girls globally, the Women’s Refugee Commission which advocates for girls, women, children and others experiencing displacement and crisis as refugees and the Right to Education Initiative which aims to build systems that empower the right to education for all. Katira also specifically mentioned that there are many smaller community organisations which support the education of girls and refugee children across the world, such as RefuSHE, an organisation that has supported 3,000 refugee girls, women and children in East Africa since 2008. Katira pointed out that this organisation was started by refugee girls, which makes it very special.

HMEF is proud to have Katira as one of our coaches. Her dedication to education is a valuable support for us. Just like Katira, HMEF believes in the power of education and is committed to ensuring young girls across Australia have equal opportunity to access education.  We hope Katira’s story inspires you as much as it did us!

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