The leadership space within Australia has always been indicative of the elitism that has long been profound within the country. Throughout my life, it was evident that I did not look like any of the leaders that were in the media. For one, the hijab on my head ‘othered’ me. I was not worthy enough to be categorised as a “woman”. Yet much of the diversity within the country was like that of a supernatural figure who was beyond all understanding. However, when you grow up in a country that does not welcome you with open arms, and when you witness and live through the multiple disparities that limit your growth, you learn to persevere—and that is what I did.

For me, leadership was never a ‘hat’ to wear. It was instead a value that every human being inherently holds within themselves. But for too long, the idea of leadership has been warped with misconceptions that define it by elitism. Despite this, many women have risen to become leaders. At the same time, for many diverse womxn in the global north, leadership was not something that we took on as an elite or beneficial ‘role,’ but rather as a duty—something that ensured our survivorship in a world that is disadvantageous and dangerous for us.

When you grow up in a country that does not welcome you with open arms, you learn to be wary of using your voice. I grew up in a world that told me that I would not get second chances, simply because of the way that I looked. The hijab on my head seemed to suggest to the world that I was a hazard. But the truth is, you eventually get tired of holding your tongue. How could I stay silent when I was witnessing the abuse and mistreatment of my sisters across the globe? 

In the past 20 years of my life, I have observed and lived through the effects of how detrimental this world is to women. I have watched my sisters die, I have watched too many tears fall, and I have lived through so much pain myself. So, in this world, I choose to fight. 

I fight for every sister on this earth. I fight for our freedom, for our liberty, but most importantly, I fight for our lives. Even as every day feels heavier than the next, I have learned that my sisters’ fights are my fight, and I am steadfast in my commitment to this fight.

Growing up within a refugee/migrant family, I learned the profound notion your family extends beyond blood. And I apply this to so many women around the world—my sisters. We are fighting for each other, to have our rights and to be able to live a just, fulfilling life. 

I am who they are, and they are who I am.  

Zahra Al Hilaly was part of the World YWCA Leadership Cohort 2020, to invest in young women like Zahra, donate to The World YWCA.

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