Doctoral student wins Soroptimist scholarship

A York student has won one of four scholarships awarded this year by the Soroptimist Foundation of Canada to female graduate students who are headed for careers that will improve the quality of women’s lives.

Mawahib Ahmed, a doctoral student in women’s studies at York, has received a $7,500 grant from the national organization to help her complete her studies.

Left: Mawahib Ahmed

Ahmed grew up in the Sudan and completed a bachelor of science in political science at the University of Khartoum. After working with non-governmental agencies concerned with rights of women and children, especially those displaced by the war in southern Sudan, she won a scholarship to do a master’s degree in development studies at the Institute of Social Studies in The Hague.

In 2000, Ahmed and her husband came to Canada with two children and a third on the way. Nine months after her third was born, she started looking for a job and applied to study for her PhD. For two years, she did volunteer work with women’s support programs, including Flemingdon Neighbourhood Services and the Sudanese Women’s Union, and catered from her home to help support her family. Eventually she found part-time work in support programs for East African and Arabic-Canadian women. By 2003, York had accepted her as a PhD candidate in women’s studies.

Pursuing her studies and supporting her family at the same time is a struggle. As the eldest in her family, Ahmed is expected to support her parents in Sudan. Since she and her husband separated in 2004, she also has sole responsibility for raising her children. She continues to work with Arabic-speaking women living in abusive relationships, providing translation and assistance with settlement problems. In the local Sudanese community she helps women with settlement, education and employment issues including resume writing and cover letters.

Her personal experience and her work have led to her PhD focus on challenges faced by immigrant women. She writes: “It is my passion to create a link between my studies and work in order to make a practical difference in women’s lives in the community. I am interested in helping immigrant women face the challenges of gendered immigration policies and the impact of their underprivileged status in the labour market. I am equally interested in how immigrant women organize themselves and what services they can obtain from community organizations.”

The Soroptimist grant will ease Ahmed’s financial burden and give her a year to concentrate on her studies. “It will make a huge difference in my life, both now and in the future,” she said.

Ahmed is not the first York student to benefit from a Soroptimist grant. Other recipients are Gail Kunkel, a PhD student in clinical developmental psychology, in 2005; Tobi Lubinsky, a PhD candidate in clinical neuropsychology, 2004; and Alejandra Estella Park, a law student, in 2001.

The Soroptimist Foundation was established in 1958 to provide bursaries, scholarships and fellowships to Canadian students and schools, colleges and universities for the advancement of education and to further the appreciation of social needs, the study of community, national and international problems, the study of education and education methods. To learn more about the grants, visit the Soroptimist Foundation of Canada Web site.