York PhD candidate takes centre stage at United Nations Security Council debate

United Nation Security Council UN

Zahra Nader, a York University doctoral student in the Faculty of Graduate Studies (FGS), appeared as a civil society representative before the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) in a recent debate on women, peace and security.

Nader, already an esteemed journalist, started her career in Kabul in 2011 and by 2016 had joined The New York Times covering reporting beats across Afghanistan. She later moved to Canada in 2017, where she began pursuing her PhD in gender, feminist and women’s studies at York University. Her research is primarily focused on the political histories of Afghan women from the 1960s to the 1990s.

In August 2022, Nader and a group of women journalists from Afghanistan launched Zan Times – a non-profit newsroom in exile – to report on human rights violations in Afghanistan, mainly focusing on women, the 2SLGBTQIA+ community, and environmental issues. In three months, Zan Times produced more than 30 stories on Afghanistan’s most marginalized people, both in Dari and English.

“We have reported that the fine art faculty of Kabul University has been ‘paralyzed’ under the Taliban, on people’s resistance to the Taliban’s ban on girls’ education, how the closure of schools and poverty exacerbated forced and child marriages, and an investigative report on arrest, torture and killing of women protesters in Mazar-e-Sharif that was featured by BBC Persian and Global Investigative Journalism Network,” said Nader.

For her contributions to Zan Times and other publications, Nader was invited to the UNSC in October. This meeting was an opportunity for UNSC and General Assembly states to share specific examples of how they are supporting women’s resilience in conflict-affected countries and their capacity to contribute to peace and security.

Zahar Nader at United Nations Security Council
Zahra Nader

“Coming from the margins of society, this opportunity allows us to see that the process of change starts with each of us, with individuals willing to do their part to participate in the process of change,” Nader said. “As women journalists, we are doing our part by sharing women’s voices who are fighting for their basic human rights. We hope our work raises awareness of women’s situation in Afghanistan, which is the planet’s most severe women’s rights crisis.”

Motivated by her own personal story of struggling to obtain access to education, Nader is committed to creating positive change for future generations of Afghan women who she hopes will not have to go through the same hardships. Through her career as a journalist and a scholar, Nader is committed to filling a void that she had noticed in women’s political history that lacks a chapter on how Afghan women fought for their rights. She hopes that her work will inspire future generations to keep the fight going and continue the struggle for equality.

Having formally adopted the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs) into its academic plan in 2020, York University recognizes the efforts of students like Nader who work directly to build a more equitable future.

Nader’s drive to secure accessible schooling for generations of Afghan women reflects UN SDG 4: Quality Education, ensuring inclusive, quality education is available and promoting lifelong learning opportunities for all. Her women-led newsroom also contributes to UN SDG 5: Gender Equality, achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls. Moreover, Nader’s activism work also engages UN SDG 16: Peace, Justict and Strong Institutions, promoting peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, providing access to justice and building effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.