International Women’s Day

Today is International Women’s Day. On March 8th of every year, the world recognizes the role women play in making it possible for society to thrive. This year’s theme is #breakthebias, with the ultimate goal of creating a more equitable and inclusive environment for women around the globe.

This month I caught up with Zuhal Mohmand, the YSYF Canada secretary since 2020, a medical student at the University of Toronto, and a great enthusiast for the outdoors. The Pickering native spoke about her time at YSYF, things that got her through COVID lockdowns, and ways she hopes to embrace the medical profession once she finishes school in two years time. 

Women working for women. It was this structure that drew Zuhal Mohmand to our Ghana-based organization. “A lot of the projects were centered around women and it was a women’s led organization as well. I knew that this was a team that I wanted to be a part of.” Part of Zuhal’s attraction to YSYF is that they place emphasis on acknowledging their positionality and privilege as volunteers in Canada.

YSYF leaders from left to right: Maryam Fatima, Head of Human Resources, Zuhal Mohmand, Secretary, Marwah Sadat, Head of Partnerships and Fundraising, Sauliha Alli, Co-Founder

Zuhal comes from an Afghan background, with both her parents being refugees who fled the country in the 1980s during the Soviet invasion. Their struggle has been an inspiration for Zuhal to get involved in the community. “Regardless of where people and communities are, I want to help, promote, and support capacity-building initiatives however I can.”

Zuhal has never been to Afghanistan and her parents haven’t been home since they left. “There’s that sense of belonging, but also a longing for a place that you hope [to visit]. And that’s further amplified when you can’t go back.” Recent events have made it extremely difficult and discouraging for Afghan natives to return home. 

A second-year med student, Zuhal will be starting clerkship this coming August and is excited to be either in Toronto and at a rural hospital in the Greater Toronto Area. “Going just two hours away [from Toronto] you’re put in just a completely different environment, where there are decreased resources, physicians, and nurses and that’s a reality check even in Canada. We like to think we’re so ahead, but we’re very much not.”

Zuhal hopes to bring the compassion and sensitivity for peoples’ needs she’s gained from working with YSYF to patients from diverse backgrounds who are not always treated equitably. “I hope the learning, sharing of stories, and critical reflections encouraged by YSYF will reflect back on how I practice as a future physician. It’s so important to learn from other people’s stories and experiences.” 

It’s true we don’t learn about other cultures as much as we should, the onus is often on the individual to take that initiative. But Zuhal has done that and takes with her the knowledge of Ghanaian culture to the check up room. “Wherever it takes me, I hope to take that willingness and openness to learn.”

Between YSYF and medical school, Zuhal needs a break now and then. Lockdowns have made us all restless. Hiking has been her outlet. “It’s nice to take a deep breath and reset yourself. You see the sky, the birds, and touch grass [laughs]. It’s getting back to reality and it’s a nice opportunity to step back and remember what’s important to you.” 

We can all use that reminder now and again, especially during these uncertain times. What is certain, though, is that women, like Zuhal, will continue to drive our world in a better direction. Happy International Women’s Day!