Hilton Garden Inn Toronto/Vaughan | Sunday, August 13, 2023 | 9:00am-5:00pm EST
On Sunday, August 13, 2023, the Afghan Youth Engagement and Development Initiative (AYEDI), an Afghan-led organization, hosted the inaugural Canadian Summit on Afghanistan (CSA) in Toronto, Canada. This landmark event convened together advocates, decision-makers, and community leaders across the country to analyze the current state of affairs in Afghanistan and discuss Canada’s role in shaping the path forward, particularly in terms of supporting vulnerable groups and promoting their rights and empowerment, with a focus on Afghan girls and women. The summit united Afghan diaspora members, allies, organizations, and decision-makers. Additionally, it served as a platform for networking, collaboration, and dialogue among individuals and groups striving to improve the lives of Afghans.
The CSA was more than just an event; it was a call to action, with the following objectives:
We are confident that the knowledge shared will continue to drive positive change, and we look forward to hosting this summit annually as the space where conversations about Afghanistan happen.
The theme of our summit was “2 Years After the Afghanistan Crisis – Challenges and Opportunities for Canada”. Indeed, on August 15, 2023, we marked the unfortunate 2-year anniversary of the fall of Kabul. That day will forever be entrenched in our memories, but it is important to note that the Afghanistan “crisis” has been going on for much longer than 2 years – Afghans know this too well. With the fall of Kabul and the overt violation of the human rights and dignity of Afghans, Afghanistan was, for a moment in time, back at the forefront of the international agenda. We must ensure that Afghanistan stays on the agenda. That can only happen through forums like the CSA, where we convene together, collaborate, and make sure that our government and the international community know that we are listening, we are watching, we are mobilizing, and we are activating for Afghanistan.
In the aftermath of the fall of Afghanistan in August 2021, Afghan women have faced significant challenges, including the severe restriction or complete loss of access to education, limited opportunities for employment, and diminished political and social participation. In light of this dire situation, it is imperative to mobilize Canada and the international community to advocate for the rights and empowerment of Afghan women and other vulnerable groups.
This theme focused on rallying Canada and the international community to support and advocate for vulnerable groups, particularly Afghan women and including, but not limited to, discussions on Hazara genocide, Afghan journalists, and LGBTQ Afghans. It explored practical strategies and mobilize resources to address the challenges faced by these groups.
Amidst Canada’s promise to welcome Afghan refugees, it is essential to address the challenges and embrace the opportunities associated with their resettlement. With a commitment to resettle at least 40,000 Afghan refugees by the end of 2023, special programs and measures have been developed to reflect the enduring relationship between Canada and Afghans. This theme explored the resettlement of Afghans in Canada and the associated challenges and opportunities in the context of the past two years. It delved into the complexities of Afghan resettlement in Canada, focusing on integration, support systems, and community engagement. The goal was to comprehensively understand the challenges and explore strategies to ensure a successful resettlement process.
Elected as the Member of Parliament for Scarborough Centre in 2015 and re-elected in 2019 and 2021, Salma Zahid is a committed champion for gender equality and a strong voice for the diverse families of Scarborough. Salma is Chair of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration, and a member of the Special Committee on Afghanistan. In her work on the committee, she has worked to ensure the voices of racialized Canadians and visible minority women are heard and has advocated for improved customer service within the immigration system and for increased family reunification. As an MP, Salma has worked to raise awareness of the oppression of the Rohingya Muslim minority in Myanmar and other oppressed persons around the world and pressed the government to take a leadership role in providing humanitarian assistance. Her private member’s motion M-155, designating June as Filipino Heritage Month across Canada, was unanimously passed by the House of Commons. Salma, her husband Salman, and their sons Umaid and Usman are proud and long-time residents of Scarborough.
Mr. Bennett has served in Afghanistan on several occasions in different capacities including as the Chief of the Human Rights Service with the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA). He has previously played a role in the promotion and protection of human rights in Afghanistan and supported the United Nations on a number of human rights issues, such as the protection of civilians, transitional justice, child rights, rule of law, rights of people with disabilities, protection of human rights defenders and a range of economic, social and cultural rights. Mr. Bennett also served with the United Nations as the Representative of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and head of the human rights components of peacekeeping operations in Sierra Leone, Timor-Leste, and South Sudan as well as twice in Afghanistan (2003-07 and 2018-19). He has been a long-term adviser to the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission. From mid-2019, he worked as a consultant on UN human rights assignments in Afghanistan, Myanmar and New York. Mr. Bennett is currently a visiting professor at the Raoul Wallenberg Institute in Lund, Sweden.
The Honourable Marilou McPhedran is a human rights lawyer/educator/activist and Order of Canada Member. She was appointed an independent senator on the recommendation of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in November 2016. Recognized for her co-leadership in developing constitutional equality rights, she sponsored Bill S-201 to lower the federal voting age to 16, as well as Bill S-261, the “Can’t Buy Silence Act” to stop misuse of Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs) by entities receiving federal funding. A top priority on her Senate agenda is engaging and facilitating contributions by diverse young leaders in Canadian parliamentary affairs and global multilateralism.
Maryam Monsef is the founder and CEO of Onward, where she lends her skills as a public speaker and consultant to causes and leaders, she believes in. She is a new mom, and former Cabinet Minister and you can see her Monday nights on CTV's Power Play with Vassy Kapelos. Her life began as a refugee, leading her to community organizing and to Canada’s Parliament, where she drove impact for social and economic justice files in Canada and around the world. Hear from Maryam on the role of businesses in driving social equity and how we can be champions for change. From her experience in Parliament, Maryam will connect the dots on how our efforts can create monumental shifts and the responsibilities we hold within these movements.
Freshta Hemmati is a distinguished journalist and women's rights activist from Afghanistan. She holds a bachelor's degree in Journalism from Afghanistan and a master's degree in Diplomacy from Kazakhstan. Having moved to Canada in August 2022, she now calls Charlottetown home. Freshta serves as the CEO of the Afghanistan Journalists Support Organization-AJSO and works as a Policy Analyst for the provincial government of Canada in P.E.I. Her commitment to journalism and women's rights advocacy makes her a remarkable professional who contributes significantly to society.
Nasrin Husseini is a refugee advocate and researcher at the University of Guelph. Husseini is among an annual list of 100 exceptional women published by the BBC. She was among the second class of women to graduate from Kabul University's veterinary medicine program — and finished at the top of her class. She enrolled at the University of Guelph soon after arriving in Toronto. Husseini earned a master of science in immunology and received the Arrell Scholarship; one of the most prestigious scholarships in the University of Guelph. She now works as a veterinary researcher for the university. As a volunteer, she works with the organization Canadian Hazara Humanitarian Services, a Brampton-based non-profit, which assists members of Afghanistan's Hazara ethnic group in settling in Canada, as well as with the Bookies Youth Program, which promotes literacy and storytelling for Afghan children.
In 2019, Arezo Osmani co-founded Safe Path Prosperity, a sustainable social enterprise that specializes in producing Safepad - a reusable sanitary product designed by and for women in Afghanistan. The work creates dignified employment opportunities for socially and economically vulnerable women and girls while the product preserves dignity and builds confidence and leadership.
Frishta Bastan is a long-standing member of AYEDI since 2019 where she has been an Advisory Board member, taking leadership on and advising the organization on political strategy, diversity and inclusion, mental health, and non-profit organizational management.
Salma Ataullahjan was appointed to the Canadian Senate in the summer of 2010 as a representative for the province of Ontario. As the first Canadian Senator of Pakistani origin, she stands for the ethnic diversity of all Canadians. In the Senate, Senator Salma is Chair of the Standing Committee on Human Rights, and she is a member of the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans and the Standing Committee on Rules, Procedures and the Rights of Parliament. She is committed to issues affecting women, youth and the world’s most vulnerable, having proposed several recognized studies in the Human Rights committee. Senator Salma is also Vice President of the Canadian Group of the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), an international organization of parliamentarians from 159 countries. There, she is especially known as an advocate for maternal, newborn and child health. Because of this, she was named the IPU’s Goodwill Ambassador for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health.
Gheyas Saadat is a Senior International Assistance Officer at Global Affairs Canada. He manages Canadian-funded development projects in the Middle East, specifically in Jordan. In the past, he oversaw funding to the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund, managed by the World Bank, focusing on stabilization and reconstruction in Afghanistan. Saadat has been responsible for diverse development projects in the areas of Human Rights, Women’s Rights, Climate Change, and Humanitarian Assistance since 2015. Saadat's roles have included policy analyses, project design, and strategic advice for Global Affairs Canada's Development Assistance Programming in Afghanistan and Jordan. He worked as a Trade Commissioner at the Canadian Embassy in Afghanistan (2012-2015), promoting Canadian private sector interests in trade, investment, and infrastructure. He was a professor at Kardan University's MBA Department and an International Mentor for UNITAR. Saadat earned a second Master's Degree in Public Administration from the National University of Singapore (2019) with honors and leadership recognition. His first Master's Degree is in Business Administration from Kardan University of Afghanistan (2015), where he was a top student and received a Gold Medal from the Minister of Higher Education. He also holds a Diploma Certificate in Policy Analysis and Design from the University of Central Asia.
Zarqa Yaftali is a peace builder and an advocate for women’s and children rights, in Afghanistan. Since 2007, she has served as Executive Director of the Women and Children Legal Research Foundation (WCLRF), where she has conducted legal and field research in Afghanistan on the topic of violence and discrimination against women and girls, access to education, women participation in peace process as well as sexual harassment against women, access to justice, and property rights. In October 2020, on the occasion of the 20th-anniversary of UNSCR 1325, she was selected to represent civil society and brief at the UN Security Council Open Debate on Women, Peace and Security. Yaftali was member of the High Council for National Reconciliation. She is also member of various national and regional civil society organizations and advocacy groups. She is a fellow of the Women Peace maker fellowship in San Diego University.
Artemis Akbary is an Afghan LGBTQ rights activist and the founder and executive director of Afghan LGBTQ+ Organisation (ALO), an international advocacy group dedicated to promoting the human rights of Afghan LGBTQI people and LGBTQI asylum seekers. He is a radio producer and presenter of Radio RanginKaman (Rainbow Radio), the first and only media outlet for Afghan and Iranian LGBTQI people.
Formerly a lecturer at Kabul University, Afghanistan, Adeena Niazi arrived in Canada in 1988 as a refugee. In 1990, she founded the Afghan Women’s Organization (AWO). Under her leadership, the organization has been active in supporting newcomer women and their families. The AWO, as one of only a few settlement agencies in Canada that are also a sponsorship agreement holder, has sponsored and successfully settled 1000s of refugees. Adeena has managed the AWO for over 27 years, first as president of the working board and then as Executive Director. She served as an elected member of the NGO/Government Committee on Private Sponsorship for 4 years and as a board member of organizations serving newcomer communities. Adeena is a strong and dedicated advocate for women and children in Afghanistan. In partnership with a group of prominent Canadian women, she founded the National Coalition in Support of Afghan Women and has advocated for the human rights of Afghan women at international conferences.
Lotfullah Najafizada is an Afghan journalist with Amu TV, an international media outlet for Afghanistan that he and his colleagues founded after the fall of Kabul in August 2021. Najafizada’s nearly two decades of journalism experience include leading TOLOnews TV (2009-2021), where he led the largest news operation in the country for over a decade. He conducted many high-profile interviews with global leaders and hosted Afghanistan’s only presidential debate in 2019. Among recognitions for his work, he won the Journalist of the Year Award by One Young World in 2022, Paris-based Reporters Without Borders awarded him with the prestigious medal of Press Freedom Hero in 2016, TIME Magazine profiled him as a Next Generation Global Leader in 2016 and Forbes magazine selected him among the 30 under 30 Asia influencers in media in 2017. He is a former fellow with the Institute of Politics, University of Chicago (2021-2022) Asia Society (2012), the Atlantic Council (2019), the Rumsfeld Foundation (2016), and the World Press Institute (2010). He has a BSc in Economics.
Ambassador Hassan Soroosh has been in Ottawa since September 2019. He presented his credentials to Her Excellency the Right Honorable Julie Payette, Governor General and Commander-in-Chief of Canada on November 01, 2019, accrediting him as Ambassador of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan to Canada. Ambassador Soroosh has more than 20 years of experience with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Afghanistan and has served in different capacities including as Director General for Economic Cooperation at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Kabul; Charge d’Affaires at the Embassy and Permanent Mission of Afghanistan in Vienna; Counselor at the Embassy of Afghanistan in Washington, DC; Deputy Director General for Economic Affairs; Director of Regional Cooperation; Acting Director of Human Rights Department; and Head of the Political and Economic Affairs Sections at the Embassy of Afghanistan in Tokyo. Under his previous positions, Ambassador Soroosh has led the Secretariat for the Regional Economic Cooperation Conference on Afghanistan (RECCA) which remains a prominent Afghanistan-focused regional cooperation platform. Ambassador Soroosh has represented Afghanistan at various bilateral, trilateral and regional working committees and commissions as well as regional and international conferences and meetings.
Victoria's profound impact at the Afghan Women's Centre of Montreal (AWCM) is marked by her unwavering commitment to advocacy and empowerment. As the Executive Director, she has championed social justice, women's rights, and gender empowerment. Under Victoria's guidance, AWCM has become a beacon of support for vulnerable and marginalized women, offering programs and resources that address their unique needs. Her innovative approach to healthcare information dissemination has ensured that the community, especially newly arrived individuals, can access crucial knowledge in a language they understand, transcending language barriers for better health outcomes. Victoria's advocacy extends beyond the confines of the centre, with her active participation in conferences and panel discussions shedding light on the challenges faced by Afghan women. Her collaboration with partner organizations amplifies the voices of those who often go unheard, and her influence has been pivotal in driving policy changes and creating awareness about issues affecting marginalized communities.
Sheba Yusufzai is a Senior Immigration Consultant at Olympia Immigration. She is a former member of the Canadian Campaign for Afghan Peace, where she actively advised and aided efforts to mobilize Canadians to urge Canada to act quickly during the Afghanistan crisis. Sheba brings experience in immigration laws and regulations particularly pertaining to refugees in the political, public, and private sectors.
Garnett Genuis is the Member of Parliament for Sherwood Park-Fort Saskatchewan. First elected to Parliament in 2015, MP Genuis is a long-time resident of Strathcona County. He has served in various roles in the Conservative Shadow Cabinet since 2019. Genuis is currently a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee and the Immigration Committee. He previously served as the Vice-Chair of the Special Committee on Canada-China Relations. Genius has been active on many high-profile domestic and international human rights issues. His interest in human rights was shaped by the experience of his grandmother, a Holocaust survivor. Genuis is also a passionate advocate for free speech, for increased efforts to combat violence against women, and for Canadian energy. He is the sponsor of Bill C-257, a bill to add “political belief and activity” to the Canadian Human Rights Act as prohibited grounds of discrimination, and Motion 57, a motion to promote bystander awareness and intervention training to combat violence. Genuis holds degrees from Carleton University and the London School of Economics.
Strategist, Knowledge Curator, MDes Candidate - Strategic Foresight and Innovation at OCAD University: Madina is an interdisciplinary designer, social scientist, and foresight strategist who is passionate about enhancing experiences using human-centred design. She is experienced in facilitating and co-designing solutions to complex problems that meet the needs of all users. She is a Senior Service Designer at Sun Life, orchestrating experiences to improve services with the end user in mind. Prior to joining Sun Life, Madina led research initiatives, developed training, and built foresight practices within the Higher Education & Student Affairs space. Madina recently completed a Master of Strategic Foresight and Innovation at OCAD University, where her graduate research focused on leveraging Service Design to improve the experiences of learners in Ontario Colleges. She also holds an Honours BA in Political Science, Sociology, and Equity and Diversity Studies from the University of Toronto. She is anchored by her desire and passion to make services valuable, accessible, and usable through design.
Pam Stoikopoulos has spent nearly two decades working with health care organizations as a consultant, leader and advocate. In 2021 she founded Big Eye Innovation with a mission to help health, community and not-for-profit organizations simplify complexities and create meaningful results through the Founder & CEO, Big Eye Innovation: power of experience-based design. Before launching her consultancy, she served as Head of Innovation Engagement for VHA Home HealthCare (VHA)—a large not-for-profit community health agency and worked as the organization’s Sr. Communications and Public Relations Manager (2008-2019). Pam holds a Master of Management, Innovation and Entrepreneurship (MMIE 2019) from the Smith School of Business at Queen’s University.
Futurist, Designer, and Storyteller MDes Candidate - Strategic Foresight and Innovation at OCAD University: Grayce is an innovation strategist, futurist, and storyteller. Grayce completed her Master of Design in Strategic Foresight and Innovation from OCAD University and has since worked in healthcare, post-secondary education, and most recently fintech; exploring various ways to integrate human-centred design while assisting organizations in understanding and preparing for possible futures.
The conversation does not end at CSA 2023. AYEDI is continuing to engage in long-term capacity building and advocacy work amongst the Afghan-Canadian diaspora and allies. To this end, stay tuned for:
“This is just the beginning. The Afghan diaspora in Canada is going through a trailblazing moment – we are placing our toes upon the earth, stepping into new territory. We’re forming a human tapestry, weaving unity and kinship into our narrative; we are orchestrating our shared destiny, free from the past of mistrust and injustice, unburdened by failed promises and corruption, and liberated from the shadows of the West viewing our homeland as a playground.
This is a symphony of voices rising. We invite Afghans and allies, supporters and advocates, all those to beckon to the world, not with shouts, but with the eloquence of our collective yearning – our voices will resonate far and wide.” – Khalidha Nasiri, AYEDI Executive Director
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