This month’s instalment of our Graduate Stories features Shahed Abu Jwaied. Shahed is the CEO of Integrate Women International, an organisation that promotes the participation of women in all spheres of society on the basis of dignity, equity, and equality. She is one of the youngest CEO’s in Aotearoa and is also completing her Masters of Human Rights at Te Wānanga Aronui o Tāmaki Makau Rau (Auckland University of Technology) under the supervision of Dr Jane Verbitzky.
Tell us about yourself
I am a Jordanian Palestinian, Muslim Kiwi, the oldest of six children, living and studying in Tāmaki-makau-rau (Auckland). I’ve had seven years of experience in the community development sector and working with migrants and refugees. As a result, I’m passionate about progressing national and international projects with one of the main goals to help and empower as many global communities. Some of my key strengths lie in social and cultural awareness, my entrepreneurial spirit, detail focus in interacting with people and the ability to speak out – a change cataylyst and critical thinker.
I have established, managed, been part of and organised a number of networks, initiatives, projects and an NGO, including:
· CEO and founder of Integrate Women International;
· Board member – College of Humanities and Social Sciences Board – Massy University
· Massey University – Learning Spaces Steering Committee
· Board of trustee – Auckland Girls Grammar School
· Refugees & Migrants NZ – Community Development Worker/Independent Advisor/humanitarian advocate
· Compassion Grant – Advocacy - Founder
· NZ Women Community Development Network
· Jordanian/Palestinian Cultural Group
· Arabian Women’s NZ Support Network
· ATF Youth Association (Co-Founder & President (2016) – youth worker)
· United Nations Youth NZ – Committee Facilitator
· Massey University – Female President, MUMSA Club
· Massey University – Course Advocate
· Islamic Women’s Council New Zealand – Regional Representative – Auckland (2017)
· Charity Challenge NZ – Founder
What drew you to anthropology?
I started off doing social work. I did social work for two years at the University of Auckland before I realized that I have other passions that I discovered on top of “helping people.” I knew, always that it was people who I want to work with and for. After working for years and developing different initiatives I realized that I was interested in politics, social science, human rights, activism, and development. I was doing some research and I found Anthropology. Believe it or not, I had not heard of it before! I searched more about it, watched videos and talked to experts and I was like woooow! Where was this before?! I fell in LOVE! I felt that it was what I wanted and what was meant to be. It's a study that helps you understand people without judgment. This is what we need in this world, to understand people, to understand each other. I felt that with Anthropology, we can develop critical thinking without pointing fingers and we can celebrate the beauty in different cultures. By cultures, I don’t just mean as in country or ethnicity, but everything has a culture, culture in sports, food, and even when we go to bed. In anthropology, I have found that you become quite close with lecturers and students, everyone shares a common interest which is people. You learn how people lived in the past, how people are living now, you make sense of our surroundings. It helps you make positive change. That sounded all like a dream. I feel very proud to call myself an anthropologist grad. Now, that I'm doing my masters in human rights (which is another passion that I’m deeply in LOVE with) I will call myself a “Human Rights Anthropologist” upon my master's graduation. Whether this is an actual term or not, I don’t care, I like it! :)
What are you working on?
My previous thesis proposal for anthropology was, Colours of Kiwi Scarfs: Experiences of visibly Muslim women who grew up in New Zealand and wear the scarf and the impact it has on their integration process into New Zealand society.
Currently I’m working on a Masters of Human Rights:
“This interdisciplinary programme can open up opportunities in international human rights organizations, government, policy agencies, human rights institutions and national NGOs in New Zealand and overseas. It’s also great if you’re currently working in law, regulatory agencies, human rights or education”.
There are a number of topics I’m looking at, the last two researches submitted were on torture and human rights: experiences of torture and the breach of human rights. More recently I’m looking at the status of Indigenous rights in Aotearoa NZ. Currently, I’m working on a short film on the concept of belonging.
How have you found life as a graduate student?
I love it! Aside from independence, getting an access card to an office and meeting space which my colleagues and I were excited about, I enjoy the diversity of the very thought-provoking discussions that we have, the freedom of self-interest, the learning and freedom of thought. You meet amazing people along the way and you discover yourself too, I love it!
What are your current influences?
My mum and dad have taught me so much. I have learned and taken so much from them which made me who I am today. I have friends and lecturers who inspired me as well as community leaders. However, I have three other people that I have always looked up to for many different reasons and that have inspired me. The first is Khadija (Prophet Mohammad's wife). She was a successful, businesswomen 1400 years ago when men used to bury their baby daughters! Oprah, whom I used to and continue to learn so much from. She didn’t have an easy life and she shares so much hope. And last but not least, Queen Rania of Jordan. A woman who challenged so much and fought so much has a lot of courage and a beautiful soul. There is a book that was gifted by my father and was written by Aid al-Qarni. It is called “La Tahzan” (Don’t be sad), it had an impact on me too. I often read the Quran for blessing, it's the blessed, holy book for Muslims as I find peace in it.
If you love working with people and are interested to learn more about us humans and about your selves; if you are wanting to challenge your thoughts and make sense of the past for a better future; then look into Anthropology. It really is an interesting field worth discovering.
I have a favourite quote which relates to anthropology and those that want to look into it:
He aha te mea nui o te ao
What is the most important thing in the world?
He tangata, he tangata, he tangata
It is the people, it is the people, it is the people
Isn’t it beautiful!
Shahed has been the recipient of numerous awards including:
“Top applicant”, accepted into the United Nations Leaders Program as an observer and participant; Award Top Nine Young Women 2017; New Zealand Women of Influence Award – Top nine; New Zealand Women of Influence – Globally 2018; Winner – Women Who Inspire Award 2017; Service Award – Northland library 2010; Art & Culture Leadership Award 2014.