Maryam Monsef: Afghan Refugee Turned National Leader for Women

Unique Female Global Influencers Series: Maryam Monsef

When Maryam Monsef first stepped onto Canadian soil at 11 years old, her command of English included one sentence: “Hi, my name is Maryam.” A lot has changed since she and her family left their life behind in Afghanistan. Monsef has led an ambitious life with a career rooted in Canadian politics and charitable work, but her success didn’t happen overnight.

Almost twenty-two years ago, Monsef along with her mother and two younger sisters fled their native Afghanistan in the midst of a brutal war. Her father was killed at the Iran—Afghanistan border. As a young child, Monsef struggled to accept this change as she felt like she lost her home, culture and a close network of family and friends.

“As kids, we didn’t realize what was at stake,” says Monsef in an interview with South Asian Generation Next. “We were focused on everything we’d left behind and people we’d said goodbye to. The majority of the journey for me is filled with memories of grief.”


In 1995, her family settled in Peterborough, Ontario where her uncle lived. Monsef and her family received an overwhelming amount of support from the Peterborough community, especially during their first few years in Canada. This positive experience propelled her into the political arena where she could return the kindness and support she received from the community.

Sister Ruth Hennessey operates one of the Casa Maria refugee homes in Peterborough. Monsef and her family lived just below her in the refugee home where they grew close and would often eat dinner together. “I told her always, ‘You, as a woman in Canada, have the possibility to do anything.’ I don’t think she ever forgot that,” says Hennessey.


Fast forward to a few years later, Monsef’s strong views on public transportation brought her front and centre in city council where she discussed several municipal issues. “I grew up on public transit,” says Monsef in an interview with Electric City Magazine. “I spent a lot of time on buses, talking to bus drivers. The first time I appeared before council was to talk about public transit.” She voiced her concerns regarding Peterborough Mayor, Daryl Bennett’s push for cuts to bus service to save money for the city. This experience motivated her to start attending council meetings more frequently.

Monsef went on to run for Mayor of Peterborough, but was narrowly defeated by Daryl Bennett. She was later approached by three different parties to represent them in the next federal election. When deciding which party to run for, she took a step back to reflect.

“I asked myself which party matched my own values,” says Monsef. “Ultimately it came down to leadership style. I knew that if I was going to go through this, it had to be with a leader I could relate to.” The leader she was referring to was the Liberal Party’s very own, Justin Trudeau.


In November 2015, she was appointed the Minister of Democratic Institutions in Prime Minster Trudeau’s Cabinet, and was later appointed to the Minister of Status of Women this past January. Monsef also currently serves as the Member of Parliament for Peterborough—Kawartha.

Leading up to the US presidential election, Monsef made headlines when she declared it was an important time for women in Canada and around the world. As the Minister of Status of Women, she made sure her views on being pro-choice were heard.

"Reproductive health rights in Canada and around the world are critical to advancing gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls," Monsef said earlier this year in an interview with The Canadian Press. "We're committed to making sure that women and girls have that choice, because otherwise, this is a form of gender-based violence."

She announced that the Status of Women Canada will be donating $285,000 to Planned Parenthood Ottawa to support a three-year initiative focused on improving local services for women facing obstacles in taking full control of their reproductive rights.


Monsef is an active member of the Peterborough community, largely due to the kindness she was shown as a young child. While she attended Trent University, she spearheaded a grassroots initiative as the Co-founder of the Red Pashmina Campaign. To date, the campaign has managed to raise well over $150,000 to help support women in Afghanistan.

She recently launched the Canadian Poverty Reduction Strategy to hear residents’ ideas on developing a Poverty Reduction Strategy to improve the economic status of all Canadians. Monsef advised she would present these ideas to the Honourable Jean-Yves Duclos, Minister of Families, Children and Social Development the next time she visited Parliament.

In a recent statement, Monsef said that she will be spending the rest of the summer connecting with constituents from Apsley to Havelock to discuss pressing issues affecting the residents of the Peterborough—Kawartha region.


To learn more about Maryam Monsef and her work within the community, please visit: http://mmonsef.liberal.ca/ 



Aileen Ormoc | The Edge Blog

Photo credit: Laurelrusswurm


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