Judge Shakila Abawi Shigarf (left) and Judge Sayeda Wasiq shared their stories about fleeing Taliban rule and building a new life in Australia.

At a Q&A session chaired by Nyadol Nyuon, Director Sir Zelman Cowen Centre, a large crowd had the unique opportunity to hear firsthand some of the remarkable challenges both women have encountered since they were forced to leave their country.

When the Taliban took control, they released thousands of criminals, many of whom had been sentenced by Judges Shigarf and Wasiq. In a recent interview for SBS, Judge Shigarf said “I left my office and I didn’t know what to take – I was thinking to take my log book, my laptop – I didn’t know what to take, I just wanted to save my life.” With the help of The International Association of Women Judges, the two judges were able to escape.

“In the beginning it was very hard. Overnight I lost 40 years of life - culturally, economically, my education, my profession. It felt like a nightmare. But it’s a reality we have to accept. I try to forget the past because it’s a barrier to making new goals for the future”, said Judge Wasiq.

The women judges from Afghanistan talked about how mentoring can have a significant impact on an individual. The Sir Zelman Cowen Centre has been working with Host International to connect newly-arrived refugees from Afghanistan with a legal or policy background to mentors in their occupational field to guide and support them through their employment pathways.

While the International association has organised safe passage for at least 17 women judges and their families, both women expressed fears for their colleagues who remain in Afghanistan. “There are about 50 or 60 women judges who are now in hiding, moving from place to place –their lives are at risk. They can’t work; they have children to support, but they cannot leave their houses,” said Judge Shigarf.

During the session, the women expressed their deep sadness about leaving their homeland but also their gratitude. “I especially want to thank the judges association for their ongoing support,” said Judge Wasiq.

In closing, Judge Shigarf added “I feel for the girls in my country. They cannot go to school. They would love to pursue their dreams, but they are not allowed. Even though we are here and we are safe, we are still thinking of them and somehow, with the support of organisations we want to do something to ensure that they can go to school.”

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