Dr Marrwah Ahmadzai is a firm believer that dialogue has the power to break down barriers.
The resident obstetrician-gynaecologist and speaker at the TEDxCanberraWomen 2020: Fearless event will share her story of growing up as a Muslim woman in Australia with migrant parents.
“It’s a story relevant in current times where we can see that intolerance and hatred can lead to devastating consequences for humanity,” says Marrwah. “At times, being someone who is from a diverse background can be challenging because I have experienced, at one end of the spectrum, misconceptions and stereotyping, and on the other end, racism and bigotry.
“However, these experiences for me have highlighted the importance of taking time out to treat other people with kindness, hear their stories and understand their experiences rather than making one’s own assumptions.”
Marrwah started wearing hijab, a head covering, when she was five years old after her family went on a religious pilgrimage to Mecca.
“I started wearing hijab at a young age and people have reacted to it sometimes negatively with assumptions that I must be oppressed or forced to wear it when, in fact, I feel a great sense of empowerment in doing so,” she says.
“Unless you ask the question or take the time to talk to someone to understand why they are doing what they are doing, it’s an opportunity lost.
“While growing up, the children in my school were sometimes curious about my hijab and it led to incidents where I was teased or bullied. I remember talking to my father about it one day and he said if you want people to understand your story, it is important to have a conversation with them.
“I stood up in front of my class and shared my experiences of who I was and what my hijab meant to me, and after that I did not have any negative experiences in the school for the next few years.
“That really helped me understand just how powerful a simple conversation can be because it can expand people’s perspective and help them understand where you are coming from. That’s one lesson I have carried throughout my life.”
Stressing the importance of dialogue, Marrwah advises people from all backgrounds and experiences to help change the world they live in through conversations they have with others.
“Whether one is from a diverse background, facing bullying at school or going through a challenging time in their life, it’s a simple but powerful message,” she says. “If I can inspire even one person, it would be very humbling and an honour.”
Marrwah says the TEDxCanberra event is incredibly exciting and a great opportunity for Canberrans to come together in the same space.
“It’s a space where there will be a lot of diverse voices, experiences and stories, and opportunity to connect with people,” she says. “It’s a great place for anyone who wants to end 2020 on a more inspiring note.”