Standing Up for Sustainability and Women's Rights

I’m an international student from Pakistan, studying Sustainability Management and Conflict Resolution at Columbia in the School of Professional Studies. 

My Columbia story started in September 2014, when I attended the United Nations Equator Prize ceremony at Lincoln Center. That evening I was incredibly moved by the powerful and inspiring stories of indigenous women from around the world who were reclaiming their lands, their communities, way of life and standing up against indiscriminate and debilitating environmental degradation and pollution. I was also inspired by the words of the incredible women leaders who are championing sustainability and environmental justice – Queen Noor of Jordan, Marine biologist Dame Sylvia Earle (the Queen of the Seas), Her Excellency, Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland, Jane Goodall … women who have lead their countries and communities to build a strong and sustainable future for all.  

It was a night that changed the trajectory of my life. The moment I got home, I looked up the Earth Institute’s website and applied to the Master’s in Sustainability Management the next day. Three months later I began my journey of sustainability at Columbia.  

In February of 2015, I was a youth delegate at the United Nations Youth Assembly where I met with H.E. Amina Mohammed who was the Secretary General’s Advisor on the Sustainable Development Goals (now the Deputy Secretary General at the United Nations). She challenged me to find ways to simplify and teach the Sustainable Development Goals, to look for solutions and to take initiative as a young leader. I took on the challenge, and for the past two years, I have been actively looking for ways to raise awareness, build bridges, forge partnerships with like-minded advocates and contribute through my research and advocacy. We have less than 15 years to realize 169 targets of the 17 goals that we all have agreed upon as the blueprint for a sustainable and just future for all, and I want to make sure that I do my part every day.  

Over the past two years, I have served as a campus ambassador for the ONE campaign, Girl Rising, Half the Sky, and A World at School, and am a Climate Reality Leader. In 2015 I was named as a Global Champion for Women’s Economic Empowerment by UN women’s EmpowerWomen campaign, and last summer I was recognized as a Changemaker by President Obama’s White House Council on Women & Girls and invited to attend the inaugural United State of Women Summit in Washington D.C. I have interned at the Columbia Center on Sustainable Investment (CCSI) and the Advanced Consortium on Cooperation, Conflict, and Complexity (AC4) and presented my research on the intersections of sustainability, climate change, gender, disaster risk reduction and peace & and security at conferences and summits.  

Last year I took an incredible class in the Sustainability Management program, “Women in Cities,” which gave me fresh insight into New York City’s unique place in history as an incubator and stomping ground of some of the finest, feminist minds and voices that have pioneered, reshaped, and challenged the ways in which we think about women, cities, equality and public spaces. For four months, I took a deep dive into the interconnected worlds of architecture, urban design, city planning and public spaces, and the lives of women that inhabit these worlds. Worlds that are largely dominated by, designed by, built by and governed by men.  

The class inspired me to take on a massive research project on women & sports, specifically investigating and highlighting inequalities in access as participants and spectators around the world, and how the socio-economic and legal barriers faced by women and girls in this context will ultimately hamper our ability to achieve the targets of the sustainable development goals. One year later, in April of 2017, I received the Morton Deutsch Award for Best Graduate Student Paper on Social Justice for this research project and it was an incredible honor to be able to present my paper and amplify the stories of these brave women & girls risk their lives & safety to play on unequal fields around the world.  

This summer I’m working on two fellowships; the first is a research fellowship through the Women, Peace and Security at Columbia University’s AC4 Center. The second is the Local Pathways Fellowship through the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network, where I am one of 60 fellows from 52 major cities around the world who will be working on a project to help realize the sustainable development goals. My project will focus on the sustainability and safety of the New York City subway system.  

I love serving as an Ambassador for Columbia everyday: be it in the classroom or at the United Nations and on Capitol Hill. I’m so thankful for the wonderful friends I’ve made and the mentors I’ve found in teachers and administrators. I thank Dean Jason Wingard and Dean Suzanne Goldberg for creating spaces for us to grow and thrive, on and off campus. 

I’m proud to be a Columbia lion and feel incredibly lucky to have the privilege to learn on the same campus as one of my greatest heroes: Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who inspires me every day in all that I do.  

This is my Columbia story and I’m just getting started.