Photo of Elliot Harris

“When we face intolerance … we must come together to be even stronger allies”, says SDG Advocate and UN High-Level Commissioner on Health Employment and Economic Growth Alaa Murabit as she discusses gender equality and women empowerment.


Why have you devoted your life to work for gender equality and women’s political participation?

Experiencing the breakdown of law and order in 2011 made me realise the multilateral system was not created to be inclusive and that systemic change was necessary. The international actors that I was working with on the ground were well-intended but they lacked the tools, understanding and mandate to engage the voices of women and local leaders. I’ve made it my mission to change that reality and to ensure that local leaders, particularly women and youth, are amplified and heard at the highest levels. Today, I want anyone who meets me to walk away with the same understanding: that I believe a world which appreciates the experiences of women and girls and respects, amplifies and intentionally protects inclusivity in all spaces is one which benefits us all. Because trusting in the untapped potential of girls and women as agents of peace is what gives me hope in the midst of conflict and record numbers of displacements.

You have witnessed the impact of migration in both Libya and Canada. Migrants are often vulnerable to hate, discrimination and violence, and not just in transit countries. How do we protect vulnerable migrants, especially women and children?

Throughout the journey of migration, women face greater, and also very specific, vulnerabilities compared to men; however, we still lack a gender-sensitive approach of dealing with the vulnerabilities of migrants. In order to prevent all forms of abuse, we must make sure that there is a functioning psychosocial support system for them. At the same time, we witness a situation where certain countries welcome the positive effects of migration for their economies and leave the poorest countries to bear the brunt of the humanitarian refugee crises. These disparities will be felt even more with the increasing effects of climate change driving resource scarcity, conflict, and displacement. To mitigate the impact of these emerging threats and strengthen the protection for vulnerable women and girls, we need a new recognition for collective responsibility and action that prioritizes sustainable solutions and the protection of human rights.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres says the rise in populism has led to an increase in racism, anti-Semitism, xenophobia and Islamophobia. As a young Muslim woman and a public figure, what are some of the challenges you have faced? What is your message to other young people facing intolerance?

Secretary-General Guterres’ observation and the data that supports his statement reflect a daily reality for any young minority person who puts themselves out there as an aspiring leader. The frequency and intensity of prejudiced attacks thrown at me by online and offline trolls has sharply increased, and so have the more subtle xenophobic discourse patterns that I encounter in my work concerning health, economic growth, women’s rights and migration. I definitely feel that the day-to-day micro-aggressions, like being shouted xenophobic slurs in the street to being subjected to an extra 30 minutes of airport screening, that I experience have become more and more socially acceptable through the pervasive influence of racism and intolerance in our political and media culture.

This starts out with the constant barrage of messages I receive to insulting comments left under my online talks. It continues with xenophobic attacks against Yasmine Ouirhrane  one of the brilliant young emerging leaders that I support through my Omnis Institute  who was recently recognised as the ’Young European of the Year 2019’ for her outstanding work to uphold diversity, tolerance, peace and social inclusion. And I witness a climate of hate when working with local women leaders in Colombia like Viviana Palacios Raigosa who fear for their lives as the landmark peace agreement with the FARC is being called into question.

I have no doubt that leaders like Yasmine and the Colombian frontline fighters for women’s rights are the future of inclusive, strong, and peaceful societies that promise prosperity for all. In these same moments I am also reminded of the inclusivity and grace in our societies; often in those moments partners and allies stand up and stand tall and that is what I think will continue to drive progress in our communities. When we face intolerance towards striving for this common goal, we must come together to be even stronger allies to one another, to protect each other, to make the intolerance we are being confronted with visible for everyone, and to not multiply hate by returning it.