Meet Shabnam Fayyaz

This is part of a Columbia News series introducing members of the University's Scholarship for Displaced Students, a program administered by Columbia Global Centers. 

April 02, 2021

Shabnam Fayyaz is a student at Columbia’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and is from Ghazni, Afghanistan. We checked in with her to learn more about her studies focused on women, human rights, refugees, and forced migration, as well as her goals for the future.

What are you studying?

As an undergraduate at Earlham College, I was a peace and global studies major with an emphasis on law and justice. I also participated in a study abroad program in Vienna and Berlin that focused on examining the question of immigration in Austria and Germany.

When I reflected on my undergraduate studies, I realized I was passionate about topics and issues dealing with women and human rights, refugees and forced migration, and the Middle East and Central Asian regions of the world. I wanted to understand more about the migration of women (to escape conflict and gender-based violence) from Muslim majority countries like Syria and Afghanistan, countries from which it is extremely difficult for most of the women to travel without the permission of men.

I was keen to understand how refugee and immigration law and human rights conventions impact migration and, particularly, how these laws shape women’s and men’s experiences and opportunities differently, particularly in light of rising anti-immigration sentiment in the West.

These interests lead me to pursue my master’s in human rights studies at Columbia. My concentration is on refugees, forced migration, and displacement. I am interested to work on gender and forced migration, particularly the difficulties women face as refugees and migrants. I am also interested in Afghan women’s rights and women’s participation in peacemaking and peace-building processes.

Where are you currently living?

I am living in New York City. I love the energy and the diversity of the city. I enjoy running in Central Park.

What are your goals for the future?

My experiences growing up as an Afghan refugee in Quetta, Pakistan and later applying for asylum in the U.S., coupled with my undergraduate studies at Earlham College, motivated me to pursue graduate studies and a career focused on human rights studies. I hope to attend law school and/or pursue a PhD, with a focus on human rights, women, and refugees and forced migration. I want to pursue a career working on these issues, particularly the difficulties women face as refugees and migrants.

What do you wish more people knew about Afghanistan?

I want people to know that Afghanistan has a rich and interesting history that dates back to ancient times. Most people are only familiar with the images from the last several decades of conflict beginning with the Soviet invasion, civil war, Taliban rule, and the ongoing war in Afghanistan. However, the region has a rich intellectual, cultural, religious, and economic history, due to it having a strategically important location on the Silk Road where East met West.