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Dr. Saleema Rehman: Pioneer Female Afghan Refugee & Role Model, Part 1 of 2

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Gender equality remains a distant aspiration almost everywhere, particularly for refugee women. However, many women display a resilience worthy of our warm approval and respect despite such circumstances. Dr. Saleema Rehman, the first female Afghan refugee doctor in her Pakistani community, is one of them.

Two decades ago, she was one of the few girls in her primary school. Today, Dr. Rehman runs her own clinic and is also the regional winner of the 2021 UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award. Her perseverance resonates among many women, and her service to displaced people has a global significance.

Dr. Rehman’s father was 13 years old when his family and the community elders fled Afghanistan due to conflict. They found safety in Swabi, a city in northwestern Pakistan where there was a camp for displaced Afghans. And that is where Dr. Rehman was born in 1991.

In the hope of finding a more conducive atmosphere and greater opportunities for advancement, the family moved about 60 kilometers south to the city of Attock. In 1994, the future female physician entered kindergarten. In those days, very few refugee girls were going to school. Saleema was the only girl in the class when she was in fifth grade. Later, she was able to attend a Pakistani high school for girls.

Today, those who once opposed education for girls appreciate Dr. Rehman’s achievements and service to the community. Many of them send their daughters to school, hoping that they might follow in her footsteps. “They get inspired by my skills, and their views change about female education. Now, I can proudly say that I was able to change their mind in such a way that the number of girls who are going to school has eventually increased till that time.”

“And after two years of applying, I was finally able to get that medical seat in Pakistan, which was the only one saved in the whole province, Punjab.” Dr. Rehman’s acceptance into medical school at Rawalpindi was a turning point in her life.

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