Anila Noor came in 2013 to the Netherlands as a student. She used to fight for women’s rights in Pakistan and now she continues her fight in the Netherlands. Although Anila had to start all over again; left everything behind in Pakistan, and build a new life in the Netherlands, she is very optimistic and hopeful about the future, however it may turn out.

By: Veerle Nicolaï

You’ve been in the Netherlands since 2013, why did you come here?

First of all, I’m not a refugee, I’m a Human Rights Activist. I came here to do a master in Development Studies with a specialization in Human Rights, Gender and Conflict Studies, but I wanted a more international perspective, that’s why I came to the Netherlands.

What was the first thing you noticed when you arrived in the Netherlands?

Well, what I noticed was that there’s a very negative narrative around refugees in the Netherlands. Throughout history, there have always been refugee waves and eventually most of them will integrate within society. The fear and anger I felt in the Netherlands concerning the refugee topic shocked me. But I don’t want to emphasize the negative things in life. So I decided to focus on changing this narrative.

How do you want to change this narrative?

I want to create awareness for the position of migrant women in the Netherlands, who are, I would say: invisible in the Dutch society. It’s all about the men. And I do not only mean the women who have to stay inside of the refugee centre because their husbands tell them to, but I’m focusing more on the policy approach. For example, when I go to the municipality with my husband, they always ask him to sign, like he’s the head of the family. So yes, even in the Netherlands, women’s equality needs to be addressed. By the way, a few weeks ago there was a protest in Amsterdam about the lack of female public toilet facilities. I addressed this topic in Pakistan in 2010, so women’s rights are just as relevant in the Netherlands as they are in Pakistan.

How was your life in Pakistan?

In Pakistan I was working for an NGO called ‘Auret’, which means ‘woman’ in Urdu (one of the main languages in Pakistan) and Auret was cooperating with USAID (an NGO from the US). For two years I was working for them and we were fighting for women’s rights, but only in legal ways, not by organising demonstrations. For example, we were convincing women that it’s really beneficial to have your own ID card. In Pakistan the husband has to give permission for his wife to apply for an ID card; this is unacceptable. This makes women very dependent on their husbands: they cannot even open their own bank account for example. In Pakistan there’s a negative stigma around USAID, they’re accused of having a Western agenda. Nevertheless, I believe it’s absolutely necessary to create awareness for this topic.

Don’t you miss it?

Of course I miss Pakistan, but here in the Netherlands I’ve never experienced so much freedom. When I first arrived in the Netherlands, I always walked alone at night, wandering around, just because I could. I felt safe and I could never do this in Pakistan.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

If I look at the future, I don’t know exactly where I will be and what I will be doing, but I do know that I want a responsible position. I want to change the narrative around refugees, but most of all I want to be influential. And when I see the energetic and motivated people of Refugees Forward, they give me so much strength. It makes me realise that I don’t have to worry about the future and just have to continue what I’m doing.

Click here to find out more about Anila’s project with Refugees Forward