Q & A with Rez Gardi: A Story of Inspiration
Posted on 15 February 2017
We had the humbling experience of sitting down with Rez Gardi and hearing about her struggles as a young refugee. Being a true inspiration to all women, she never let any of her hardships stop her from pursuing her dreams. Today Rez is on the way to becoming New Zealand's first Kurdish female lawyer and much more.
Q. Tell us about your background?
A. My father’s family escaped the Kurdish region of Turkey to Iraq then to Iran and my mother’s family escaped the Kurdish region of Iraq to Iran after the Ba’ath Regime bombed their home killing my grandmother. My parents were Kurdish political activists and it was no longer safe for them in Iran so they escaped to Pakistan.
I was born in a United Nations refugee camp in Pakistan. After years of struggle endured by my family in Pakistan, we were fortunately given the opportunity to travel to New Zealand to create a new life for ourselves away from the conflict against our ethnic group – the Kurds. My family have suffered tremendous difficulties to reach where we are today, having come to New Zealand with absolutely nothing. However, I have never used my misfortune as a reason to underachieve, and in fact used it as my motivation to excel beyond expectations. English was my fourth language but I was motived to succeed.
I was the first in my family to graduate secondary school and attend university. I am currently a Law Clerk at New Zealand’s premier law firm Chapman Tripp and in the process of becoming New Zealand’s first Kurdish female lawyer. I studied a conjoint degree encompassing a Bachelor of Law (Honours) and a Bachelor of Arts double majoring in Political Studies & International Relations and Criminology. I have recently handed in my Law Honours dissertation on human rights violations against Kurds and the right to self-determination in Turkey.
My notable work experiences have involved being a human rights intern at the United Nations Headquarters in Africa and an assistant to the Deputy Chief of Protocol in the Protocol Department of the Kurdistan Regional Government.
I love travelling and have been to all continents except Antarctica! I have worked in Kenya, studied in the United States of America and travelled Africa, North and South America, South East Asia and Europe. I recently represented New Zealand youth at the Women Deliver conference in Copenhagen and the OECD Forum in Paris.
I am also the New Zealand Red Cross Youth Advisor is part of the New Zealand Red Cross Humanitarian Services national team. This role has two key elements, I was the New Zealand representative in Geneva at both the Global Refugee Youth Consultations and annual UNHCR – NGO Consultations in June 2016 and I will assist New Zealand Red Cross in the planning of co-chairing the Annual Tripartite Consultations on Resettlement in 2017.
Q. Having just started in the workplace, how do you feel about the job marketplace for women in NZ? And how do you think it compares to overseas given your work overseas?
A. While New Zealand has still got a long way to go in terms of gender equality, I think we are well ahead of the places I have worked namely the Middle East and East Africa. It is important to note, however, just because we are doing better doesn’t mean we can stop and rest now. There are still fundamental issues we face and need to ameliorate before we can say we are a gender equal nation.
The job marketplace for women in NZ is relatively easier at the graduate level such as getting your foot in. Generally speaking, we have the same opportunities of getting internships and clerkships. This is obviously not taking into account issues that minority groups face.
In my opinion the problems are predominantly at the later stage where women want to progress in their careers. The main issues surround family and children prospects, equal pay and the opportunity for progression and development in their chosen career path.
The problems in NZ tend to be institutional and on a subconscious level. We already have legal frameworks in place. Legally, women have the right to equality but they are not translating into practice necessarily. There is bias involved in the hiring and promotion of women for the higher positions such as partnership, CEOs, boards of companies etc– just look at the ratio of female partners to male partners at any of the major firms or on the boards of NZX listed companies.
In comparison the job marketplace for women in places such as Kurdistan are fundamentally different and are flawed at every level. The problems they face are legal, institutional and cultural. Women do not have the same rights in theory to start with; axiomatically, there can be no equality in practice. Women do not enjoy the same rights and opportunities as men, and although the situation has been ameliorating over the years, women in Kurdistan are still bereft of fundamental rights. It is exceptionally rare to see women in positions of power and influence.
Q. What are the biggest obstacles you think women face today? And what is the biggest obstacle you have personally faced getting where you are today?
A. The biggest obstacle we face is trying to change the situation for women when we have a bunch of men sitting at the table making decisions on how to change the situation. Women need to be in positions of power and influence; they know what the issues that women face are and only they know what can fix the situation for women.
My biggest obstacle has been trying to get in from the outside. I was the first in my family to finish secondary school and to go to university. I had no support from anyone who had actually gone through the process and who could guide me throughout the process. I had no idea what the law firms were until I was all of a sudden applying for clerkships there and I didn’t know anyone who had ever worked at one.
Here I was, a young minority refugee woman. Alone, I represented nearly every discriminated group. The first obstacle was believing in myself. Secondly, it was choosing to use my disadvantages to motivate and fuel my success. Being motivated to excel, strangely, can piss people off. We live in a society where celebrating your success is frowned upon and people routinely put people down who want do well and who talk about it – its hidden behind this strange semblance of “being humble”. But being humble and being silent are two very different things; just like being arrogant and being happy for your achievements are two very different things. I’ve noticed in New Zealand more than anywhere else in the world that people literally make comments to bring you down. When you already feel like an outsider this can be discouraging.
Women experience the worst of it as we try so hard to be accepted – there is this dangerous notion that to succeed you have to think like a man. There is a harmful mentality that the women who have succeeded have only succeeded because they know how to be “one of the boys”. Sharing your success and achievements is seen as petty and attention-seeking – attributes which are typically identified as feminine in our society. This is another way young women have been silenced.
But I soon realised that this “tall poppy syndrome” wasn’t going to stop me – I was a female, I was Kurdish and I was a refugee. I wanted to share my story whenever I did something I was proud of so that hopefully it could inspire and motivate someone out there. Even if I motivated one or two people it was worth it.
We, as women, need to encourage and motivate each other. By sharing our story this can raise awareness and can motivate others. I was motivated reading about the successes of strong determined women and what they had done to get to where they are. If they had embraced this “tall poppy syndrome” I wouldn’t have known about so many of the opportunities I’ve had today, I wouldn’t have applied for all the scholarships and I wouldn’t have as many amazing female mentors.
We have a voice and we need to use it.
Q. What is the most valuable thing you have learnt from all of your travels?
A. I have met extraordinary people from all around the globe with very different life experiences and perspectives. I value learning different perspectives and challenging the way I see things.
The more critical I can be, the better. I don’t want to simply accept something on its face, I need to understand more and question the status quo. I have questions and I want answers. Through my travels and life experiences, I have learned to use my voice – just because I am young doesn’t mean I can’t understand complex issues. This is what the older generation need to realise.What are the things you value most in your life?
My mom is my number one. She has been my sole caregiver from a young age and has been the biggest motivation behind every positive achievement I have earned to date. Being a single mother, she has shown me how to be a strong and independent woman and has always reminded me that I am capable of anything I put my mind to, despite what restrictions society and social norms may place on us as women, especially as a woman from an ethnic minority group. She has worked endlessly to ensure I do not miss out on anything in regards to my academic requirements and done her best to make me feel as though I fit in amongst my peers.
I am passionate about human rights especially women’s rights and refugee rights. My future aspirations involve working in the field of international law in aim of achieving justice not only for Kurds but also for similarly oppressed groups of people worldwide. I want to utilise my degree in law to bring hope to all those who are struggling with fighting for their rights.
Q. How do you maintain a good work/life balance?
A. I work really hard but always make sure I make time for my family and friends. I think the key is working out what works for you in terms of organising your time – for me I have lists and my diary is planned to the hour. I follow these religiously but equally when there is nothing in my diary then I make the most of it.
Q. What do you like to do in your spare time?
A. I love boxing and playing netball – it’s a great form of stress release for me. I love hanging out with friends whether its going out, shopping or having a beer and watching the NBA. I am currently also trying to improve my Spanish and then I will move onto learning French.
Also I love spending time with my nieces and treating them. They mean the most to me and when I make plans with them I won’t allow study or work to ruin that.
Q. If you could offer one piece of advice to other women searching for work or starting out their career, what would it be?
A. Be confident. You deserve that opportunity and you are worthy of it.
We need to surround ourselves with inspiring, hardworking and intelligent women. Don’t be afraid to seek mentors – most women love to help young women starting out their careers.