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Canadian Mining Industry Saves Afghan Women Scholars From Uncertain Fate

Education, Women in STEM

by Victor Adetimilehin

Canada’s mining industry has joined forces to create a life-changing opportunity for 10 Afghan women scholars who were at risk of losing their access to education under Taliban rule.

The women, who completed their undergraduate degrees in mining and geology at universities in Kazakhstan in 2022, faced deportation back to Afghanistan after their student visas expired. The Taliban’s interpretation of Islamic law prohibits women from attending university, placing the scholars in a dangerous situation if they return home.

A Race Against Time to Secure Safe Passage

Learning about the women’s plight, David Awram, senior vice president at Sandstorm Gold Royalties, teamed up with Imola Gotz, the company’s VP of Mining & Engineering, and Friba Rezayee, founder of Women Leaders of Tomorrow (WLOT). They worked tirelessly to secure emergency acceptances and student visas for the women at the University of British Columbia (UBC).

They collaborated with Nadine Miller, VP of operational technologies at JDS Mining, who rallied financial support from the mining industry. Major Canadian mining companies like Osisko Gold Royalties, Wheaton Precious Metals, Teck Resources, Pan American Silver, and Hecla Mining all stepped up, contributing nearly C$500,000 to the cause. UBC also offered its full support, with every department approached readily agreeing to help.

Sadly, only 10 of the women were ultimately issued student visas. One student who returned to Afghanistan alone has not been heard from since.

A New Chapter in Canada: Opportunity and Success

Despite the challenges, the initiative has been a remarkable success. The women are thriving in their graduate studies at UBC. They were recently celebrated at an event in Vancouver, where WLOT founder Friba Rezayee emphasized the importance of education for women facing barriers in their home countries.

“The only way to fight the Taliban is to educate girls,” Rezayee said.

The women, whose identities are being protected for safety reasons, cannot return to Afghanistan. However, they are finding new opportunities in the mining industry. One student is researching how to reduce plastic use in mineral processing, while another is working on water efficiency projects.

UBC has formalized the program, now known as the Female Scholars at Risk initiative. This program will provide a safe haven for female scholars from conflict zones around the world.

In a parallel effort, WLOT has partnered with Laurentian University to launch the WLOT Mining Engineering Program. This program will offer five Afghan women the chance to pursue Master’s degrees in Geology or Mine Engineering starting in the fall of 2024.

The initiative’s founders are actively fundraising to support future cohorts. They estimate that there are roughly 600 displaced women globally who could benefit from this program.

“Our limitation is money and space,” said Nadine Miller. “But these are future leaders in our industry.”

Source: Mining.com

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