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Bahar Mozaffari: Finnish Refugee Woman of the Year 2017

2 June 2017

“I want to encourage immigrant women to pursue independent lives, to discover their place in Finnish society and gain access to working life.”

Bahar Mozaffari was born on 2 February 1978 in Mashad, Iran. She grew up in a family, where she and her three sisters were treated like equals and learned that women have the same value as men. “At our home, we were never reminded of being girls or that we couldn’t do this or that,” Mozaffari said in an interview with UN Youth of Finland. Her father taught Mozaffari and her sisters to dream about and strive to achieve a better and more equal world. He worked as a teacher and a writer, but spent twelve years in prison due to political reasons.

Bahar Mozaffari
Photo: Ilari Fabritius

However, the assumption that women have the same rights as men was not shared by the surrounding society, and when Mozaffari married, her life changed drastically. She started experiencing restrictions on what she could do and she realised, that this was because of her being a woman. Mozaffari wanted to divorce her husband, but since divorce is illegal in Iran, this was not an option.

Being a feminist, she was determined to change the circumstances for herself and women in Iran and therefore started working for a women’s rights organisation. At the organisation they helped women give birth, which was illegal and Mozaffari got into trouble. Eventually, she had to flee Iran.

In 2004, Mozaffari arrived in Turkey with her little son. They had to stay in Turkey for two years before going to Finland as quota refugees in 2006. Here she started taking Finnish lessons and though she had a degree in economics it was difficult to get a job. In 2010, she got a traineeship at the Employment office in Espoo and after that a regular job as an expert working with immigrants.

According to Mozaffari, the status of women seems to deteriorate and we currently face backlash within women’s rights on a global scale. No matter where you are in the world, it is still important to work for maintaining and improving women’s rights and gender equality. “Women’s position in Finland is so much better than compared to for example Iran. But equality still hasn’t been completely achieved in Finland and we should be working on that,” she says.

Mozaffari is still working actively for the betterment of women’s situation and improvement of women’s rights. She is a volunteer at the Finnish section of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) where she assists in the integration training offered by the organisation. In the integration training programme, Mozaffari bases her work on her own experiences. According to her, the identity of immigrants is transformed when a person arrives in a new homeland. Women therefore need information about their new society and need support to be aware of their own potential. The integration training programme involves exercises that help you find your own strengths and expertise. In this way, women are encouraged to study or to apply for a job.

In March 2017, Mozaffari was awarded the prize Finnish Refugee Woman of the Year by the Finnish Refugee Council.


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Melissa Torres


Prior to being elected Vice-President, Melissa Torres was the WILPF US International Board Member from 2015 to 2018. Melissa joined WILPF in 2011 when she was selected as a Delegate to the Commission on the Status of Women as part of the WILPF US’ Practicum in Advocacy Programme at the United Nations, which she later led. She holds a PhD in Social Work and is a professor and Global Health Scholar at Baylor College of Medicine and research lead at BCM Anti-Human Trafficking Program. Of Mexican descent and a native of the US/Mexico border, Melissa is mostly concerned with the protection of displaced Latinxs in the Americas. Her work includes training, research, and service provision with the American Red Cross, the National Human Trafficking Training and Technical Assistance Centre, and refugee resettlement programs in the U.S. Some of her goals as Vice-President are to highlight intersectionality and increase diversity by fostering inclusive spaces for mentorship and leadership. She also contributes to WILPF’s emerging work on the topic of displacement and migration.

Jamila Afghani


Jamila Afghani is the President of WILPF Afghanistan which she started in 2015. She is also an active member and founder of several organisations including the Noor Educational and Capacity Development Organisation (NECDO). Elected in 2018 as South Asia Regional Representative to WILPF’s International Board, WILPF benefits from Jamila’s work experience in education, migration, gender, including gender-based violence and democratic governance in post-conflict and transitional countries.

Sylvie Jacqueline Ndongmo


Sylvie Jacqueline NDONGMO is a human rights and peace leader with over 27 years experience including ten within WILPF. She has a multi-disciplinary background with a track record of multiple socio-economic development projects implemented to improve policies, practices and peace-oriented actions. Sylvie is the founder of WILPF Cameroon and was the Section’s president until 2022. She co-coordinated the African Working Group before her election as Africa Representative to WILPF’s International Board in 2018. A teacher by profession and an African Union Trainer in peace support operations, Sylvie has extensive experience advocating for the political and social rights of women in Africa and worldwide.

WILPF Afghanistan

In response to the takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban and its targeted attacks on civil society members, WILPF Afghanistan issued several statements calling on the international community to stand in solidarity with Afghan people and ensure that their rights be upheld, including access to aid. The Section also published 100 Untold Stories of War and Peace, a compilation of true stories that highlight the effects of war and militarisation on the region. 

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WILPF Germany (+Young WILPF network), WILPF Spain and MENA Regional Representative

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WILPF uses feminist analysis to argue that militarisation is a counter-productive and ill-conceived response to establishing security in the world. The more society becomes militarised, the more violence and injustice are likely to grow locally and worldwide.

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In Afghanistan, WILPF has been demanding that women occupy the front seats at the negotiating tables. The experience of the past 20 has shown that women’s presence produces more sustainable solutions when they are empowered and enabled to play a role.

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