Zahra Al Hilaly is a firm believer that if you change the life of one person, it is as though you have changed humanity itself.
“This quote essentially reminds me that every individual is a part of the connection to humanity,” the Murdoch University communications and law student said after receiving the honour at the WA Youth Awards last week.
“I hope one day, the challenges of my ancestors, and myself included, will be a part of the history that transforms the world into an equitable place.”
As a first-generation Muslim Australian of Palestinian-Iraqi heritage, it is Zahra’s ancestral lineage that inspires her passion and commitment to advocating for the rights of the marginalised and underrepresented.
“Coming from a background whereby genocide, domestic violence, war and gender inequality have been regularly challenges, I hope to do my ancestors proud,” she said.
“It is my greatest privilege to enhance multicultural perspectives within my work.” Zahra Al Hilaly
Zahra said the recognition, the latest in a line of accolades, felt like the diverse stories of young intersectional people were being celebrated and heard.
“For many years, I have fought hard to better amplify the vices of intersectional youth, and this award is simply the reminder I needed that change is slowly occurring, and my voice is being heard in many spaces," she said.
Also awarded the Mission Australia Young Changemaker prize, Zahra said the advocacy space can be difficult to work in, "especially when your identity is often deliberated,” she said.
She experienced the opposite of this in New York recently when she worked on UN Women’s Generation Equality campaign - and has an inkling it won’t be long before she returns Stateside.
Nearing the end of her Murdoch double degree, Zahra is keen to further her studies and complete a Masters of Global Affairs in Women’s Peace and Security, write a book, and transform mainstream media to better include diverse young women on everyday screens.
Alongside study and tireless advocacy work, Zahra has managed to fit freelance journalism into her busy schedule.
She cited Murdoch journalism lecturer Narelle Hopkin (nee Towie) as “foundational voice” in supporting her growth within the journalism profession.
“Narelle has been pivotal in aiding me to be the best journalist I possibly can,” she said.
During her law degree, Zahra has been under the guidance of Head of Law and Criminology, Sonia Walker, and Associate Professor of Law, Mary Anne Kenny.
She described them as great female leaders that had inspired her to continue to build a better and equitable world.
“They both envision what it means to shine power into those around them,” she said.
“I was also recently taught by [lawyers] Alice Barter and Lisa van Toor, and I was certainly immersed into social justice and the law in a manner that cannot to be compared to any other experience.
“Both women enhanced my vision in exploring a long-term career in the social justice space - the heavy, albeit revolutionary, conversations in class are by far some of my greatest experiences as a student.”
Zahra said her experience at Murdoch had allowed her to reach her greatest potential.
“As a young woman from a low socio-economic refugee/migrant background, I am proud to be at the end of my degree, knowing the university has always supported my vision to transform revolutionary change for young women across the world,” she said.
Congratulations also to Murdoch Criminology and Global Security graduate Lucy Stronach, who won the ECU Community Leadership category at the 2022 WA Youth Awards.
Lucy is a passionate advocate for social justice and a young leader who has generated impact the world over.
In 2020/21 she was the Australian Youth Representative to the United Nations, travelling across Australia to consult with some of the country’s most vulnerable and underrepresented young people, elevating their needs and voices to domestic and international policymakers.
Her UN role also saw her produce the podcast For the Future exploring the issues important to young Australians, as well as working alongside Natasha Stott Despoja AO within the UN’s Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.
At a local level, Lucy has volunteered on education programs with young, incarcerated people at Banksia Hill Detention Centre, worked as a student mentor at Murdoch University and now works as the Youth Programs Officer at Town of Victoria Park, where she established the Town’s inaugural Youth Leadership Teams.