Zahra’s rising star lights path for equality


Murdoch University law and journalism student Zahra Al Hilaly has been honoured alongside some of the country’s most significant young leaders including Matilda’s captain Samantha Kerr and comedian and writer, Diana Nguyen.

Earlier this week the 21-year-old was named the inaugural Under 25 Rising Star at the 2021 40 Under 40 Most Influential Asian-Australian Awards.

Zahra, a first generation Australian of Palestinian and Iraqi heritage, was recognised for her tireless advocacy for gender equality, refugee rights, and equitable representation within decision making.

In her speech, Zahra said if she had been told years ago that she would win an award for diversity, she would have cried at the thought.

“Truth is - growing up post 9/11, I wanted nothing more than to be white-Australian,” she said.

“Despite the adversity that has followed my diversity throughout the years, we’re closer than ever to transforming the narrative of diversity and inclusion.”

The Awards – now in their third year – were announced during a virtual presentation on September 7, as an initiative of the Asian-Australian Leadership Summit.

The Under 25 Rising Star award was added this year in response to an abundance of submissions from high achievers under the age of 25.

“There is a growing awareness and confidence among young Asian-Australians to step up as leaders, be recognised and be role models for others,” Director of Asialink Arts and co-convenor of the Awards Dr Pippa Dickson said.

“It is an exciting near future for Australia and for organisations, like Asialink, dedicated to driving meaningful creative engagement with our region.”

As a young adult, Zahra has achieved more than many would in a lifetime.

She is a consultant to UN Women, and has worked with the Department of Foreign Affairs in France and Mexico to deliver the Generation Equality Forum. 

Closer to home, Zahra co-chairs the WA Government Ministerial Youth Advisory Council, is a WA Youth Ambassador, Shout Out Speaker for the Youth Affairs Council of WA, member of the YWCA Young Women’s Council of Australia, and ambassador for the Multicultural Youth Advocacy Network.

Zahra thanked the judges and organisers for recognising that diversity and representation must be prioritised.

“Congratulations to the 2021 winners, together, we’re transforming Australia,” she said.

Vietnamese-Australian actor, comedian and writer Diana Nguyen was named the overall winner for her leadership, creativity and humour in shining a light on inclusion and diversity in contemporary Australia.

Other winners included environmental engineer Qilin Wang, who transforms wastewater treatment plants into carbon-neutral energy generators, and Frances Voon, a refugee lawyer advancing the rights of forced migrants.

Posted on:

10 Sep 2021

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