Bushra Rahim - Master Educational Administration, 2008
From humble beginnings in rural Pakistan, Bushra Rahim has risen to become one of her country's most influential advocates for educational, health and government reform for women.
She has defied the odds of her troubled province - where children have limited access to education, most women stay at home (the female literacy rate is just 18%) and female students and schools have been targeted by militant groups from neighbouring Afghanistan - to complete undergraduate and post-graduate studies at home and abroad, and to win a host of awards. The most recent is the prestigious 2018 UNE Distinguished Alumni Award.
Bushra came to UNE on an AusAID scholarship in 2007, having already studied Business Administration and Computer Science in a traditionally male dominated program at the University of Peshawar.
She had become the first woman to work as assistant director, IT, in the Government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Finance Department but felt she needed the backing of an international degree to improve the plight of Pakistan's women.
“Travelling abroad alone to study, as a Muslim woman in the aftermath of 9/11, was not easy, but I had only one thing in mind - I wanted to do something for my people," Bushra said.
Her dedication was reflected in impressive results. Bushra was awarded membership of the International Golden Key Honour Society for being among the top 15% of UNE students and went on to earn a Fulbright scholarship to complete a PhD at the University of Albany, in the US.
“Terrorism was spreading in Pakistan at this time (2011), so there I had to become a peace ambassador and show a positive side of my culture, religion and country," she said.
The rest, as they say, is history.
After returning to Pakistan, Bushra assumed the position of deputy director and reforms coordinator in the Ministry of Local Government, Elections, and Rural Development.
She co-founded a not-for-profit organisation to improve more than 1300 community schools in her province (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) and to ensure that every girl receives a quality primary education.
Setting up free community schools and vocational centres and earning funding from Fulbright’s Alumni Engagement Innovation Fund (AEIF) for a project to give women a greater role in social and civic life, political peace-building and business are among her countless other achievements.
“Without active participation, no legislation can be passed in favour of women,” Bushra said.
“Everything is in our hands and no one can take our right if we are aware of it. If I can manage to go abroad for studies, I believe every girl can. All they need is a good education, support and encouragement.”
That's precisely what Bushra says she received at UNE.
"The staff of the School of Business were very supportive, and discussing topics candidly with my professors was a unique experience," she said.
"At UNE, I learnt the importance of critical analysis, and my appetite for reading and learning was satiated on a daily basis by the library. I still miss the liberty of going to the library and drowning in books."
Meeting people from a variety of different backgrounds was a revelation.
"For the first time in my life, I got the chance to learn about other countries, cultures and norms," Bushra said.
"I learnt how important it is to listen and respect other people’s viewpoints and made many friends with whom I am still in contact.
"My educational experience at UNE was a great source of enlightenment. It brought a positive shift in my attitude and mindset, and strengthened my belief in working for the betterment of my people, especially women."
In nominating Bushra for the award, former UNE Adjunct Senior Lecturer Dr Fiona Wood praised her former student's commitment.
"She embodies the mission of UNE leadership to solve problems and lead positive change, untiringly contributing to the education and empowerment of women in her troubled country," she said.
"Pakistan has among the highest number of out-of-school children in the world (nearly 6 million), some 60% of whom are girls. Among those enrolled in school, low learning levels and retention rates are unfortunately the norm.
"Bushra's determination to make a difference against these odds is exemplary."