Former refugee breaking the glass ceiling

To mark International Women's Day, UNHCR celebrates a trailblazing former refugee inspiring other women to dream big when it comes to their career.


Former refugee, Rez Gardi is the first female Kurdish lawyer in New Zealand and Young New Zealander of the Year 2017.

Rez believes International Women’s Day is an important time to celebrate the accomplishments of women and support one another to achieve their goals.

“Happy International Women’s Day to all of the women around the globe. This is a day to empower, support and encourage each other.”

Rez was born in a refugee camp in Pakistan after her family fled their home in the Kurdistan region of Iraq. They were forced to flee because of the persecution of the Kurdish ethnic minority.  

“All vestige of Kurdish existence was essentially banned so my family was forced to flee across the border into Pakistan where UNHCR presence provided a beacon of hope,” she says.

Rez was resettled to New Zealand as a refugee at the age of six.

“When I came to New Zealand, English was my fourth language and fourth alphabet,” Rez explains.

Rez was the first in her family to graduate high school and attend university. She hopes to inspire others to follow in her footsteps.

“By being the first Kurdish female lawyer in New Zealand, I hope that I can encourage all young refugees, other young Kurdish people, other young women, and help pave the way for them,” she says.

Rez is now working to increase education opportunities for refugee youth through a mentoring and support program.

“I feel that there is a huge underrepresentation of refugee youth, and especially refugee young women, in higher education,” Rez says.

This was one of the many challenges that Rez discussed in Geneva last year when she participated in the Global Refugee Youth Consultations with young refugees from around the world.

“We were involved in a consultation process where we were given the opportunity to discuss the challenges that we faced – and to come up with solutions,” she says.

In New Zealand, Rez also works closely with the Auckland Women’s Lawyer Association to encourage more women from ethnic minorities and refugee backgrounds to work in the legal profession.

She is also working on Super Diverse Women, a new online networking platform to empower New Zealand women.

Rez hopes that her story can inspire other young women from refugee backgrounds to follow their dreams despite the barriers they face in accessing higher education.

 “My message to young refugee women is to know that they have the potential to do whatever it is they want to do. Wherever they may feel held back, there lays an opportunity to break barriers and exceed expectations.”