Newly elected Prime Minister Justin Trudeau proclaimed Maryam Monsef as one of the 31 cabinet members last Tuesday. This makes Monsef the fourth youngest minister of Canada.
The 31-year-old woman was born and raised in Herat, Afghanistan. At a very young age, she lost her father due to an unknown cause. That time, her mother was only 20 and her sisters were aged below two. “The most we know is he was caught in a crossfire between the border of Iran and Afghanistan,” Monsef said in an interview with The Huffington Post Canada.
As a child, she and her family move to different places between Afghanistan and Iran. Before her mother gave birth to her, she said that her uncle, who was a third-year pharmaceutical student back then, was captured from his own room at the Kabul University. The reason might be because of the anti-communism remarks he had said once while riding on a bus. “That night, his dormitory was invaded, and he and his housemates were taken and never to be seen or heard from again. I think that was an important wake-up call for the family,” Monsef said.
Her mother provided for their expenses by cooking, sewing and cleaning and at times, teaching English at home and in a school, while Monsef’s uncles offered his suuport to the family. “But that wasn’t enough to sustain her, because the Taliban didn’t support women or their education.”
While staying in Iran, they felt that they are not welcome there. Other children would tease her and her siblings. “I will tell you that we didn’t know that we were poor. We didn’t know that we didn’t have a future. We were brought up with so much love and so much support…. We thought we had it all, and we didn’t feel a void of a father figure, because my grandfather filled that role for us.”
In 1996, Monsef’s mother finally decided that they leave the country and go to Canada. During that time, Monsef and her sisters were suffering from chickenpox. They had claimed the refugee status when she was 11 and lived in Peterborough.
It was hard for all of them to adapt to the new environment they are into. She didn’t know how to speak English, and the culture is really different from their country. A lot of social services, organizations and community groups helped them to cope up. “The volunteers and the neighbours came into our lives and made us feel like we weren’t alone, that we had a community, that it was going to be OK, that we belonged there. Twenty years later, that kindness stays with me, and I hope that as a member of Parliament, I can repay some of that through my service,” Monsef said.
Monsef is honored to become a part of the decision-making process that can affect the lives of the people. She sees it as an opportunity and an incredible privilege that she has now, despite everything that happened to her. Monsef’s job began on Wednesday, which was when she also attended her first cabinet meeting.