On Women’s Rights Day, TheMerode shifts the focus on the rights and representation of women around the world.

As women’s rights are receding in the Middle East region, the situation of women is raising increasing concerns.

In 2022, the riots and demonstrations in Iran, provoked by the death in custody of Mahsa Amini, a young Iranian Kurdish woman arrested for wearing a headscarf that was deemed illegal, led to a wave of solidarity, symbolized by women cutting a lock of their hair all around the world.

In Afghanistan, more than a year after the return to power of the Talibans, the situation of women remains increasingly worrying. After several decades of social progress for Afghan women – and despite the promises of the Taliban, who had already imposed an ultra-rigorous application of Islam between 1996 and 2001 – they are once again forced to wear the burqa, and girls are once again deprived of their education.

Within this international context, TheMerode is inviting speakers who, through their experience and profession, participate in raising awareness and fighting for the protection of women’s rights.


Ava Basiri was born in Belgium and has Iranian roots. Coming from an environment with muslim heritage with non-muslim parents she has had a very lay education.
After the death of Mahsa Amini in September 2022, she got a wake-up call and immediately started her activism the day after. In the meantime she has organized 5 demonstrations, co-organized 4 rallies, participated at conferences, round tables, tv-shows, radio shows…
She wrote several articles and won the award “Voice of the voiceless”.

Her main mission is to create more awareness and be a wake-up call for others who have been indifferent about human rights and women’s rights till now.

Zarifa Ghafari is an Afghan human rights activist, politician and entrepreneur. Appointed mayor of Maidan Shahr at the age of 26, she became the youngest mayor and one of the first female mayors in Afghan history. Known for her efforts to advance women’s rights in Afghanistan, Ghafari is regarded as a role model to women in her country. When the Taliban took over the Afghanistan government in August 2021, she fled with her family to Germany. Today, Ghafari hopes to raise the unspoken voice of Afghan women throughout the international community to fight for women’s rights in Afghanistan. She is the founder of Assistance and Promotion for Afghan Women Organisation (APAW).

Dr Nadja Milanova is Officer at the Building Integrity (BI) Programme within NATO’s Defence and Security Cooperation Directorate. She is in charge of Building Integrity in Allied and some partner countries in the Western Balkans, Ukraine, and previously Afghanistan. Prior to that, she was Head of the Bilateral and Regional Cooperation Department at the Ministry of Defence of Bulgaria. In this capacity, among other things, Nadja spearheaded the project of Building Integrity in the framework of the South Eastern Defence Ministerial (SEDM) Process. She also led the Female Leaders in Security and Defence project, with Bulgaria as Lead Nation within the NATO Smart Defence Initiative. Throughout her career, Nadja has worked successively for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Bulgaria, the Secretariat of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE), the Prague Office of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), and NATO’s Public Diplomacy Division. Nadja also has experience in the field of human rights and in the academia with research on conflict resolution and multilateral peace negotiations. She holds a PhD in Politics from the University of Exeter, United Kingdom and an MA in International Relations from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, USA.

Lailuma Sadid is an Afghan journalist and a women’s and immigrants’ rights activist based in Brussels. She is the only accredited journalist from Afghanistan in the European Union and NATO and is currently a Senior Correspondent for the Brussels Morning Newspaper.

She was a political journalist in her home country between 2002 and 2007, working for Pajhwok news agency and for IWPR, where she covered the conflicts between the Taliban and Al Qaeda, despite the direct and life-threatening risks that she faced due to her profession. She was the first woman to appear on TV without a scarf during the press conference of President Karzi in 2003 which led her to receive death threats. She also worked as a social media manager at Kaszer Network in Brussels.

For 23 years she has been fighting for women’s rights, equality, justice, democracy, and freedom of speech and thought.

Lailuma also worked for the ministry of foreign affairs in Afghanistan and as a Diplomat for the Afghanistan Embassy in Belgium, liaison officer for NATO for more than 3 years. She holds a Master’s degree in Political Science from the Université Libre de Bruxelles (ULB) and a Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Kabul University.

Moderator: Chloé Dungelhoeff



  • 7:45 > Welcome
  • 8:00 – 9:00 > Panel Talk and Q&A

Speakers and Moderator

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