An Afghan women’s rights activist has told young leaders they are the “power of the world”.
Hasina Safi, the former acting minister of women’s affairs in Afghanistan, spoke to young people at a global summit in Belfast alongside British-Iranian author Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who was imprisoned in Iran for several years.
They spoke on the concluding day of the One Young World summit which brought thousands of young people from more than 190 countries to the city.
Ms Safi encouraged the young people to palace themselves in the shoes of those struggling in the world.
“Don’t think you can’t do anything, you can do a lot because you’re a human being. And each human being is a high value in the world. You are the power of the world.
“The second thing is think what you can do and how you can do it. Remember that and put yourself in their position.
“Imagine the way you’re sitting here. Men and women together, young and old everyone enjoying.
“When you feel their pain. If you want or not, you will be thinking about them.
“When you think about them, you voice out their messages, the message will go from your room to your yards, from the yard to communities, from the community to society, and then it will go to the political level.
“So any influence from the grassroot to the policy level, don’t think you are powerless and you can’t do anything. You are of very high value. Put yourself in their position. Start with the women of Afghanistan.”
Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe was sentenced to five years in prison in Iran in 2016 and went on at least three hunger strikes during her time in jail.
She said the attention her story received in the UK and across the world enabled her eventual return to the UK and urged those attending the summit to tell the stores of others in her position.
“I think I came home because people supported me, people shared my story,” she said.
“If you know anyone regardless of whether that person is in prison in Iran or elsewhere, as long as you know that they are unjustly imprisoned, talk about it.
“I think one of the main things that got me home was the nation caring about me as a person, and I am grateful for that.
“And I think one main thing that I would say is talk about them, share their story and be their voice.”
Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe said women in prisons in Iran engaged in political activism despite their difficult circumstances.
“As a political prisoner, your strongest asset is your voice, if they take it away from you don’t exist. That’s the only thing you have,” she said.
She added: “Women inside prison would want to show solidarity with the outside world and what is actually happening in Iran and to condemn the brutality of the Iranian regime,” she said.
“So they would go through sit-ins, issuing statements, condemning what the government is doing but then, of course, the security forces would shut them down, they would cut off the phones, they would cancel visits and, in extreme cases, they were also bringing court cases against them.
“But that does not stop. That is the point of being a political prisoner. And like I said, if you’re not a political prisoner in prison in Iran, you will come out of it as a political activist.
“So the way prison works in Iran is just everything is so unjust that you will become a fighter.”
Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe described being in prison as a “crash course in politics”.
“Because before that, in my case, it completely changed my life because I felt there were so many things I did not know, being with really amazing people in prison who have been fighting for women’s rights, for their children’s rights, representation,” she said.
She added: “I think that I am personally very proud of it because I think it takes a lot of courage to be a political prisoner locked up, having very, very minimal, kind of limited, access to the outside world and then knowing that you are going to carry on.”
The One Young World summit concludes with a number of panels including on rugby and the role of sport in peace and reconciliation with former rugby stars Tendai Mtawarira and Francois Pienaar.
As part of the summits role in celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement there is a panel discussing the historic peace deal with Hasina Safi, former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and Lord John Alderdice.