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Through Her Lens: Empowering Women's Voices with Tahmina Saleem

Just like many holidays, Mother's Day, Father's Day, Valentine's Day, International Women’s Day, and many more serve as reminders of what we should be focusing on and putting effort into every day. But on these days, we see them as opportunities to celebrate, learn, educate, and inspire one another. In commemorating this day, we take a collective pause to acknowledge the numerous achievements of women across the globe, irrespective of boundaries or barriers. It's a moment to shine a spotlight and highlight their stories, showcasing the remarkable endeavours of women who, through their resilience and determination, continue to shape our world.

Every day I come across, speak to, listen to, and watch powerful, intriguing, smart, and talented women share their superpowers with the world. One woman who has left a true mark on my heart is Tahmina Saleem. Our meeting a year ago in a small cafe led to the beginning of an unforgettable conversation, connection, and collaboration.

We sat in that cafe for over 3 hours, and by the end of it, I already saw her as a great friend of mine. Soon after, we collaborated on filming an episode for the Through Our Eyes series together. It was hard for me to know when to stop the cameras because I was just overall fascinated by her strength, courage, and kindness. Nothing was off the table for Tahmina; I found that so powerful. Any topic that some people may find hard to talk about, she spoke about with so much strength and found the power in it all.

Tahmina’s journey, born in Kabul and now living in Canada, exemplifies resilience and dedication. With a background and degrees in Graphics and Visual Arts from Kabul University, where she served as a Lecturer and Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Fine Arts, and worked as a freelance photojournalist with a focus on Afghan women. After arriving in Canada in 2019, she dedicated herself to supporting Afghan refugees evacuated in 2021 and 2022 through initiatives such as Jumpstart Refugee Talent and Youthful Cities.

Tahmina’s photography work gives such a beautiful insight into a country that many media outlets describe and show as a place of darkness and sadness. Tahmina captures Afghanistan in all its beauty and shows the vibrant colours that pierced my heart and never let me see Afghanistan the same again.

Maybe I have this deep fascination for powerful women who take a dangerous situation by the horns and run right into the chaos from my mother. My mother, a photojournalist herself, fearlessly documented what was happening during apartheid in South Africa in her late 20s. Running right into the dangerous situations, capturing the reality of what was going on. When my sister and I were 12 and 14, we were able to accompany her to a photojournalist workshop in Thailand that changed me forever. I remember it clearly, I was very hesitant to run out into the streets of Chiang Mai and capture something I saw, because of a fear that I’d look too determined or look too hopeful and then not capture what I wanted to. I also just didn’t want to run up into someone's face and disrespect them in any way, so I learned how to tread with caution and capture the beauty I saw around me that I never noticed without the camera lens, the textures, the colours, the vibrancy.

It is people like Tahmina who took a risk, put their life on the line to capture the real world, and educate and allow people of the Western world to get a glimpse into the beauty of Afghanistan and take away a lot of the negative connotations that people may have towards Afghanistan.

Meeting Tahmina reinforced the importance of storytelling and the transformative power of photography. Through her lens, she not only documents moments but also empowers women to share their truths and redefine societal perceptions. While there were many reasons that could’ve stopped Tahmina from being a photographer, her strong support system and her desire to capture life around her and her passion for photography always won.

Listening to her speak while filming made me realize even more the importance of storytelling and using photography and filmmaking to open up a world to people that they may not often see or even understand. Because of the episode we were able to film with Tahmina, not only did she share her struggles and triumphs as a daughter, a sister, a photographer, a teacher, and as a mother, but also opened up a world for women to feel comfortable about talking about trying to find themselves, their passions, dealing with mental health challenges, being a mother, finding a support system, and much more.

Women need to continue to uplift women, and Tahmina captures these women so beautifully, celebrating every part of them and allowing them to change history by changing the dialogue of how people view and speak about women all over the world.

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