This headline drew me in and I was hooked.

This headline, ad and article was part of a fundraising campaign called Defy Gravity from the University of Toronto. It featured Basnama Ayaz who won a scholarship to the Lawrence S. Bloomberg Faculty of Nursing at the University of Toronto.

Here is an excerpt from the moving article in the U of T Alumni magazine.

Growing up, Basnama Ayaz was inspired by people in her community who looked after the sick.

“I belong to an underprivileged part of the world called Gilgit-Baltistan, in the high mountains of northern Pakistan,” she says. There were no nurses at the time and just a few lady health visitors. Our elders, including my mother and grandmother, were the ones providing care to sick people.”

Ayaz wanted to be one of them.

She completed her Grade 10 education, then won a place in a nursing program at the renowned Aga Khan University in Karachi. During her studies in Karachi—facilitated by a kind brother who made it possible for her to live away from home—she learned much more than how to be a nurse.

“I actually first realized the status of woman in that society,” says Ayaz. “A very strong patriarchal system hindered many women in pursuing their education.”

Ayaz had overcome that obstacle. And how. After earning her diploma, she completed first a bachelor’s, then a masters’ in nursing. Now she’s pursuing doctoral research at the University of Toronto’s Lawrence S. Bloomberg Faculty of Nursing. “In my family, I will be the only one who has reached the level of a PhD program,” she says. “In my region, I am the first one to attend a PhD program in nursing.”

Before coming to Canada to study, Ayaz taught at the Aga Khan University for several years. In 2012, they asked if she would go to Afghanistan.

“I went as a manager for a training and policy unit, supporting the Ministry of Public Health in developing their nursing curriculum,” says Ayaz. “I worked there for six years and I saw challenges which were harder than in my own country.”

I had to think out of the box all the time. We worked hard and brought female enrolment up from 21 per cent to 47 per cent.

“The patriarchal system was the same,” she says, “but due to war and terror and political instability it was more intricate for women to pursue education. One nursing school I went to assess, in a conservative province, had 100 per cent male nursing students. The only women were myself and a cleaner.”

Ayaz set out to change things for women who wanted to be in health care. “I had to think out of the box all the time,” she says. “We worked hard and by 2018 we had brought female enrolment up from 21 per cent to 47 per cent.”

It was a victory, but she wanted to build on it. Ayaz came to U of T to begin doctoral studies, researching how policy initiatives in post-2001 Afghanistan successfully promoted women. “I wanted to understand the mechanisms that have successfully promoted women’s participation in the health workforce that reached 47 per cent. However, this gain was not across the professions.”

Basnama Ayaz has more work to do to help women in health care, around the world. I am glad she has been supported by the Nursing School.

A big congratulations to Basnama Ayaz.

And a big nod to the Defy Gravity campaign for their intriguing headline.

Until next time, let our warm hearts soar!


And thank you for caring that little bit extra – it really makes a big difference.

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“Education is the only thing that cannot be taken away. It is the key to fulfilling my dreams.”
Girls’ Education Program Participant

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