Need To Know: Women’s Rights Campaigner, Artist And Poet Yeldā Ali
Yeldā Ali and I first arranged to meet on Zoom in early December 2021, until she sent me a quick email – “I feel sick (not Covid)”– and we rearranged. Unfortunately, it turned out she did have Covid, and we had to rearrange again. And again. By the time we finally met, I was eager to know how she was feeling, but, despite her gravelly voice exposing evidence of a fight with Omicron, the New York-based Afghan Canadian artist and activist gently brushed off my concerns. Her primary focus? Not her own health, but raising awareness for the causes she feels so passionately about.
And little wonder she wants to get straight to it – this woman is busy. And she’s a polymath. As a DJ, she has performed with the likes of Alex Rodriguez and BeyGOOD. “I’ve never said ‘I’m a DJ,’” she explains. “It’s just a thing I do.” But it is her work around social and political issues that is truly the heartbeat of what she represents. As a member of the Afghan diaspora, (her mother fled Afghanistan while pregnant with Ali), she spends her time raising issues around the community and uplifting the marginalised voices of Afghans both ‘home’ and abroad. This focus on unheard voices is a thread that runs through her work. The inspiration behind her 2020 debut poetry collection, Outlet, which takes a multi-faceted look at mental health, was birthed out of a desire to, “contribute perspectives and realities from people who usually don’t get the mic.” All this, plus the small matter of running the global womxn’s platform Camel Assembly – a collective of diverse creatives who come together to share ideas, organise events and engage in activism.
In 2017, two years after she co-founded Camel Assembly with Keisha Hannam, Ali came up with its motto #MarchingDaily in response to that year’s International Women’s March. Her motivation? “[Most women] are not saying, ‘I want to burn my bra and march once a year,’” she says. “Real change is happening through the very nitty-gritty sh*tty tasks that we’re doing every single day.” In late 2021 she transformed the organisation into a registered non-profit and now wants to pivot its focus to women’s safety, because “women are not going be able to do anything if at the core they don’t feel safe.” As a child, when asked what she wanted to be when she grew up, Ali knew she wanted to ‘share stories and fight for freedom’. Undoubtedly, she has fulfilled that prophecy.
To best support Afghan communities, Ali recommends becoming an ally to the “refugees in your neighborhood” while also tapping into these organisations:
- Panah Charity Based in the US, this charity supports disenfranchised people in Afghanistan.
- Women For Afghan Women Works to support vulnerable Afghan women and girls in Afghanistan and New York.
- Bayat Foundation Provides resources and support to at-risk Afghan women and children.
- Afghan American Foundation Amplifies the voices of the Afghan diaspora in America.
- Aseel A global humanitarian organisation that helps people directly donate emergency aid and packages to specific communities in Afghanistan.
Seun Matiluko is a British writer and researcher in law, race and politics. She has written for publications including gal-dem, The Independent and Glamour and is currently a Frank Knox Memorial Fellow at Harvard Law School, Massachusetts