People to watch in 2011: activist Farrah Khan
By: NICHOLAS KEUNG STAFF REPORTER, Published on Wed Jan 12 2011
NOTE: This article has been edited from a previous version.
Through social activism, Farrah Khan has transformed herself from victim to victor.
During years of sexual abuse by her maternal grandfather, Khan tried to seek help from others, but to no avail.
“Everyone was in denial,” says Khan, 31, whose abusive grandfather died in 2007.
So Khan, who grew up in Burlington, became an activist as a high schooler at Notre Dame Catholic Secondary School and continued while pursuing a B.A. in environment and women’s studies at York University, raising money for Halton’s Rape Crisis Centre. “I couldn’t change what’d happened, but I could change other things,” she says.
Khan, whose Muslim father, Zain Khan, is from India and Catholic mother, Maggie Byckalo, is Dutch, is now a counsellor to abused women at the Barbra Schlifer Clinic.
In the wake of the 2007 murder of Mississauga Muslim teen Aqsa Parvez by her father and brother, she started a group for young Muslim girls to discuss their issues in a safe space, and make art. The group publishes a magazine in April each year, Aqsazine.
“Many people speak on our behalf, but we need a space to speak for ourselves,” says Khan, a self-identified Muslim, who is trained in self-defence and offers free workshops for women at mosques.
In 2011, Khan will finish two short animations with still photos — Walying, about the impact of internalized Islamophobia, and Cab Ride, about a dialogue between two estranged family members.
Aqsazine will launch a podcast in January. Besides a campaign against Quebec’s proposed ban on veils (which she believes would further jeopardize abused women’s access to help because it would deny services to niqab-wearing women), Khan — who does not wear a veil but says, “I am Muslim, full stop” — will advise the Urban Alliance on anti-harassment and assault programs.
She says she has moved beyond the trauma of the past. “Violence does not define who I am, but the work I do to address violence does,” says Khan, who loves to make crafts in her free time and has a trunk and shelf full of tissue paper, found objects, glue, ribbon and glitter.
“I love taking art classes,” she says. “This is definitely how I relax, making things.”