Human Rights Activist: Khadija Gbla


Photograph: Khadija Gbla 

Photograph: Khadija Gbla 

Like thousands of women in Australia, Khadija Gbla became another statistic to an all too common social injustice - domestic violence. “I had lost everything. I was criticised for speaking out because in my (African) community, domestic violence was considered partly ‘okay’. We have this culture of silence around it,” she says. Told it was her fault, to ‘shut up’ and keep the violence issue within the family, Khadija was also blamed for not being a good wife. “My family had disowned me because I decided to press charges,” she reports.

Despite those crushing judgments, this became a defining moment in the young activist’s life – one to inspire thousands of future domestic violence sufferers. She knew she had rights and that she should be protected.  Uncaring of condemnation or abandonment, Khadija says she decided, “I’m going to stand up for myself. I’m going to do what’s right for me.”   

During this time, Khadija had been freshly titled South Australian of the Year for her humanitarian work. This awarded her a platform to reach out to a large audience about domestic violence. “I wanted girls in the community to know it’s not their fault, and  they have the power to speak up,” she says. By sharing her story, Khadija freed countless women by giving them the confidence to press charges and letting them know that they didn’t have to stick to the route they were finding themselves on. However, she explained, she received horrific backlash. “Essentially, this action was not favorable. I lost everything; I was homeless and had no family. Nobody supported me. I had this award, but I was completely by myself.”   

"It doesn’t take money to change another human being’s life – all it takes is a moment to step out of your miniscule bubble and think beyond yourself...”

Fighting this uphill battle, the Adelaidean often doubted if she would ever make a comeback. She remembered thinking, “I am so going to fall flat on my ass!” However, Khadija had an undeniably resilient attitude. “Failure didn’t scare me, because that wasn’t the worst thing that could happen. I knew I could fail, but I also knew I could make it,” she reflects.

At this point, Khadija realised that she had a genuine passion to offer, and could tie her ethical standpoint into her livelihood. Seeking financial independence while still serving a humanitarian purpose saw the creation of her business, Khadija Gbla Cultural Consultancy. Three years later, the business is serving its full mission as a mediator of cultural appropriation, providing educational and employment assistance and managing a domestic violence shelter, also open to female genital mutilation victims. Overcoming a host of hurtful judgments and assumptions, Khadija always stayed true to her stance. And, to this day, all money made is directly contributed to a project she truly believes in.   

Khadija worked for four to five years without any recognition, but she didn’t let this trouble her.  In fact, she recalls that when she was nominated for her first award, she had no idea what an award even was! Surprisingly, after years of numerous national prizes filling her shelves, her outlook on recognition never changed. “Those titles don’t define me. They don’t change who I am. They don’t take away my work yet to do,” she says.  

Conversely, Khadija explains that many youngsters today are getting involved in helping others, ironically, to help themselves. In a money-driven society, parents are pushing their children to sign up for an overwhelming heft of community volunteering hours, for the sole purpose of appearing impressive to future employees. “If the intention isn’t there, then the work will outlast them. They’ll give up soon after they begin,” Khadija says. “What we need to encourage are global citizens. We need young people who have values, who have integrity, who realise that there is more to life than themselves,” she remarks.

As for donating, although a kind intention is evident, the activist swears that throwing money at an issue doesn’t do much. She protests that a genuine physical interaction is the most effective way to make a difference. “It doesn’t take money to change another human being’s life – all it takes is a moment to step out of your miniscule bubble and think beyond yourself,” she declares.

What differentiates Khadija from other dreamers is that she wasn’t afraid to break through resistance if it meant pursuing her dream. For the rest of her life, she says she is “just happy to make the world a better place. That is worth dying for.”    

For more information about  Khadija or to sign her petition against Female Genital Mutilation  click here.