Samra Zafar

Samra Zafar

Human Rights Activist | Social Entrepreneur | Bestselling Author

After escaping a decade of abuse living as a child bride in a forced marriage in Canada, Samra Zafar became a beacon of hope for many people facing exclusion, abuse, and gender-based violence. Now an award-winning international speaker, bestselling author, scholar, and social entrepreneur, she engages audiences around the world speaking about collective resilience, authentic leadership, inclusive workplaces, youth, human rights, mental health, and more.

In 2017, Zafar wrote an article about her personal experience with abuse for Toronto Life, which became a most-read article in Canada. In the same year, she delivered a TEDx talk on gender-based violence, which was named an “all-time top 10” talk. Since then, she has given a total of three TEDx talks and delivered keynotes for several major organizations, including Immigration Refugees and Citizenship Canada, UNICEF, Yale University, Amnesty International, Art of Leadership, and many leading non-profits, corporations, and universities around the world.

In 2019, Zafar published her first book, A Good Wife: Escaping the Life I Never Chose, which instantly became a national bestseller and named one of CBC’s Best Books of 2019 for Canadian Non-fiction. It is now being adapted into a TV series and published internationally. Zafar’s work has also been featured in global media outlets, including Washington Post, Huffington Post, National Post, CBC, The Globe and Mail, CBC, CTV, and Yahoo.

Zafar has been recognized as one of Canada’s “Top 100 Most Powerful Women” by Women’s Executive Network, among the “Top 25 Most Inspirational Women” by CanadianSME Magazine, and a “Top 25 Canadian Immigrant” by RBC. She is also a celebrated ambassador for Plan International Canada and a board member for Women’s College Hospital Foundation.

A graduate of the University of Toronto with a master’s degree in economics, Zafar earned the highest distinction and more than a dozen awards and scholarships. Today, she is one of the youngest alumni serving as a governor for the University of Toronto.

Diversity, Inclusion & Equity: Holding Safe Space for Ourselves and Each Other in a Diverse World

We are in a time of social awakening — where difficult but necessary conversations are shedding light on issues of systemic racism, discrimination and the everyday experiences of BIPOC and other people belonging to minority groups. There is an increasing need to listen, understand, believe and be strong allies to support equity and remove barriers to inclusion.

As an immigrant child bride to this country and an advocate for human rights and equity for over 10 years, Samra has traveled across the country and globally to learn and work with BIPOC and minority groups — from indigenous communities in rural Saskatchewan, Black communities in Toronto, South Asian communities in Alberta, to the executive towers of Bay Street.

In this presentation, Samra uses her lived experiences combined with a deep understanding and education of these issues to educate, train and offer practical implementable solutions to advance equity in the most authentic way.

Mental Health Through an Inclusive Lens

Mental Health is the shadow pandemic of Covid-19. Rising isolation, financial uncertainty and inadequate support systems are resulting in heightened anxiety, depression and trauma for employees and families. 1 in 3 women in North America suffer from abuse. 1 in 5 Canadians experience mental health challenges. And all of us will lose a loved one at some point. Yet, many of these issues still aren’t spoken about openly at work.

What can workplaces do to foster an environment where employees feel safe to show up authentically and ask for help without fear of judgment?

In this presentation, Samra provides practical and implementable positive psychology-based tips, tools, and strategies to build skills for resilience and mental wellbeing. By building inclusive, empathetic workplaces, we can create collective resilience where everyone wins.

Education to Empowerment

Education is a right, yet for many people around the world, it’s a privilege that’s often denied. Using her personal story as an example, Samra explores how education can help people escape adversity and create new fulfilling lives based on empowerment, respect, and equity. Her experiences illustrate the power that continuous learning has to expand our minds, connect us through mutual purpose and values, and unlock our individual and collective potential.

Breaking the Silence on Honour-Based Abuse

Honour-based, structural abuse creates a vicious cycle of mental, emotional, psychological, sexual, physical, and societal violence. Yet, it remains almost invisible, hidden behind closed doors. Samra asks: What can we as leaders, individuals, and community members do to break the silence? Samra explores the intersectionality of abuse and culture, generational cycles of oppression, and educating youth on how to identify gender-based violence.

The Gift of Adversity

As a child bride forced into marriage and subjected to years of abuse, Samra’s story shows how she moved from a place of hopelessness to a place of freedom — for both her and her daughters. As she shares her story of pain and despair, happiness and self-love, Samra talks about the gift of adversity and how it helps us cultivate a deep gratitude for life. We have the power to let our experiences shape us into “bitter” or “better”. The choice is ours to make.