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Judge Bibi Wahida Rahimi, pictured here, has accepted a two-year position as a research associate through the new Afghan Women Judges Program at the Peter A. Allard School of Law at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, on March 10.Jackie Dives/The Globe and Mail

Bibi Wahida Rahimi had always dreamed of being a woman of influence in Afghanistan. In 2017, when she began sitting as a judge in the country’s Panjshir province, the dream appeared to have come true.

At the time, Afghan women were relatively free to pursue careers, though Ms. Rahimi had to hide her identity for her safety, she said recently. During her years on the bench, she heard cases of violence against women. “It was not just about being a judge,” she said. “It was more of being a sister or a comfort zone for them.”

In 2021, the U.S. and its allies withdrew their militaries from Afghanistan, and the Taliban took over. The fundamentalist group, known for its repressive policies toward women, soon sent home female government employees and barred girls from attending school. Ms. Rahimi assumed her legal career was over. She fled the country, fearing retribution from the new regime, or from criminals she had sentenced.

She could not have foreseen that she would soon be studying law again, this time in Canada.

Ms. Rahimi is one of the first three people to join an academic program established late last year by the University of British Columbia’s Allard law school specifically for women who were judges in Afghanistan.

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She and the program’s other two participants were among a group of Afghan women who had been granted temporary residence in Greece with their families while they waited to secure humanitarian visas from Canada, the United States, Australia, Britain and other countries. Ms. Rahimi also lived in Germany for a few months before arriving here last April.

Allard’s program includes English-language training, and seminars that provide an introduction to the Canadian legal system. The women will have opportunities to meet with Canadian law professionals.

Ms. Rahimi, who is now 30 years old, has accepted a two-year position as a research associate. She is studying the role of female judges in Afghanistan’s judicial system, including their lives and career paths, and is contributing to other research projects that deal with women and the law.

She said in an interview that she wants to understand why her Afghan peers chose their professions, despite the challenges and security issues they faced.

Another of the three women, Zamila Sangar, presided over Afghan courts for 13 years. She worked on cases involving violence against women, as well as other crimes, such as murder, rape and robbery. The third woman in the program, Freshta Masomi, worked in Kabul’s family court.

Ms. Sangar and Ms. Masomi declined to be interviewed. Both have accepted two-year appointments as visiting scholars with the school’s Centre for Asian Legal Studies.

Jeffrey MacDonald, a spokesperson for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, said Canada has admitted a number of women who were judges, lawyers and members of parliament in Afghanistan, as well as their families. But he would not say how many, citing security reasons.

Graham Reynolds, an associate dean at Allard, said the school is open to expanding the program. While Allard has given opportunities to the judges, he added, he and his faculty and staff expect to learn from them in turn.

The program was inspired by a request from Patricia Hania, an assistant professor at Toronto Metropolitan University’s law and business department, who issued a call to Canadian law schools on behalf of the International Association of Women Judges.

Prof. Hania estimated that 35 women who were judges in Afghanistan had resettled in Ontario, B.C., Alberta and New Brunswick as of March 9. She said another seven to 10 of them are on their way.

Allard is the first law school in the country to respond to the dire situation Afghan women in the legal profession are facing, she said. She expects other law schools to launch similar initiatives.

“It’s just when and how,” she said. She noted that schools will have to help the new arrivals overcome language barriers, and support them in the profession.

“I truly believe a university has a role, and law schools and our law profession in Canada have a role, to play in supporting and advancing these women to become successful,” she said.

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