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Nayifa Nihad

Nayifa Nihad

OU Class of 2020 | Current OU Graduate Student | Malé, Maldives

During her first year at the University of Oklahoma, Nayifa Nihad wrote an essay that was selected as one of the best among freshmen. That moment helped Nihad realize she could use her passion for writing to raise awareness around issues that matter to her, including women’s rights and climate advocacy. 

In the essay, Nihad wrote about child abuse and domestic and gender-based violence that women experience in her home country of the Maldives. Coming from a patriarchal society, Nihad said she never knew she could talk about these issues prior to attending OU. 

Nihad, who grew up in a single-parent household, also recognized from a young age that she would have to be the person to find opportunities for her life, which prompted her to apply to the United World College program in Eswatini and later to OU. Nihad, who graduated from OU with a bachelor’s degree in international and area studies last May, is currently pursuing a master’s in global studies.

“Through my experiences, through my mother’s experiences, I learned how to be loud in asking for what I want and be loud for other women around me.”
- Nayifa Nihad

“It was really just my life experiences and experiences of women around me, and I wanted to do something about it,” said Nihad of her interest in advocacy work. “Through my experiences, through my mother’s experiences, I learned how to be loud in asking for what I want and be loud for other women around me.”

One area where Nihad is especially loud is climate advocacy. She is focusing her master’s program research on this area, trying to raise awareness about the climate changes in her home country and the possibility of its residents becoming climate refugees in the future. Nihad said the Maldives is already losing small islands and faces other issues like coral bleaching and significant plastic pollution. 

While studying at OU, Nihad interned with Women & Democracy, an NGO based in the Maldives. For six months in 2018, Nihad wrote for the organization's blog, talking to “other women from back home and trying to narrate their stories and amplify their voices.” 

The summer before her senior year, Nihad returned home and built an underwater coral garden on the island she is from through a grant from the Davis Projects for Peace program. 

Recognizing the need to “recenter climate activism on frontline communities and communities of color,” Nihad started Eco Baddies. On the group’s Instagram account, @eco_baddies, Nihad has interviewed eco-activists and professors from the Maldives and other parts of the world, including Mexico and Colombia.

“Communities of color are facing climate crisis already, but there are still communities who think of this as a future threat,” Nihad shared. “Maldivians, we have never been voiceless. It’s just that our voices do not get amplified enough.”

When it comes to her future career, Nihad said there are two possible paths she’d like to follow. First, she has always wanted to work for the United Nations or a similar international organization that does climate-related work or focuses on women’s empowerment and rights, two issues Nihad has recently realized go hand in hand. Nihad would also like to pursue a career in academia.

In addition to being a UWC Scholar, Nihad is currently a senator for the Graduate Student Senate, is part of the Indian Student Association, and is also active with the International Advisory Committee and was the organization’s 2020 Face of OU International.

For Nihad, OU has given her self-confidence and all the resources and tools to become who she is today. Through avenues like organizing a climate strike and speaking at events about her experience as a student of color in higher education, Nihad said there have been “so many amazing opportunities” at OU that she never knew she could have.

“The fact there are so many people doing amazing things here at OU really helps me believe that there’s so much I can do here, too,” Nihad shared. “OU is such a great place to excel and has all the right resources, all the right people who are going to be your support system. I come from a country where we value a lot of community. Coming to OU, at first it felt very lonely, especially being the only person from my country. But it didn’t matter because there’s such a great support system here at OU, too.”

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