Rez Gardi is a human rights lawyer and activist. She was born in a United Nations refugee camp in Pakistan as her Kurdish family escaped persecution in their home land of Kurdistan.

Arriving in New Zealand with nothing, Rez sought to use her difficult start in life as motivation to succeed, becoming New Zealand’s first Kurdish female lawyer. She is currently a Fulbright Scholar studying a Master of Laws at Harvard Law School.

She is passionate about supporting young refugees and believes education is pivotal to changing the future for refugees. She is the founder of ‘Empower’ – a youth-led organisation to empower and enable refugee youth through education, leadership, and capacity-building aligning with the Goal of Quality Education, so that young refugees can pursue a meaningful future.

Empower provides a mentoring initiative to address the underrepresentation of refugees in higher education and provides workshops to foster participation, leadership, and empowerment opportunities for young refugees.

She is working on projects with refugee youth in camps across Uganda and Kenya to find innovative ways to access education because there simply aren’t enough schools to accommodate all the youth in the camps.

She was awarded the Young New Zealander of the Year in 2017 for her services to human rights and is an Eisenhower Youth Fellow. She was a Women of Influence Finalist and NEXT Woman of the Year Finalist in 2018.

Rez represented New Zealand in the first ever Global Refugee Youth Consultations, and helped form the Global Youth Advisory Council to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. She has represented refugee youth at the UNHCR-NGO Consultations, and the High Commissioner’s Dialogue on Protection Challenges of Children on the Move, all in Geneva, the Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Conference in Bangkok, the Women Deliver Conference in Copenhagen and the OECD Forum in Paris.