Ajla van Heel, Gender Adviser, OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights ( OSCE/Shiv Sharma )

After graduating from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University, I started my career in the corporate sector. While the work was interesting and I undoubtedly gained excellent skills there, I always felt the need to make a difference through my work - to contribute to making the world a better place. Born in Bosnia and Herzegovina, I saw the devastation of war and this was a strong motivator to find a job which focused on human rights.

I joined the OSCE because I felt this was a great opportunity to be part of a meaningful vision to strengthen democracies, promote women’s rights and improve people’s lives. My personal experiences have led me to believe that key to women’s empowerment is their meaningful participation in political and public life. Democracies can flourish only when women have the opportunity to make their voices fully heard. That is why I have focussed much of my work on advancing women’s political participation.  

The most exciting assignments are those where you can see a real impact and positive change. I work within a committed gender team and whenever we see women’s representation in a Parliament rising, we feel proud that through our work we have supported the efforts of women and men to advance gender equality in their countries.