Salma Ataullahjan was born in Mardan, Pakistan, in the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa near the Afghan border (previously known as North-West Frontier Province.) Daughter of Saranjam Khan, a former Pakistani Senator and Secretary-General, and Grandniece of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan (“Bacha Khan”), leader of a non-violent Muslim movement for independence from British rule, Salma attributes her political aspirations to the environment in which she grew up.
Salma came to Canada in 1980 as a young bride. Destined to follow in her family’s inspirational footsteps, she was appointed to the Canadian Senate in 2010, after a prominent career in real estate, community service and politics. As the first Pakistani-Canadian Pashtun Senator, she stands for the ethnic diversity of all Canadians.
Salma is known throughout the community of Toronto for her commitment and dedication to others. She has lived in the Greater Toronto Area for more than 35 years, making a lasting impression by providing a helping hand wherever and whenever she is needed.
A natural consensus builder, Salma has been an active participant in several organizations:
- Long-time member of the Canadian Chapter of The Citizens Foundation – an international group that has built and funded over 730 schools for Pakistan’s poorest children
- President of the Canadian Pashtun Cultural Association – focusing on issues concerning the Pashtun communities across Canada
- Executive member of the Pakistani Canadian Academic Executive – involved in fundraising, most notably for the Credit Valley Hospital in Mississauga
- Member of the South Asian Regional Council of Canada – promoting harmony between South Asian communities
- Founding member of the David Lewis Public School Advisory Council – a Scarborough elementary school council that has organized fundraisers and events to benefit the community
Salma is actively involved in the Pakistani-Canadian community and is a compassionate advocate for her birth country of Pakistan. Prior to being appointed to the Senate, she had visited campsites of internally displaced persons (IDP) in the Swat Valley. She also visited the regions of Nowshera and Charsadda after they were ravaged by the flooding of 2010. Salma was presented with Pakistan’s “Woman’s Icon” award in 2012, a national merit previously bestowed on her schoolmate Benazir Bhutto.
In November 2012, Salma visited Pakistani activisit Malala Yusufzai in a Birmingham hospital after she was attacked by the Taliban. Salma stands firmly by Malala and all girls for their right to education.
In the Senate, Senator Ataullahjan is Deputy Chair of the Human Rights Committee and a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee. In the Human Rights committee, she has been recognized for sponsoring a study on the cyberbullying of children under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.
She is Vice President of the Canadian Group of the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), having previously served as a Co-Rapporteur for the IPU Standing Committee of Democracy and Human Rights. Her ongoing focus has been on women’s issues – she recently played a critical role in a landmark resolution on maternal and child health, the first time a resolution of its kind was adopted by the IPU. Due to this, she was named the IPU Goodwill Ambassador for Maternal and Child Health.
Salma currently resides in Scarborough with her husband, Saleem, and her two daughters, Anushka and Shaanzeh. In her free time, she loves to paint.