AN award-winning human rights campaigner who lives in the Forest says it is “a great honour” to have been elected President of a worldwide religious organisation.

Zerbanoo Gifford, founder of the ASHA education centre in Flaxley, was unanimously elected President of the World Zoroastrian Organisation (WZO) at its Annual General Meeting in London on Sunday (October 17).

An ancient Persian religion, Zoroastrianism is one of the world’s oldest organised faiths dating back around 4,000 years.

Legendary Queen singer Freddie Mercury was amongst its most famous members, and American author George R.R. Martin modelled part of his ‘Game of Thrones’ series on Zoroastrian ideas.

The WZO works to support more than 120,000 estimated Zoroastrians worldwide through aid, education, community and advocacy.

Zerbanoo follows in the footsteps of her father Bailey, who was the founding President of the WZO.

Her extensive humanitarian work includes serving as director of Anti-Slavery International and of the Charities Aid Foundation.

A former ‘International Woman of the Year’, Zerbanoo was an active figure in the movement to end apartheid in the 1980s, including the presentation of a key petition to then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in Downing Street calling for mandatory sanctions against South Africa and the release of Nelson Mandela.

She made history in 1982 when she became the first British Asian woman to be elected as a Liberal councillor in England.

She then founded the ASHA Centre in the Forest of Dean in 1996 as an international education centre for young adults of different nationalities and religions, with a focus on real-life skills and confidence, sustainable living and the arts.

More recently, Zerbanoo was presented with the ’Social Entrepreneur Award’ for 2022 at the 12th World Zoroastrian Congress in New York.

There, she launched a new online resource the ZASHA website, which highlights the lives and work of hundreds of inspirational Zoroastrian women.

She has also recently published a book about the religion called ‘Z to A of Zoroastrianism’, featuring a forward from former Leader of the House of Lords Janet Royall, Baroness Royall of Blaisdon.