Sydney Morning Herald: After fleeing Iran for Auckland, Shirin Heidari still remembers the first time she was out for a walk, without her headscarf, and feeling the breeze in her hair and on her neck.

The freedom was "empowering", she said. "My mum and me, we were lucky … but there’s a lot of other refugees in other parts of the world that aren’t as lucky."

“It was big culture change, when I moved": Shirin Heidari moved to Auckland as a refugee when she was teenager.Credit:Janie Barrett

Having experienced the plights of refugees first-hand, Ms Heidari is hoping to use this year's The Sun-Herald City2Surf presented by Westpac to help others in need.

Women’s freedoms in Iran, where she lived until 2009, are heavily restricted. She said it’s more difficult for women to work in Iran, particularly for a divorcee, like her mother.

The limited freedom made daily life near impossible. With one-day weekends, no set working hours, poor minimum wages and the added dangers of being female, the then 17-year-old and her mother fled to New Zealand.

She will be running this year's City2Surf, raising money for the UN Refugee Agency, a global organisation dedicated to saving lives, although Ms Heidari said she wasn't much of a runner growing up.

"Because of restrictions over there, I was swimming a lot and playing basketball as well. The swimming pools, of course, were separate for girls and guys," she said.

"I’ve been trying to run, increasing the amount of time I spent running getting ready for the day.”

Now a software engineer in Sydney after studying at the University of Auckland, Ms Heidari was also the winner of the Miss Iran pageant last year.

"They hold the competition outside of Iran, they can’t hold it inside because it doesn’t agree with the country’s Islamic rules and that," she said.

"When I won, I couldn’t believe it for a while - it was amazing … I was not sure how my family were going to react, but then when I told them they were happy for me."

Being so far removed here in Australia, she says it's easy to forget that some women don’t have a voice in other countries – but things are "changing rapidly" in Iran.

"It was a big culture change when I moved," she said. "People have more freedom to live the way they want to live, which is really nice. It’s like a completely different world."