What is possible when women lead?
The most memorable memories I have of my childhood have always been centered around a certain set of rules, well, largely because I’m a girl:
1. Get an education (I’m thankful and lucky to have a feminist father who knew and understood the value that education had to a girl venturing out to the world) and good grades for that matter so that he would hold his head high when he went to the mosque on Fridays or when he was in the company of his friends,
2. Steer away from boys at all costs and maintain my dignity and my family’s reputation in the village until marriage,
3. Get a job after college, which would be compromised when I become of marriage age,
4. Live in the jurisdictions of how a Muslim woman needs to carry herself around men, how to express herself, how she dresses and what is expected of her.
I loved my childhood, I really did. I have fond memories and it shaped who I am today. The values and the guiding principles have always stayed with me up to date. However, with the changing times and being a young woman navigating through life, some needed adjustments along the way the most being self-expression.
I am a creative woman working in a creative industry that requires valuing and honoring my voice more than all else. Being a storyteller has gotten me to understand the power that words and stories have and that’s my loudest weapon. Sometimes, some stories bear a weight that is controversial and not quite encapsulated to some of the values that society has on certain topics and matters, and I sometimes also find myself in a dilemma whether to pursue such stories or not. At the end of the day, growing up as a woman, with an upbringing such as mine has always made me value what others think more than my own thoughts, opinions, ideas and voice.
I remember when my career started and the notions that everyone had about women in the creative industry. That one had to be “bad ass” or “bitchy” in order to survive the men dominated field. Soft, fragile, sensitive, pretty didn’t cut the acceptance bar for them. For a technical job a girl had to be tough and rough to have a seat at the table, contrary to what I have seen- you can still keep your girly side and do your makeup and wear your heels... You had to offer more than just being the girl at the desk printing away all day or the production manager making sure that the cast and crew got home safely or were well fed on set, that the roles of hair and makeup, production design were the perfect roles to play for women. We are forced to believe we have to be more; intellectually understand the technical bit of the craft and be able to carry them out with confidence in order to be taken seriously. You had to have a good understanding of how the camera worked, or how the lighting had to be set up and be willing to get dirty carrying cables and lights and setting up and a bit of editing prowess in you to be a complete package. The same was not required of the men. As long as they were good at one role that was all it took them.
It’s since taken me over six years in the craft to fully understand that the notion that I have been trying to live up to was founded on the basis of the industry being male dominated and that for women to make it they had to be like men. If there is anything the year 2020 taught me was how wrong I was to believe this to be true. It would have saved me a lot of time and sleepless nights learning and perfecting myself with all the skills I thought I needed to feel worthy of fitting in and belonging. Though I must confess they come in handy because I have the creative understanding and what works and how it works and whether I like it or not, an advantage that some women lack. Being creative had nothing to do with how I chose to show up in the world but rather how I chose to express my talent to the world be it in the form of a writer, a make-up artist, a set runner you name it, the choice is all yours to make.
When I reflect back on last year, it was a tough year for all of us surviving a global pandemic that brought the world to a standstill. Well, a horrific time indeed given all the lives and jobs that were lost, the companies that closed down and many families struggling to put food on their tables. I had my challenges raising my daughter with no source of income and battling mental health, but the women in my life did not let me wallow in misery. They stood by me, gave me a listening ear when I needed to let it all out, gave me advice however harsh but with utmost love and concern, they made sure I ate and rested and helped me with the baby, they prayed and encouraged me, but most importantly they held my hand and never allowed my light to dim for a better tomorrow. Life became manageable with their support. In the midst of all the chaos, it’s the year I dared to dream again and decided to let go of all the emotional trauma and baggage that was weighing me down and picked myself up. It’s the year I read most books, spent most time with my daughter, did several courses online, listened to podcasts, started a side hustle selling clothes, connected with a mentor and attended so many fun and inspiring zoom meetings organized by women. The list is endless. It was a fulfilling year with so much growth and going back inside to find love for self. Away from self, I did recognize how countries with women leaders mitigated the pandemic in their countries and I was in awe.
Before I write my tribute, I want to celebrate women leaders I know, those that show up daily to make our lives less cranky. Those closest to us, you are appreciated.
To the women I look up to, let us take a moment of silence and appreciate the powerhouse that was Cicely Tyson.
I remember watching a series “Cherish the day” and thinking that role she played felt like a tribute to her and her contribution to Hollywood stories then days later I hear of her demise and I was crushed. I love what she stood up for when it came to portrayal of black women in the movies, and the roles she played that represented women in their feminine and indigenous power. Representation matters for me because growing up the women I looked up to were from the West, from what I saw in the media and they didn’t look like me and certainly didn’t have the same struggles as me. Storytelling has the ability to equalize and unify our struggles and triumphs and to have women working hard to ensure that our voices are well portrayed, our cultures maintained and preserved and our differences and uniqueness captured authentically gives me hope that my daughter and the generations to come have a point of reference that is diverse. I celebrate the likes of Shonda Rhimes, Ava DuVernay, Oprah Winfrey, Michelle Obama and closest home Judy Kibinge and Wanuri Kahiu for being examples that women can lead in the creative front as business owners and film directors. I salute these ladies for the blue print they’re leaving behind for us. Their work inspires me to live in my authentic truth as a black woman, to shine bright and let the stories I tell shine through for other women, they inspire me to claim the spaces I walk into knowing my strengths and follow their voices as guidance that another woman made it possible for me to be where I am and where I hope to go; and to harness my femininity because it’s where my true power lies.
When I think of a world where women are empowered to lead, it starts off by setting foundations of leadership for young women and girls. A lot of socialization be it cultural, religious, political, emotional, psychological and economical lay its roots in the smallest social unit which is a family- where a girl is born into. Leaders should be nurtured from a young age.
A world where women are empowered to lead is a place where women are given a fair chance to have their voices heard and respected. For their voices to be heard they need to be in spaces where decisions about them are made. A seat at the table.
A world where women are empowered to lead doesn’t have room to support patriarchy. Patriarchy/ patriarchal systems have always favored the male gender deeming them superior. Breaking this system calls for gender equality in all aspects of women and girls lives including education, access to equal opportunities, leadership, rights to make decisions about them/ for themselves et cetera.
A world where women are empowered to lead is a compassionate world. Women are nurturers which means they empathize and establish emotional connections with the people they lead providing validation and appreciation that we all crave for.
A world where women are empowered to lead provides an avenue to elevate others. With feminist movements and women ground-breaking in the spaces they occupy, they rise and raise other women with them as coaches and mentors.
A world where women are empowered to lead is not overconfident and narcissistic but guided with humility for which is an effective leadership and feminine trait.
A world where women are empowered to lead encourages a generation of confident, independent and self-reliant individuals to grow and thrive. In the spaces I have been in, that have tapped into nurturing me to be a leader and equipped me with the resources and knowledge I need to be the best version of myself while changing the world, that is a blessing I’d want every girl and woman have, because she’ll need it.
I found my power through the eyes and voices of other women before me. I have my power because I know it, I understand it and I embrace it. Confidently.
The only blueprint secret for unleashing women’s power is; being authentically feminine and not trying to think and act like men. Occupy the spaces we enter with pride because “you will be the first, but definitely not the last”