Rock your own style
Julia Milan, 24 from Slovakia, was recently voted ‘the most inspirational fashion designer’ at a women’s empowerment conference. She believes that being a powerful woman means being a responsible human being
I think women’s empowerment means women being able to make their own choices and being able to be responsible for those choices. I believe fashion’s role in this is about inspiring women to believe in themselves and to respect themselves.
Women should not be bound by race, skin colour, shape and age. They should have the power to choose their own style and be proud of it. They should be able to choose the right colours, or the right embellishments, that suit them and make them feel confident, without causing disrespect to other people. I think it’s great to be crazy and wild about fashion no matter what race, age, shape or colour you are.
Winning the award at the empowerment conference was important for me as it was a reminder to myself that I can always do better. It’s also a symbol of my hard work and dedication. My one message for other women would be to fight for what you believe in and to stand up for your choices, but to make sure you respect yourself so that other people will respect you too. Also, I think it’s very important to use your power in a good way – great powers come with great responsibilities. For me, being an empowered woman is really about being a responsible human.
Follow Julia on Instagram - JULIAMILANDESIGN
Love the skin you’re in
Jessamyn Stanley is a US-based yoga enthusiast, Instagram sensation and promoter of positive body image
I think the ‘perfect woman’ is like santa claus – a concept created purely to control behaviour. The definition of a perfect woman changes every generation and varies dramatically depending on where you are on the globe. Media preys on our human desire to be loved and wanted, and it’s up to us as a society to stand against that influence. I think it’s worthless to compare myself to beauty ideals that don’t measure up to how awesome I actually am. Perfection is an idea we need to redefine, as it exists in all of us, all the time, forever and always.
WHEN I STARTED YOGA, I WAS ALWAYS THE FATTEST PERSON IN MY CLASSES. At the time I was the most self-conscious about my body I’d ever been. But one thing about Bikram yoga is that it’s hard for everybody. Literally, everybody thinks it’s hard – even people who’ve been practising it for ages. And because it’s so hard for everybody, it’s pretty easy to consider yourself an equal of everyone in the room. Once I worked that out, it became a lot easier for me to ignore the fact I was the fattest person. It was very mentally soothing – a yoga studio filled with thin white people became the only place in my life I didn’t notice my fatness. Crazy, right?
I’M SURE MANY WOMEN ARE AVERSE TO TRYING YOGA BECAUSE THEY’RE PUT OFF BY THE THOUGHT OF A ROOM FULL OF WILLOWY SIZE 4 WOMEN IN LYCRA. It helps them to see a body that looks truly normal – stretch marks, swinging breasts, fat rolls – practising yoga, because it helps them realise it’s actually meant for them, too. I think women are comforted by seeing a sister who shares their struggle, and I believe we can empower one another simply by being ourselves. I believe it’s the power of the individual that actually creates change. We stand together – I am not an island.
OBSESSING ABOUT HOW YOU LOOK IS SUCH A SHORT-SIGHTED WAY TO APPROACH LIFE. It makes you question your true judgments because you’re so concerned about the opinions of others. To me, this is a useless internal conflict because everyone we seek judgment from seeks the same judgment from us. If we’re all equal and all opinions are valid, why not value your own? A woman’s body changes so many times in her life, from childhood to adulthood, from motherhood to menopause. It’s important to find confidence in your body at every point in the journey. A woman should revel in her strength and beauty, a strength that literally gives life to the universe. Media and society don’t encourage women to revel in their strength, because both are controlled by patriarchal and discriminatory forces which seek to keep women under the thumb of masculine control. Yoga gives you, as a woman, the potential to remember who you really are; to look within yourself for the strength that society – actively and wilfully – seeks to prise from your grasp. Seeing your body in a positive light is the first step to a new understanding of your strength and power.
Jessamyn is in Dubai this month holding classes at Voyoga – visit www.voyoga.net for details on how to sign up for one of her classes. Also, follow Jessamyn on Instagram - @mynameisjessamynn
Get to know yourself
Helen Williams – counsellor, grief specialist, authenticity expert and founder of LifeWorks Dubai – gives us five lessons for a richer, happier and more authentic life
A need for consciousness... Empowerment is the growth of the consciousness. It means taking charge of your own life physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. Having a deep inner belief in one’s self – the belief that you matter, that you belong – offers feelings of security, confidence, self-worth and the ability to self-support. Empowered people view their life from the inside out. Not feeling empowered means people tend to experience their lives through the lens of a victim – feeling controlled by external circumstances. Being helpless in the face of life’s changes, they often form co-dependent relationships, seek external validation and disown their misfortunes by projecting them on to others. This outlook then presents as confusion, inability to make decisions, victimhood, and powerlessness. Addictions of all sorts are commonly used to mask these feelings of disconnection, dislocation, dis-ease, and self-loathing.
The key to happiness is... From early childhood, our sense of empowerment develops from our experiences of early attachment and the style in which we were parented. When children learn to see themselves as valuable and cherished from the beginning of their lives, their ability to maintain this belief in the face of life’s difficulties produces a positive outlook, which is then reflected back in their ongoing approaches to life.
Neglectful or indulgent parenting, anxious or ambivalent attachment and devastating emotional experiences can severely impact our developing sense of self, leading to critical self-talk, self-shaming, emotional self-abandonment and self-rejection. This translates into a lack of self-worth physically, emotionally and mentally.
Many women in Dubai struggle daily with addictions such as alcohol, food, shopping and inappropriate relationships to counteract the deep loneliness, shame, blame and self-loathing that their self-rejection brings. This means that women often sell themselves short in relationships, looking to others to find external validation. They also often use busy-ness, careers, motherhood and social interactions to avoid connecting with themselves. The recognition of the need to be in a loving relationship with oneself is the key to self-empowerment, to health, to healing and to happiness.
Allow children to grow Children learn self-acceptance, self-belief, self-esteem, self-confidence and self-respect by having the opportunities and experiences which allow for, and create, these feelings. Protecting children from disappointments and difficulties, and indulging them so they rely on external validation ‒ whether from their parents, from teachers, other caregivers or their peers ‒ produces children who don’t grow a strong sense of their self. In adulthood, learning to watch the critical, judging inner self-talk and changing it to kindness, self-validation and self-respect through personal development practices (such as mindfulness, meditation, yoga and body awareness) encourages a deepening connection with, and respect for, the true self.
Believe in your strength
To experience life from a positive, truthful, growth-producing perspective, one needs to be in partnership with one’s self. This means that when facing changes, difficulties, uncertainty and fear, empowered people attend to their challenging circumstances without being crippled by anxiety, worry and stress. They tend to live in the present moment, rather than focusing constantly on the past, or the future. Many people live waiting for the next crushing experience to happen, drowning in distress until their lives become narrow, fear-driven and bleak. Self-empowered people are able to create opportunities for the achievement of their highest potential, even when they feel fear and anxiety.
Be the real you
Being authentic is practising self-acceptance, self-compassion and letting go of harsh self-judgement. Living authentically is the direct by-product of a self-empowered life. As life’s experiences unfold, we are all faced with a choice for growth, or for victimhood. Learning from the choices we make can determine the pathway before us – poor choices can also trigger growth, providing the means and opportunity for authentic empowerment. There are no mistakes in life – only opportunities for deepening our maturity. More than ever before, these days there are many different ways to learn and grow, and to seize opportunities for personal enhancement.
To make an appointment with Helen, or to sign up to one of her famous authenticity and mindfulness workshops, call 04 394 2464 or visit www.counsellingdubai.com.
Stop with the “mother’s guilt”
Andrea Guy is a pre- and post-natal doula and founder of Out Of The Blues, a support group for women affected by post-natal depression
I constantly see women who plague themselves with mother's guilt. Sadly, it seems it’s one of the most prevalent emotions in motherhood. Am I working too much, and not spending enough time with my child? Am I too much of a helicopter parent, and do I need to just leave them be? I’m tired and lose my temper with them – surely this is tantamout to child abuse? They haven’t had enough veggies this week and I’ve given in to sweets far too many times, so clearly they’ll be malnourished.
It’s amazing how we constantly berate ourselves. If we raise our voices we’re mean. If we put them in ‘time out’, we’re cruel. If we don’t go running the minute they cry, we’re neglecting them (but if we do, they’ll end up with separation anxiety). Nothing we do is ever good enough. We all feel we should be the perfect mix of Gina Ford and Mary Poppins, and if we’re not, we’re failing.
There are so many care providers and so-called parenting ‘experts’ out there, all with totally conflicting advice, it’s no surprise we’re confused about what to do. Try an approach from a parenting expert without success and you feel like you’ve failed. You can’t go back and ask again, because you’re worried about being judged. So you ask on social media, and along comes another assault on your confidence – one friend did something and it was practically a miracle while another friend was horrified she’d even considered it for her child. If you try an approach that someone says “worked wonders” for their child, without success, it leaves you feeling like you’ve done it wrong – failed again.
The result of all this expert advice, well-meaning interference and information is that we end up hopelessly confused, floundering and feeling guilty that we’re not doing the best for our children. Eventually, we stop seeking help and support because we can’t stand anymore ‘failure’ self-judgments. Some mums try to mitigate their self-perceived ‘awful’ parenting skills by over-compensating, then end up feeling guilty for spoiling their child.
I’ve seen so many women flog themselves with crippling self-critical thoughts, constantly second-guessing their actions and decisions. Sometimes they even give up trying, leading to distance between them and their offspring. Distance results in the child acting up to try to gain attention. Mummy can’t deal with the acting up, Mummy feels guilty, and the cycle continues.
The best advice I can give to avoid the horrendous curse of mummy guilt is simply to follow – and trust – your gut instinct. You are your child’s mother. You know your child better than any parenting expert, care provider or Facebook friend, and nobody can be a better parent to your child than you. Accept you will make mistakes – we all do! – but use them as learning opportunities, grow with your child, and he or she will love you all the more for it. No child has ever died from being loved too much, from being shouted at on the odd occasion, or from spending five minutes in time out. Be kind to yourself. There are enough things for us to feel guilty about on a daily basis – don’t let being a mummy be on that list.
For more on Out of The Blues, visit www.outoftheblues.support. For more on Andrea’s doula services, visit www.thedotingdoulas.com.
Achieve your potential
Racha Al Khawaja is head of Institutional Coverage at Menacorp and a founding partner of Reach – a mentoring programme for women
We set up Reach two years ago in October 2013 – myself and three female friends. In London, where I started the career, mentoring is the norm... it is very beneficial for women. Especially when the mentor is someone outside the company they work at. This is because a lot of the issues – such as confidence, starting a family, work/life balance – are hard to discuss with someone inside your company without it having a negative effect on your reputation within the organisation.
My friends and I were looking around for mentoring programmes and found that they didn’t really exist in the UAE. There were many programmes to support young SME founders and entrepreneurs, but there weren’t any supporting professional women in the workplace. So we decided we were going to do something about it.
Reach is a non-profit organisation. The mentors are male and female, all CEO and management levels from the finance industry and others. The mentees are all women – female professionals with typically five to seven years’ experience and a desire to be mentored. They sign up for a year-long mentoring programme and benefit from workshops set up during that year.
Our coach, Dawn Metcalf, coaches both mentors and mentees. And we have a matching criteria system to match mentors and mentees, so you get matched with an expert who has the best skills for you. We give guidelines, but leave it for the mentors to run their own programmes.
For many women, juggling work and family is a struggle. Many feel their partner doesn’t support them enough or understand how hard it can be. A lot of the time it’s a communication issue – either with their partner clearly at home, or with the bosses and line managers at work. Have they spoken to their partner about the benefit of them being in the workplace? Do they explain to their partner how sharing the workload at home can help them in their careers? Have they spoken to their bosses about flexible time options? Flexi-time has been found to have huge benefits for women with no negative impact on their work. In fact, it has a beneficial effect on their performance as they work much harder when their firm is accommodating their needs.
Confidence is also a common issue and is at the root of many problems women have in the workplace. We teach them how to formulate their thoughts in a powerful way before voicing them.
As well as mentoring, some of the Reach founders were involved in the launch of the GCC chapter of The 30 Per Cent Club – a global initiative calling for 30 per cent of women on boards in companies – last November. This club has many groups including media, education, search/recruitment, investment and is involving top industry professionals in each field.
It is worth mentioning that this year Reach is focusing on a new sector of mentees – women who are returning to work after taking time out of their careers to have a family. We will mentor them to help them back into the workforce.
For more information on Reach mentoring programmes and workshops, visit www.Reachmentoring.org.
Be your own boss
Nadine Benchaffai is an entrepreneur and restauranteur. She says, when launching a new business, there is a list of questions you should ask yourself
“Once you have an idea, there are seven tests that can help you decide whether it is just a pipe dream, or an opportunity that is worth pursuing.
1. Ask yourself: who will buy it; why will they buy it; how many will they buy; why would they continue to buy it; and why would they buy it from you rather than someone else?
2. Then, question how capable you are of doing it. Does this opportunity match your experience, skills and interests? Do you have an advantage to better exploit that opportunity? What makes this opportunity ‘yours’? You need to be genuinely excited about the business as this is what will get you through thick and thin.
3. Are you looking for a high-potential venture that will provide all your future income, or are you looking for a lifestyle business that can provide a bit of extra income? The requirements for each are very different, from the amount of money you invest to the amount of time. If you’re looking for something part-time with high potential then, I hate to break it to you, but it doesn’t exist!
4. Can you recruit and lead the team needed? Even if there’s a great fit between you and the opportunity, there will always be gaps in knowledge, skills and contacts.
5. Think of all the resources needed – people, space, capital equipment, materials etc. How frugal can you be?
6. Is the timing right? And how long will the window of opportunity be open?
7. Then it’s time to understand your numbers. Really get to know your market and if you’re planning the venture with someone else, think about what you both want out of it. Finally, have a go at doing a business plan. There are plenty of templates online – I found the one on score.org to be pretty comprehensive.”
Nadine is managing partner at Taqado Mexican Kitchen and Park House
Let your cash flow
Money coach Rasheda Khatun shares her tips on taking control of your finances, thereby fortifying your future
It’s common for we women to leave our partners to deal with the finances. We’ve seen our parents do it, and our friends, and it’s not like we haven’t got enough to do without taking on the finances as well.
But we must.
Think about this – if you were suddenly left in a position where you were on your own, or without a job, how would you stand financially? Could you afford to take care of yourself? Could you afford to take care of your children?
If the answer is ‘no’ to any of these questions, then it’s time to take responsibility for your finances.
1 Be in the know. Whether it’s you, or your partner, who’s the main breadwinner (or both of you) you both need to know what happens to money coming in. Both being involved in making decisions helps you to build the life you want to live together.
2 Get organised. Go through your income and expenses and allocate funds to different accounts. For example, have a bills account, rent account, travel account, emergency fund account and short-term savings account. As soon as the income arrives, distribute it across the accounts accordingly.
3 Be protected. I know you don’t want to think about it, but what would be the impact on you and your children if your husband died? What plans have been made to ensure you don’t suffer financial hardship? Make sure you both have adequate life (and medical) cover in place and you know which company the policies are with and the policy numbers; who you need to contact in the event of an illness or death; what documentation you’ll need; and what the procedure is.
4 Have access. Have both joint and individual accounts and know where you can find each other’s cards and PIN numbers. Be in a position that you can access your emergency funds. Have offshore bank accounts that you can easily get access to.
5 Stash some cash. This is not about keeping secrets, but about your security. Having a lump sum of money in a bank account in your own name will give you peace of mind. You might dip into occasionally, but try to keep it built up to a level that makes you feel secure, whether it is from your income or your partner’s.
For more insights from Rasheda, visit www.rashedakhatun.com.
Roll with the punches
Emily Christensen runs H3O International, a recruitment and training company that offers coaching to those who have been made redundant
When a woman finds a role she likes, we find she typically stays in that role longer than a man might. Women don’t tend to move around as much – whereas a man might change jobs to get more experience, or further his career, a woman might stay where she is as she places different values on her work/life balance. That’s not to say that women are less career-driven – not at all – but particularly for working mums in the UAE, working hours and flexibility can be very important. So when a working mum finds something that suits her and her family, she tends to put down roots and stay a while.
This then means, if she’s made redundant, it can be harder for her to find another job. When she begins searching, those same factors that kept her in her old job still matter and they can make the search for a new role that much harder as she’s less prepared to make work/life balance sacrifices.
Despite this, we’ve found that women tend to be less shaken by redundancy than men, and tend to be more resilient psychologically when facing the situation. Restoring confidence in a woman who’s been made redundant is often just a matter of helping her see the opportunities out there – which is testament to a woman’s strength!
Once she’s accepted the situation, we help establish the next steps. What is she looking for? Where she’s likely to find it? Are there any areas she might not have considered? For example, there appear to be many more part-time opportunities than ever before and options where women can work from home – a massive bonus when juggling working hours and childcare responsibilities.
It’s not just women who’ve been made redundant who might benefit from coaching. Someone who’s taken a career break to raise children might be concerned about gaps in their CV, or feel they’ve missed out on new breakthroughs within their industries, and might need a nudge to gain confidence and remember that they’re independent career women as well as parents and the two don’t have to be mutually exclusive.
Career uncertainty can be traumatic, but there’s a future beyond it.
To find out more about Emily’s career coaching and redundancy support, visit www.h3ointl.com.