March 8th is International Women’s Day, and this year, it feels more important than ever. The focus of the day varies in different regions celebrating respect, appreciation and love towards women for their economic, political and social achievements. This year’s #beboldforchange theme is asking supporters to call on the masses, and yourself, to help create a better working world for women – making it more inclusive and gender equal.
I’m hoping to do this by sharing insights from women around the world. I’ve asked co-workers, friends, friends of friends, and family who inspire my life and infuse it with cultural influences from traditions to foods to style and purpose.
To celebrate International Women’s Day, I’ve asked them to share something uniquely female from their culture. Reading their responses, I’m more proud than ever to be a woman, and have these amazing female friends. The stories of the important role women play in every culture, the powerful responsibilities they have and joy they find in each other and their families are poignant.
My sister Reem and I share a Middle Eastern dad, and her mom is also Middle Eastern. While we are very close, we didn’t grow up together. I was raised by an American mom and curious about her perspective on the role of women in her culture. She relays “for most women in the Middle Eastern culture, we are considered a central figure in the home. We are depended upon for family responsibilities like raising children, maintaining a clean household and cooking, and take pride in caring for our families.”
Jeevika is our newest team member, joining us as a winter intern. She says “in my home country of India, women are each other’s only reliable sources of strength. They thrive on being social and supportive, and come together for every possible occasion. Be it a time of joy or sorrow, festival or funeral, Indian culture celebrates togetherness. Women partake in this unity relentlessly. I lived in India until I was 16, and to date, I admire how my mother and grandmother are incredible pillars of strength and support for each other, their husbands, and their children on top of running their households single-handedly.”
My friend Yen shares her experience having Chinese parents. “My mom is an amazing human. She is loving, generous, funny and engaging! It was my mom who taught me to bind my tummy after giving birth. She brings carts of egg rolls through airport layovers so I can taste my childhood favorite, and is unafraid to guffaw loudly at family reunions. My mom has always taught me to keep it simple when it comes to skin + self-care. Her immigrant pragmatism ever slicing through all the BS, ‘who would pay that much money for that?!’ She is also traditionally Chinese. Her focus has always been family and my father. Everything he says is the smartest. Culturally, I felt stifled by patriarchy and resisted. When I had my own three children, I knew I didn’t want my two girls to grow up thinking they are less than anyone, or my son to think he is better than his sisters. We do not have to be defined by our culture, I have learned I can pick and choose a la carte and THAT is empowering!”
A friend of a close friend, Fernanda, shares this powerful insight as a Brazilian woman: “Your most treasured piece of cultural advice as a woman is to treat your body and mind as a temple. You and others must respect them.”
Miriam and I became friends when our sons started school together. She grew up in Slovakia, where there is a huge appreciation for motherhood. “Mothers receive guaranteed, paid maternity leave for up to 34 weeks and are guaranteed their job back or an equivalent if the original position no longer exists. Hospitality is also an important facet of Slovak culture and women play a key role in that tradition. Families and friends often visit each other and women pride themselves in making sure there is enough food and drinks at the table for all guests. The best food is often put aside for guests. For example, during lean times, it was a point of pride to serve meat to guests when the family itself would not be eating meat themselves most of the time. If you ever visit a Slovakian family, come hungry: the hostess will not let you leave wanting.”
Assia teaches at my daughter’s pre-school – where at four, she’s learning French alongside reading, math, folding laundry, caring for plants, and so many other amazing skills. Assia has the most gentle, kind spirit – you can feel it when you meet her. Assia was born in France. Her parents were born in Algeria in the 1950s – a country colonized by the French government. Her grandma shared her experience during the war, relaying that while the men were off fighting, the women would teach each other how to defend themselves against invaders. Her grandma cut her mom’s hair really short to pretend she was a boy, protecting her against atrocities bestowed on little girls. Assia was raised alongside her six siblings, closest to her brother who was a year and a half older. She recalls he would hide her dolls to get her to play soccer with him. Her Mom was strict and determined to make her children strong, rather than soft. Her most treasured advice is self-determination and respect. She encourages women to “know your own power – even if the world tells you otherwise, and never give up. Practice respect for elders and give full power to your intuition – it’s how the women of Algeria survived during the many years of conflict.” It’s her strength that enabled her to travel the world and live in four different countries – away from family and friends.
Words can’t express how grateful I am to these and all of the smart, kind, talented and successful women in my life. I felt so many different emotions writing this post. I hope you enjoy it, too. For them and women everywhere, let’s #beboldforchange.
Do you have any insights on what it’s like to be a woman somewhere else? Please share in comments.