What being a public outrage taught me about fighting inequality

What does being a woman on an oil rig have in common with being a Muslim in Australia? Watch Yassmin Abdel-Magied give an impassioned speech about what it means to be misunderstood and misrepresented in the press and culture. What is it like when you show up and don't look like anyone else?


So I was quite nervous about this talk. Everything about it: writing it, memorising it, delivering it. And this is from someone who talks, well, for a living now.  

When Andrew Hyde from TEDx Boulder asked me to be a part of the program this year, I jumped at the chance. I loved the idea of the Boulder community, and the opportunity to flesh out a new idea. My initial draft for a talk was on a wildly different topic - one that I was looking forward to sharing because I thought it was new and innovative.

And yet...

Writing the speech felt like pulling teeth. It simply didn't want to happen. Although I was intellectually committed to the concept, my heart wasn't in it. 

So a few days before the event, I threw in the towel and wrote a new speech. This is it.  Some of you may be familiar with some of the stories; I wrote about it in my TeenVogue piece a few weeks ago.  This, however, was the first time I spoke publicly about in a formal setting - and to a completely unfamiliar audience.

They were kind, rewarding me with a standing ovation. This certainly helped the nerves. But ultimately, this talk is not about what happened to me in Australia. This is about sharing the lesson that so many of us have learnt the hard way - the need for structural and systemic change.

Alas, a 12 minute talk isn't enough to do the topic justice. But here's to being a part of the conversation.

To those who have been trying to tell me this for some time... sorry it took me so long to get it. I guess I always learn things the hard way! *bemused face*

Seeing yourself reflected...

It was my first night settling in. I wiggled into a comfortable nook in the couch, put my feet up on the edge of the coffee table and switched on the TV. 

...only to release a high pitched squeal.

Fatima Manji

There was a hijabi lady reading the news, in Britain! THERE WAS SOMEONE WHO KINDA LOOKED LIKE ME! And she wasn't even talking about terrorism, or women's oppression! 

My first instinct was to send a pic to my insta story, the next to tweet about it. I had to share my excitement, after all. 

That's honestly been the most remarkable thing thus far about this move. Seeing myself, reflected.

I can't quite explain what it is like to walk around a city - an English speaking city at that, which, for better or for worse, feels more like 'home' - and see myself in the faces of those around me. London is (visually, at least) truly multicultural in a way no other place I have been is. To think of myself as becoming part of that is something that feels remarkable, subhanallah.

It's delicious. I'm walking around and seeing hijabi women - of all the colours - wearing all the styles wander past me. I am yelling 'Al-Salamu Alaikum!!' to every single one of them, my toothy grin in their face.  They look at me with bewilderment, but that's fine. Their confusion increases my joy. Because who they are isn't unusual here, and I guess that means I am not unusual either. Who would have thought it would feel so good to be 'not-unusual'? I mean sure, I've only been here for a few days, so it might be hubris, and sure, I am proud of who I am wherever I am, and sure, I love standing out...

...but for the first time, I know what it's like to be one of the crowd.

To have people say 'oh you're from Sudan? I love Sudanese people!' instead of being the first Sudanese person they know.

To walk around and see my aunt, uncle, brother...

...to hear my aunt, uncle, brother, grandmother.

And to see them right alongside my neighbour, my boss, my colleagues.

What a gift. 

Subhanallah. 

London!

So, I've arrived, Alhamdulilah. Two suitcases, my social media accounts and a smile - that's what I bring with me to this new adventure. 

I'm based in Shoreditch for the next three months at least, inshallah. If you're around and would love to hang, let me know. I'm up for all the recommends, all the meet ups, all the things. If you'd asked me a year ago where I would be, I would most certainly have not said 'setting up a new home in a new city halfway across the world', but subhanallah, here we are. 

The weather is a little cooler, and I think the cloud cover will take some getting used to... but the bubble of anticipation and childlike excitement in my stomach is hard to contain. Yallah! 

BLOG: Empowering women to reach society’s full potential


SDG 3: Achieve gender quality and empower all women and girls

Imagine a new men’s toilet block being commissioned for your local sports club. The old toilet facilities have fallen into disrepair, and the governing council of the club announces it is time for a refurbishment. The governing council of this sporting club also happens to be all women.

When it comes to confirming the design of facilities, it is unanimously agreed that they will be exactly the same as the newly designed women’s facilities. Those facilities, the council reasoned, had come out quite nicely. 'Everyone' was pleased with the result.

The men in the club were uncomfortable with the outcome but were told by the governing council that their perspectives had been taken into account. Even though no men had been involved in the decision-making process, they were told this was the best solution for all.

Now, that does not make sense, you might think. Why would a group of women decide on the design of facilities on behalf of the men? How could they do that without even properly consulting them?

Of course it doesn’t make sense. That is the point.

The above scenario would almost never occur in real life because often, the reality is in fact the opposite. It’s not just with infrastructure projects - this is the way decisions are made for and about women living in almost every society, every day. Choices that directly and indirectly affect women’s lives - whether as obvious as a toilet block design or as obscure as the lighting at public transport stops - are often made without women’s involvement, and as such, the outcomes are often unfit for purpose. At the very best, they silently marginalise the community they are meant to serve. To combat this and make the resulting infrastructure fit for purpose, engineers need to ensure that they have input from all sections of the community they are serving.

This is one of the reasons why the UN’s fifth Sustainable Development Goal (SDG 5), to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls, is incredibly important. Full and effective participation of women in both engineering projects as well as in leadership roles - and equal opportunity across the board: political, economic and social - is imperative to an optimally functional and cohesive society. One of the reasons, but not the only one.

Full and effective participation is not only about ensuring societies’ infrastructure is designed in a way that is fit for purpose. Like many teams, the whole becomes more than the sum of the parts. When women are empowered and have access to participation and leadership, all of society benefits, and some of these benefits we should not do without.

The statistics speak for themselves

The International Labour Organisation suggests that women’s work may 'be the single most important factor in reducing poverty in developing economies'.

Christian C. Dezsö and David Gaddis Ross argued in 2011 that firms with females at the senior executive level added $44 million to the company’s value.

The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report shows that for many countries, raising women’s workforce participation to the same level as men’s could raise GDP (gross domestic product) per capita by significant amounts – in Egypt for example, by 34%.

The book, Sex and World Peace1, suggests that the 'very best indicator and predictor of a state’s peacefulness is not wealth, military expenditures or religion, but how well its girls and women are treated'. The book goes on to argue, using 148,000 data points over 375 variables for 175 countries, that 'the full and complete development of a country, the welfare of the world and the cause of peace require the maximum participation of women on equal terms with men in all fields'.

So not only does full and effective participation of women in leadership mean better suited and more sustainable infrastructure, which will arguably lead to safer and more inclusive communities, it will also be economically and politically beneficial for countries across the board.

Men and women may have differing ways of engaging with leadership, different leadership styles and may want different types of opportunities. The question is not about how the opportunity looks or presents itself, but that it truly exists in the first place.

At the end of the day, roughly half the population is made up of women, or those who identify as women. Society simply cannot function at its full potential if only half the talent is being utilised. It is incumbent upon us that we allow every possible opportunity for the other half of the talent to participate and to lead. Together, we can work towards a world that looks after us all.


1 - Sex and World Peace, Valerie Hudson, Bonnie Ballif-spanvill, Mary Caprioli and Chad Emmett, 2014

Whitepaper on Cultural Diversity and Inclusion

I'm so excited to share with you the second part of the whitepaper I've written on cultural diversity and inclusion.

Part 2 is focused on how to create a workplace that is inclusive, and links to a lot of the Diversity Council of Australia's work in this space. 

Want to learn more about cultural diversity and inclusion? Download the whitepaper today!

Part 1 - Diversity Beyond Gender

Part 2 (NEW!) - Re-thinking Diversity

Let me know if you have any thoughts / feedback on the papers. If you're interested in having the paper presented to your organisation, feel free to get in contact and we can organise a time.

Enjoy!

 

MUMTAZA MASTERCLASS!

I'm so very excited to be telling you about Mumtaza's first Masterclass for Women of Colour: Public Speaking Like a Pro!

Details Below:

Want to learn how to #Slay on Stage?

The Mumtaza Network is proud to announce the first of its MasterClass Series for Women of Colour: Public Speaking Like a Pro.

In our survey last year, you said you wanted to learn how to share your stories in the most powerful way possible. You wanted to learn the skills of slaying on stage, of holding a room, of perfecting a powerful presence.

You told us what you wanted, and we listened.

Public Speaking Like a Pro is a day-long workshop run by Women of Colour, for Women of Colour. Hosted by co-Founder and CEO of the Mumtaza Network, Yassmin Abdel-Magied, you will leave the session equipped with the skills to be the most powerful advocate for your message.

Further details will be released shortly, but get your tickets ASAP, as seats are limited!

TIX HERE!

 

VIDEO IS UP!

Hello all!

It's been an eventful few weeks, and thank you all for the messages of support you have sent through - it has meant a lot.

That's all I will say about that though! What I really wanted to do was share this video of a sweeeeet panel session I did at 'All About Women' a couple of weeks ago with two other amazing writers, Lindy West and Van Badham.  Check it out below!

What do you reckon?

Enjoy your week folks! 

Are you someone who organises events?

...then I'd love to hear from you!

I'm doing some research on how people find speakers for events - whether it's for a big conference or a local primary school - in an effort to design a platform that could suit the needs of the industry... while also serving the social purpose of increasing the representation of women of colour.  If you're someone who is often tasked with finding speakers for your organisation or company - or know someone who does - it would be great to have your feedback and experience included in the research.

Click on THIS LINK to go to the (very short) survey to tell me about your speaker finding/hiring experience, and stay tuned!

In the meantime, if you know any awesome women of colour who you think does (or would) make an awesome speaker, nominate them on MUMTAZA today!

#YasMENAtour

EXCITING ZOMG ALHAMDULILAH THO.

I'm incredibly honoured to be hosted by the Australian Embassies across the MENA (Middle East and North Africa region) for a speaking tour over the next few weeks. I'll be visiting a number of countries, and although not all stops have public events I will do my best to make time to meet people inshallah. If you can come to any of the public sessions though, I would LOVE to see you there!

Stay up to date with the tour via Snapchat, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram: @yassmin_a.

Schedule Inshallah:

5th - 6th Nov: Riyadh

7th Nov: Abu Dhabi

8th Nov: Dubai

9th Nov: Doha, Qatar

10th Nov: Kuwait

11th - 13th Nov: Amman, Jordan

14th - 15th Nov: Ramallah, Palestine

16th - 17th Nov: Jerusalem

18th Nov: Tel Aviv

19th - 20th: Cairo, Egypt  

21st Nov: Khartoum Sudan.

If you have questions about specific locations, hit me up on Facebook / Insta / Twitter inshallah.

Can't wait! 

Also - check out the hashtag #YasMENAtour to follow along inshallah :) 

The End of the Road: Leaving Youth Without Borders.

…the end came without fanfare.

Today, the 31st of October 2016, I chaired my final Board meeting at the helm of the organisation I founded in 2007, Youth Without Borders.

I was 16. 16! It was a time of dial up internet, Nokia 3210s, and my traditional hijabi look. I had no idea what I was doing, no idea what journey I had just begun. I also had no idea why people thought it was such a big deal, starting something at 16. I just had a lot of energy and wanted to change the world! My parents wouldn’t let me do drugs, so I started an organisation instead. Seemed like a fun thing to do. Why not, right?

The Asia Pacific Cities Summit — where the idea for Youth Without Borders was formed

The Asia Pacific Cities Summit — where the idea for Youth Without Borders was formed

This end has arrived without fanfare. It has crept up on me, not unexpectedly, but with a finality that leaves me unmoored, bobbing in the current of an uncharted future. I’m left with sense that one should be celebrating, but I mostly just want a long afternoon lying on the grass, starting at the sun, reminiscing at times that will never be experienced in the same way again.

‘My baby’ is all grown up. It walks and talks, it lives and breaths. It is different to what I wanted it to be, what I hoped for it when it was born, but then — aren’t all children like that? Like I assume it is with kids, I did my best to provide a solid set of morals and values that will guide it through the world, and the rest, well. It’s not my choice anymore, really. Isn’t that scarily beautiful?

Honestly, one of the main reasons why we still exist almost a decade later, as one of the oldest true youth-led organisations in the country, is the fact that we stuck with it. Boring, right? We just didn’t quit. We almost did, many a time… but importantly, we didn’t.

‘We’ was quite often myself and a few of the engineering boys I corralled into doing a fundraising BBQ. ‘We’ was whoever I could convince to stick with it for a little while. ‘We’, was sometimes just me.… but ‘we’ made it. Teenagers and young people wanting to change things, before being a ‘youth-led organisation’ was part of a government’s plan to reinvigorate the economy. Subhanallah.

First conference we attended as YWB members in 2008

First conference we attended as YWB members in 2008

There are many stories to share. For now, I just take this moment to acknowledge and thank every single one of the people who were a part of the Youth Without Borders journey. Without you, we would have never existed. Really, YOU are what makes this organisation great. Lucy, Anthony — the OG’s — thank you for believing in me at the very beginning. I may have inadvertently made your life difficult at times, and for that, I apologise. To all who may have had a less than optimal experience: for what it is worth, we always tried to do our work in good faith. I hope you will forgive me having to learn critical lessons at your expense.

I am who I am because of Youth Without Borders. But Youth Without Borders is not what it is because of me. It is thanks to the collective sweat equity of hundreds of young people who gave the organisation life, and in doing so believed in their capacity to make a positive impact on the world around them.

In a time when things seem to be falling apart, it’s nice to remember that all over the world, there are young people determined not to let that happen. Have faith in that. Have faith in the fact that the good stuff doesn’t make it in the news, but the good is happening all around you, all the time.

But it does its work and leaves. Its touch is light, imperceptible. Good happens without fanfare.

Fanfare.

Fanfare.

Alhamdulilah for the strength to lead, for the capacity to be heard, for the fortitude to forge on. Alhamdulilah, always.

This was originally posted on Medium.

Right of Reply: A Call for Difficult Conversations, Not Censorship

In case you missed it, I wrote a reply in the New York Times to Lionel Shriver's piece, and also to further clarify the points I made in the original Medium/Guardian essay.

To the Editor:

Re “Will the Left Survive Millennials?,” by Lionel Shriver (Op-Ed, Sept. 23):

My initial response to Ms. Shriver’s keynote address at the Brisbane Writers Festival last month — walking out and writing about why — seemed to be largely misunderstood. Many took the reaction to be a call for censorship and responded with fury. They took as a given the right to say and write what they want, without critique, consequence or interrogation of intent.

The debate is not about censorship: People can write in the voices they please. The real question is whether they should. It is about the structures that define the world in which we live and work.

Fiction does not exist in a vacuum: It becomes people’s realities, because so often the only exposure we have to those with very different lived experiences to our own is through stories. But this discussion is larger than the world of fiction.

Ms. Shriver claimed that those who now fight for equality have become the oppressor. Her words betrayed a disappointment that the times are changing, and lamented that people are so terrified of being caught saying the wrong thing that they instead choose not to say anything at all.

This must be the same censorship that sees her books published, her keynote addresses delivered and her Op-Ed article published in The New York Times. Her perspective betrayed a deep fragility, born out of the fear of change. To those with privilege, equality may feel like oppression. But equality need not be a zero-sum game. Framing it so seeks to divide and ultimately to halt progress.

Yes, the times are changing. Millennials, like me, are agitating for us all to be better, and that should come with the acceptance that nobody is beyond reproach. Difficult conversations will make us all uncomfortable. Good. That discomfort is how we improve, how we render the best characters, best stories, how we create the most equitable societies.

So rather than making broad, sweeping generational assessments, how do we move forward? We can start with intent. Is the intent to preserve the status quo, or to demand more?

YASSMIN ABDEL-MAGIED

Melbourne, Australia