By Mayshad Mag
Mayshad Magazine is an advocacy platform for empowerment which mainly focuses on empowering women, raising awareness and exploring a contemporary lifestyle.
Could you tell us a little bit more about yourself? If you had to describe yourself in 3 words, what would they be?
Hey, I am Antonia, I am a researcher and activist in the field of gender equality.
I would describe myself as curious, passionate, and determined.
First of all, I am a curious person, I have always had an inquisitive nature. As family stories go, already as a little girl I would ask lots of questions – how and why does this or that happen? In my everyday life, I like to explore new things – I try out friends’ hobbies, find new recipes to cook, and like to read on different topics (right now, there are Hawking’s “A brief history of time” and Woolf’s “A room of one’s own” on my bed side table…). Most importantly though, I love exploring new countries when I travel.
Further, I tend to be very passionate about the activities I engage in, the people I surround myself with, and the issues I care about. I savour spending my time on people and activities that are important to me, and I feel excited about. This attitude seems to facilitate living a rich and meaningful life. On the down-side, it has definitely also gotten me in trouble in the past – I have been known to argue my point to the very end if I feel strongly about it, which does not always go down well…
And finally, I am very determined: If I have a goal, I struggle to give up on it. Again, this quality is a blessing and a curse. Of course it helps with achieving goals, but persevering might not always be the way forward. Sometimes, we need to give up and let go, and I am working on finding the right balance.
What were your greatest failures and what did they teach you?
Generally, I don’t like to think in terms of failures, it seems very harsh and counter-productive. There are certainly a lot of things I have tried that have not worked out for me, but precisely because I have learned from them it seems more fitting to regard them as necessary stepping stones to get to where I am meant to be.
In line with that, my greatest learning experience has been not trying. Of course, we do not need to be part of everything all the time. Rather, I am referring to instances where we hesitate to do something out of fear it might not work out. Personally, I had always dreamed of studying at the University of Cambridge, but expected to be rejected upon applying. With hindsight, these fears were probably unjustified, so a part of me regrets that I never even tried. I think it helps to accept that sometimes in life we “fail” or cannot get what we would have liked, but we will never know if we don’t try in the first place. Of course, this applies to all kinds of situations and domains, not just education and career.
What drives you to keep going when time gets really rough?
When life gets rough I like to draw on my strong social network – talking things through often helps me to sort my thoughts and feelings, and to arrive at solutions for problems. Having wonderful friends who will listen when I need them to makes me very grateful. Even when we are discussing problems, I am having the best time talking to my friend Jessica. And my mom listens to me complaining about the same things over and over, even when she is having a bad day herself, so I would like to say thank them at this point.
Next to having a strong social network, I am finding it just as important to know how to take care of myself, that is, to identify my needs and to honour them. These needs differ from person to person, and from day to day, of course. Personally, I tend to be very active, but sometimes granting myself a lazy day – watching a movie, reading, taking a bath, pottering around the house, going to sleep early – feels like heaven on earth and replenishes my energy.
Why is gender equality important?
Gender equality is important because it opens up previously restricted opportunities for both women and men. Of course there has been some progress, but we still live in a society where our gender determines our possibilities in life: Due to these gendered expectations, certain paths in life and activities are more accepted for some genders than for others. For instance, it is still difficult for men to engage in care work, or to dedicate their lives to their families. For women, it is still difficult to enter and stay in the work-force, specifically in male-dominated fields or leadership positions.
Sometimes, people misunderstand gender equality to mean that all women have to engage in paid work, or all men need to become care takers. This of course not the case, but a lot of men’s and women’s desired life paths do not fit gender stereotypical moulds. In a gender equal society, each individual could choose their path notwithstanding their gender, and could flourish in a way that suits their personality.
To you, what is the difference between gender equality and women’s empowerment? Are they related? How do you promote this on an everyday basis?
An empowered person can chose freely which path they would pursue in life, independent of any restrictions, such as their gender. Women’s empowerment is therefore a part of gender equality, but the same could be said about “men’s empowerment”. Empowerment might seem slightly more fitting to describe what women gain from gender equality, as it is related to actual societal and financial power. However, feeling free to engage in activities that men are currently not expected to engage in, such as care work or paternity leave, might feel empowering, too.
My doctoral research focuses on gender equality, and I have been involved in many academic and non-academic projects on both women’s and men’s empowerment. Together with others, I have organised debates, conferences, and protests, and have contributed to policy papers and workshops. I also like to blog, tweet, and talk about these topic. Generally, and especially recently, gender equality is a topic people want to talk about, so I like to initiate discussions on the topic. It makes me very happy when I see that a conversation I have had might have caused change in a person’s attitude.
As you may know, being a Mayshad Woman is a choice that women make to live stimulated lives with a positive philosophy based on gratitude, acceptance, accomplishment and human empowerment in order to be who they want to be. Mayshad Women handle different aspects of their lives with confidence and make sure to always stick to their values, in other words, to stay themselves. Mayshad Women are free spirits that design and drive their own lives while inspiring others to do the same.
Based on the following description, how would you say that you relate to the Mayshad Woman Philosophy?
Whilst I do think it is necessary to be willing to compromise sometimes, there are certain topics where I stand my ground. I have always been very outspoken about topics of equality and justice, and continue to speak my mind if the situation requires it, even if it might be to my personal disadvantage.
Driving your own life is not always easy: Especially as women we are socialized to care about other people’s opinions, and to be pleasant to those around you. Whilst I am not promoting to entirely ignore the wishes of important others, we do need to regularly check in with ourselves to figure out what it is that we really want. Sometimes, this might not align with other people’s expectations for you, and that is okay, it is not a reason to refrain. Today more than in the past, I make an effort to do this. Soon, I will have finished my PhD research, and it will be time once again to reflect so that I can take my life into the right direction. I am grateful for the reminder here.
I do hope that I sometimes inspire people to work on similar topics as I do. More importantly though, I try and be as supportive as I can of younger people’s education and careers, especially younger women’s, and hope that I can help them finding their own paths.