Kawtar El Alaoui(Transformational Life and Executive Coach) starts to publish column titled ‘Kawtar El Alaoui's Women's stories in global village’ every other week. She was born in Morocco, studied law in Canada, became middle class housewife in Egypt, divorced and lived as single mum. She remarried and came to Korea. Through her experience, she has built up her own specific perspectives on women’s lives. She will deliver many women's story all over the world to the Women's News readers.
On November 17th, 2015, I had the privilege of facilitatinga workshop for 160 highschool students from allaround Korea under the theme of Global Women’s EntrepreneurshipDay.
This wonderful program sponsored by the Korea Entrepreneurship Foundation and the US Embassy in Seoul brought young girls of diverse backgrounds to reflect on their future and the barriers they face for the simple reason that they are girls.
During the activities, the girls had to reflect on the expectations society puts on them due to their gender. The fact that the group was so diverse really brought out the similarities in the issues women face worldwide despite their origin, although the challenges are more complex in some regions.
What struck me was how these bright young girls already feel the pressure of having to conform and foresee limitations to their dreams. These girls expressed feelings of sadness, anger, powerlessness and fear of expressing themselves honestly to their parents and teachers. I assume the vast majority of women reading this article right now can relate to that. They talked about feeling limited and small when thinking about pursuing their dreams because they are expected to be docile. They spoke about the impact of societal norms on their body image and how difficult itfor them to be unable do simple things like play certain sports simply because they are girls, about the pressure of always having to look pretty instead of just being themselves.
When it came to envisioning their future, as I was walking around the room, many girls seemed very hesitant to even dream big because they already see how difficult it is for women to have a meaningful career and balance work and family obligations and they weren’t sure they would be able to do so.
As these feelings were expressed, the atmosphere in the room was getting heavy as if we could all see our daughters and understand them and their realities and know how they are truly being impacted by our expectations, our norms and our lack of support for their potential and their dreams.
When they were asked to make their name cards for their future jobs and the impact they would like to have, it was inspiring to hear them talk about contributing to society in many different fields: mathematics, medicine, social service, law and much more. Their desire to contribute was so palpable, most of the participants’ ability to articulate a vision for themselves despite the foreseen challenges was moving. Their determination to overcome the challenges was humbling and yet the lack of resources and support for them to do so is heartbreaking.
Programs like these are a wonderful way to show our daughters that it is possible to achieve their dreams as the guest speakers showed them. Many women have been able to do so and their wisdom and experience is a great inspiration to all. But I wonder as a society, how can we contribute to overcoming the challenges women face today so our daughters have less barriers to overcome tomorrow, so they don’t grow up thinking that it is an exception for a woman to get to the top, or to access certain male dominated professions? How can we really hear the impact we are having on them and empower them?
On the education front, we are in a time where girls have access to a great education system which teaches them the skills to become highly qualified professionals. But tomorrow’s professionals will need a lot more than technical skills. Tomorrow’s successful leaders will be the ones who combine the technical skills with the soft skills and cultural sensitivity required in a global economy.
The key in my opinion is not only in equipping them with great education but giving them the tools to thrive by teaching them early on how to connect with their feelings, voice their needs, deal with conflict, be assertive, follow their passions and play to their strengths. Such a shift means a shift in the mindsets of the older generation that is building their future by acquiring these same skills so we can honor individuality and break free from cultural expectations and norms that hinder personal growth, self-expression, and creativity.
Another thing I found deeply connecting about this experience is that it builds a dialogue with younger generations to understand their needs and give them the tools to build a better future for all.
There is also an onus on the older generation to be open to this dialogue to acknowledge that its reality is very different from the realities of the younger generations and to build cross-generational communication and support so that youth can fully benefit from the wisdom and experience of those before them while building a future that fits their reality, needs, aspirations and draws the very best out of them.