I am (wo)man
Layla: I am an Iranian-American and the first generation of my family born in the United States, a fortune I take for granted most days. I am even more fortunate to be the daughter of an exceptionally determined woman who has conditioned me to set goals and pursue them passionately.
Being a woman with a strong sense of purpose and positive determination is not a blessing in every part of the world. Take for example my mother who decided to restart her career at 42. If she was not living in a country where economic empowerment was somewhat of a reality she could not have achieved her goals and expressed her full potential as she did. A woman, who for more than 20 years had predominantly charitable projects, could start a commercial business and economically enable herself.
For me, economic empowerment is an extension of this short anecdote. It means not only equal rights but also options and the power to choose how one practices those rights – that one has access to every choice to economically enhance one’s circumstance – the way my mother was able to so tenaciously.
Hortense: Having grown up in the UK, I can safely say that girls are as empowered as boys when it comes to primary, secondary and higher education. In my mind, the issue starts when entering the workforce. So what happens?
I think the divide materialises when women start thinking about managing and thriving both professionally and in family life. Trying to “do it all” and ultimately hoping to “have it all”, a problem that many women, including myself, struggle with early on in their career. One of the key areas of our empowerment is access to a support network to manage multiple facets of life; and that could mean many different things, to many different women… It’s an ability to thrive as a woman of the world, let it be part of a corporate, NGO or as an entrepreneur. It’s about the ability to choose your path and know you can have just as much as your male counterparts.
Hortense and Layla: The reality is that women’s empowerment is multi-faceted and requires challenging many components of life today (cultural, family, corporate environments and incentive structures, government support, to list a few). Bottom line is economic empowerment translates into massive social, cultural, family, and economic value we cannot afford to ignore. There are significant opportunities for progress and now is the time to take on the challenge. We personally, will continue to encourage women in our surroundings to dream big, have courage and be assertive in realising their true potential.
As co-chairs, we work very closely together to not only provide a platform for young people to support a wonderful cause but also to helpour team achieve their personal goals. We believe that communities and support networks are what enables women’s empowerment and we do everything we can to embody that.
Hortense and Layla are chairs of UNICEF Next Gen London.
Written as part of the campaign Empower Women which is part of UN Women.