Challenging Times, Inspirational Women

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#ChooseToChallenge – We spoke to 4 Muslim women doing exactly that.

To celebrate International Women’s Day this year, Muslim Census wanted to gain an insight into the careers of four talented women and showcase their achievements so far.

We spoke with Dr Samira Hassan, (General Practitioner focusing on family medicine), Nafisa Bakkar, (CEO and Co-founder of Amaliah), Suma Din (Author and Researcher) and Amina Aweis (Software Engineer and Content Creator).

Read how these women strive to break barriers and create inclusive work environments for themselves and other Muslim women.

This year’s theme for International Women’s Day, “#ChooseToChallenge”, raises awareness against bias and calls for a commitment to carving out a more inclusive and equal world. With women continuing to reside on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic, by making up 75.8% of schoolteachers and 58% of caregivers, there has never been a more pivotal time to spotlight the women who organise, orchestrate and make vital decisions.

#1 What advice would you give to a young woman who wants to achieve what you have in your respected field of work?

For Nafisa Bakkar, the CEO of Amaliah, an online media platform that serves to amplify the voice of Muslim women, she insists it’s networking:

“Social media, LinkedIn, the internet in general has opened up so many channels of how you can network. I’ve got work come through my Twitter DMs, met people on LinkedIn, I’ve built my network by just emailing people and just saying, ‘hey, I’d love to just have a chat and tell you about our work’…”

Dr Samira Hassan, who moved to the UK from Emirates at 15, is now a GP who specialises in family and palliative care. She recommends:

“[My] Biggest advice is believe in yourself. I think a lot of us are confined and bound by imposter syndrome. It cost me two years of my life, where I could have been in medical school, but of course everything happens for a reason, Qadr of Allah. But with regards to going for your dreams, in any field of life – believe in yourself.”

#2 What has been the biggest breakthrough in your career?

Amina Aweis, who went into the tech field at 20 and now offers others coding advice and focuses on creating content, answers:

“How can I make this experience even better [for the deaf audience].” 1 in 6 of the UK’s adult population are affected by hearing loss. Amina strives to make online content more accessible for her deaf audience by offering a sign language interpreter in her YouTube videos. In doing so, YouTube spotlighted her channel.

Dr Samira: “How medicine can fit into my life, because it has to fit into my life, not the other way round”

For Suma Din: “There are different measures of success. As a Muslim woman, have your intention clear.”

#3 What single barrier to success do you think has become easier for the younger generation of Muslim women?

Nafisa: “We are seeing more platforms that are Muslim owned which gives you more access to knowledge, gives you more access to mentors … role models …it would be there’s more access, there’s more relevant role models both in terms of location, class, religion, upbringing.”

Dr Samira: “More young Muslim women are being able to see themselves in these professions that were considered Whitey lofty mountain tops that only the men would be able to access, particularly White middle-aged men … you no longer have to feel that it is impossible because somebody like you hasn’t made it.”

Amina: “Definitely connections and communities in the digital space has become a lot more accessible and easier.”

Suma:There’s more representation and more universal sisterhood … You can carve your own path by communicating with so many other amazing women.”

#4 Would you consider motherhood one of your working roles?

Suma: “They [mothers] would often put themselves down without realising it, saying ‘I’m not doing anything, I’ve been job hunting, but I don’t work, I’m just at home.’ And I would say to them, ‘Are you a mum? You are doing a job. If you can do a second job then, well done, but you are one hundred percent doing a job – motherhood is a valuable job.

I will always say, motherhood has been and is my number one job!  I am not imposing that on anyone else but I will never apologise for saying that either. In my opinion, motherhood spins this whole planet, you take mothers’ work away for a week, and you have nothing.

#5 What does the future look like for Muslim women?

Amina: “I want Muslim women to really tap into [tech], I think there is so much potential in terms of what we can give, our creativity, our knowledge, our empathy – there are so many opportunities here. I think this is a great time for Muslim women to tap into the tech industry, for sure”

Dr Samira: “I think the future is bright, I think Muslim women will redefine their own roles in different spheres of work, of politics, in science, in the house, in every form of humanitarian and geopolitical work […] these challenges [they have faced] has only polished the diamond within them.”

Nafisa: “It depends what day you’re asking because one day this week it looked like a Muslim woman, not being able to come back to the UK even though she’s British,

 […] I think what I am optimistic about is Muslim women being afforded to be able to follow pathways as they haven’t always thought of as for themselves.”

Suma: “[…] there are a lot of opportunities, a lot of doors open, which is wonderful.

I think the world needs their skills and talents because their upbringing combines, spiritual, emotional, educational and cultural development which equips them well. On the other hand […] In order to channel your skills and keep your values is one very tough trek. Upholding your faith and intrinsic morals in a world where these are in decline takes resilience.”

The success that these women and the wider population have achieved in their careers is reflected in the statistic found by the University of Leeds that showed Muslim women work twice as hard to succeed in the face of hostility and discrimination at work. This International Women’s Day we #ChooseToChallenge what women are capable of.

The interviews were conducted by Adiba Borsha and Thamsia Salam.

Check out Suma Din’s published books on Amazon.

Check out the Amaliah Website, co-found by Nafisa.

Check out Amina’s YouTube channel.

Check out Dr Samira’s YouTube Channel.