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Maz Hakim, forum moderator, and Mariam Al Samadi, founder of DXBWomen. Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: To achieve a world with equal opportunities, women are told to “choose to challenge” — individually and collectively — to bring about change. This was highlighted during a virtual forum in Dubai celebrating International Women’s Day on Monday.

Bearing the theme, ‘Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world’, the forum, organised by Flow, a pioneering healthy-eating hub at Jumeirah Emirates Towers, delved on the importance of women standing at the frontline of the global crisis — as innovators, volunteers, community organisers and entrepreneurs.

On the panel were Maz Hakim, a popular Afghan-Australian radio presenter who moderated the session, Heather Harries, founder of the Stop and Help initiative, Mariam Al Samadi, founder of DXBWomen, and Carolyn Yaffe, a psychotherapist at Medcare Camali Mental Health Clinic.

The four women discussed how to adapt to a changing environment by sharing their own experiences and challenges they faced, before achieving a certain level of success.

Never too late to dare

Carolyn said she considers herself a late bloomer, but has nevertheless been able to achieve something. Heather added: “What makes you proud — just follow your own dreams and you will keep going. Always challenge yourself and others.” Mariam, for her part, noted: “You should have the will to push forward.” She said that women should remove all doubts and it is equally important to be associated with like-minded people to have an effective support system.

Remove self-doubt

“Entrepreneurs are like best friends — they seek each other out, support each other and remove self-doubt. If you have ideas, go for it,” added the 26-year-old Mariam, a Palestinian-American expat who has been residing in the UAE for ten years. She had previously worked in the media and marketing sector. What is inspiring about Mariam is that during the pandemic, she founded DXB Women, alongside her friend and business partner, Anan, to support struggling female-led businesses in Dubai. DXBWomen has been promoting women empowerment and showcasing each businesses’ unique products and overall experience. DXBWomen has become a valuable platform for anyone seeking support in the business community. ‘You are not inadequate’

Carolyn noted women should address the sense of anxiety when they are in situations where they feel inadequate. She added: “It’s okay to be sad, angry and have fears. But one has to face the fears because no matter how many times you fail, you will always stand and pick up.” She added it’s also important to find a mentor who is inspiring. Within the family, meanwhile, parents, specifically the fathers, should enable daughters to become achievers.

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Maz Hakim, forum moderator, with Heather Harries, founder of Stop and Help initiative. Image Credit: Supplied

Kindness exchange

Heather, for her part, tapped on the kindness and collective effort by community members during the pandemic. She started a ‘kindness exchange initiative’ called Stop and Help, which is basically connecting donors for families who need help with their daily needs. At the beginning of the pandemic, Heather set up a Facebook page to provide families with books, toys, cakes and essentials, an initiative that has grown exponentially over the last 12 months — supporting more than 100,000 people. Through the initiative, Heather has provided 2.4 million meals to date by delivering thousands of boxes of groceries and good deeds for families who have been impacted severely.

Heather noted gender did not play a role in the initiative, it was equal compassion by men and women. “Last year has been a catalyst for true compassion, people stopped and helped to make a difference in other people’s lives,” she added.

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How to remove gender bias

The panelists all agreed that men should also a play a role in removing gender bias in society. Heather noted: “A male-dominated world disables women’s abilities.”

Mariam noted men at workplaces can take specific steps towards gender equality by demanding equal pay for both men and women. “If they are quiet about it, they are just complying with the status quo,” she underlined.