Who is the person under a Hijab*? (or a niqab or burka- some of the traditional Muslim women's clothes). Who is really the woman underneath that piece of clothing? Often times their attire may prevent others from seeing beyond who these women may really be. Many of these women are scientists, engineers, doctors, Olympians, warm mothers, bread winners, politicians, entrepreneurs, some of the most amazing people I've had the chance to meet.
In the past 7 years; in several of my Empowerment Programs for Women world-wide, I've had the honor and the opportunity to work face to face and shoulder to shoulder with Muslim Women. I've coached them and trained dozens of them mainly in communication, presentation skills, leadership and mediation; in places that go from Dubai to India, from Germany to Lebanon, from Egypt to Qatar to Angola. Many of them work in Universities, NGOs, corporations, professional networks or are high performing athletes. They get involved not only because they've got the academic background needed, they also do it because they want women like themselves to fully participate in their communities, regions, organizations and gain impact with their collective voices. All of them have broken stereotypes and paradigms that - even as a world traveler - I would not have been to leave behind.
I will not generalize; I will only speak about the amazing Muslim Women who I've had the honor to work with. They are so many, they can no longer be called exceptions. They are role models in their communities and countries.
Here are THREE things I've learnt from these amazing women and that may surprise you:
1. They are vivid examples of resilience, tenacity, and persistency. They can withstand pressure. They are professionals with capacity to work with challenging situations and people; courage to take a stand, able to handle failures and recover from knockbacks.
2. They don't shy away from holding authority positions, they exercise leadership, they are influential change-makers. Many of them are able to challenge the status quo as well as to be diplomatic. Authoritative and responsible, with capacity to inspire respect from colleagues - both male and female.
3. They foster strong interpersonal skills, empathy. Many of them have proven to be great connectors, communicators, able to engage others, often using humour and enthusiasm.
Yet, Muslim women in many parts of the world confront the limitations of discrimination and inequality. In fact, 20 of the 25 lowest-ranking countries on the last World Economic Forum Gender Gap Index (which ranks women's participation in society) are Muslim-majority countries. Although these women's lives are influenced by a complex interaction of religious, cultural, social, economic, political and other factors, Islam has special influence.
Regardless of that, the fact is no one would like to be judged or tagged just by a piece of clothing, or by narrow minds. With a little bit more empathy and awareness, we can simply recognize we don't know what kind of amazing stories, minds and human quality may be before eyes; stay open and you may be surprised! After collecting memorable experiences and learning from these fantastic Muslim women around the World, I've got say THANKS!