Happy International Women’s Day 2017

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Today marks more than 100 years since the inaugural International Women’s Day. We are once again reminded that despite the phenomenal strides women from all walks of life have made, we are still stuck behind cultural, social, and political challenges for gender equality.

I do not want this post to be a feminist rant (frankly speaking, I have issues with the term ‘feminism’ that I may pick up in a later blog) but for now I want to give a brief insight in to today’s event that I organised for International Women’s Day at work, with the theme Women in Science.

I met some admirable Professors, Postdocs, Students, overall females from different stages of their career and heard their experiences and obstacles they faced in a male dominated field.

Sat there in the audience, with one eye on the clock panicking that we are overrunning and one eye on the projector waiting to run over for an IT issue that I would be hopeless at, I still managed to listen in and some key parts of the talk either surprised me or resonated with me.

The female speakers all seemed to constantly refer to this dubious term ‘luck’, being at the right place at the right time, luckily being pushed into positions, luckily being offered promotions. But what does this term ‘luck’ realistically mean. Are we as women using ‘luck’ as a scapegoat for the real reasons we are given opportunities – because we work so damn hard! We deserve them!

As women we wear so many hats on a daily basis, as a mother, daughter, wife, colleague, cleaner, cook, carer, diary, mediator, that when something comes through for us we either feel guilt at the opportunity, guilt giving more time to work than home, or guilt of giving more time to the children than at work or we feel that we have been extremely ‘lucky’ in our achievement. Echoing the words of today’s host, we should be able to stand up proud and accept the opportunity for what it is,  not ours out of luck or something that we should feel guilty about but feel PRIDE in.

We at times are our biggest barriers; our self-belief is so little that we believe we are not the right person for the job in particular in male dominated fields. In turn we make excuses rather than possibilities.

It’s fitting that the theme of International Women’s Day 2017 is #BeBoldforChange. In an ever-growing interconnected world, we all have a responsibility to stand up for gender equality, and that is not just females standing up for females, but ALL of humanity as this will support people everywhere, this is an international crisis, Happy International Women’s Day.

Written by Sameera Rafiq

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From Marrakech to Berber, The Charm of Morocco!

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Marrakech is an enchanting must see, known for its narrow winding streets that call for adventure, a labyrinth of souks, mysterious snake charmers, locals singing and dancing – not understanding a word that leaves their mouth. You are left mesmerised in the heart of the city Djemma El Fna, the charm echoes through the Medina with the peaceful call to prayer.

The endless variety of craftsmanship from leather goods to coloured silks, baskets, spices and oils make the Marrakech souks the largest in Morocco and are world famous for the most exotic place to shop.

The vibrant culture captivates the city that doesn’t sleep, surprisingly you find yourself sipping mint tea in the early hours of the morning with multilingual locals that keep you fascinated with their historic Berber tales.

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But who are these Moroccan Berbers that the City speaks of?

The roots of the Berber culture reach deep down into Morocco’s proto-history. Berbers are proud raiders, they fought against the Romans, Arab, and French invaders. Despite the Romans and others who have attempted to colonize the Berber people, they have managed to preserve their own language and culture.

I wanted to know more, see more and feel more of this culture, so we set out to the historic Berber village, it felt as if we stepped back into time as we climbed up the narrow (non-existent) pathway lined with clay houses, set to the backdrop of the majestic Atlas mountains which we tirelessly hiked, every step of the way was marked with prevailing silence from the awe of our surroundings. The awe continued as we rode the camels into the sunset of the captivating Sahara Desert where we were hosted by Berbers, entertained by Berbers, dressed like Berbers, ate food made by the Berbers and lived a night without all our comforts as Berbers.

When I set off on this travel I kept asking why it was that these people, who had also visited the vibrant city of Marrakech chose to live in their villages with no electricity, running water, paved roads or schools. Children have to walk for five hours to get to Tilmi, the nearest village with a school. All food is home grown and clothes home stitched.

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The more I spoke and stayed with the villagers I understood that they illustrated a phenomenally strong link with their land that leaving it would be betrayal to their identity. They were proud, happy people with a sense of community, hospitality, sharing food (no matter how little they had) and a specific relationship with spirituality.

As we rode the camel’s back into the sunrise, it marked a new day, a new thought  – ‘WHAT IS A BETTER LIFE?’

As a true Brit I entered the foreign land assuming that these people were less fortunate, required aid, and had been left so far behind. Yet they embraced the fortune that we disconcertingly map out and treat as a destination rather than a way of life.

Their imperishable happiness and the way in which their wise eyes looked at me left me with one question –

Who really is better off? Is an easy life necessarily a better life?

Written by Sameera Rafiq