27 February, 2024
Influencers, Lifestyle

6 Influencers Share What International Women’s Day Means To Them

27 February, 2024

6 influencers share what IWD means to them, along with how they’re challenging gender roles and breaking biases in Hong Kong…

It’s one of Sassy’s greatest joys to be able to celebrate women’s achievements and share their voices on our platform. Over the years, we’ve been honoured to meet and work with a number of incredible women who have shown us what it means to be a strong female figure in today’s world. From artists and photographers, to civil engineers and founders of successful businesses, we’re proud to spotlight these women and share what they are doing to support their fellow females in the fight for gender equality.

Ahead, we catch up with six inspiring influencers to find out what International Women’s Day means to them, their experiences with gender imbalance and what they are doing to #InspireInclusion.

Read More: 10 Uplifting Autobiographies & Memoirs By Remarkable Women

IWD Influencers: Luisa Awolaja

Louisa Awolaja, Co-Founder Of HomeGrown The Podcast & TEDx Speaker

Alongside her co-host Fo, Louisa “Lou” Awolaja is on a mission to inform and inspire fellow Black expats in the city with their Hong Kong-based podcast HomeGrown. The British-Nigerian diversity and inclusion specialist has been working to dispel biases and foster a sense of community by sharing stories from the city’s Black community that celebrate diversity.

What does International Women’s Day mean to you?

To me International Women’s Day is really about two key things: 1) championing gender equality and women’s rights, and 2) celebrating women in all forms. The concept of intersectionality is extremely important – while we look at equality through the lens of gender, we also have to consider the added layers of race, culture, socio-economics, sexual orientation and other factors. I love that it is celebrated in so many countries across the world (over 60 apparently!), allowing us all to come together in conversation and community to lead change.

What has been your experience with gender imbalance?

Starting out my career as an engineering graduate, I got very used to being “one of the few” in most spaces – and while this shifted when I entered the corporate world, it never fully changed. I mentioned above the importance of considering intersectionality, and I have seen in my own career some of the ways it plays out.

I’ve had to navigate biases based on both race and gender, and I actively work to remove those obstacles for the younger generation now coming through the system.

How are you striving to challenge gender roles in your daily life?

I think challenging bias in the workplace is one of the ways I can have the biggest impact. Sharing and educating others to see beyond what we class as “typical” markers or criteria for success and leadership. As an example, many studies show that in a meeting (or classroom) setting, a woman is often less likely to share a new or challenging opinion in such an open forum. This can sometimes be misconstrued as her being less knowledgeable or competent, but that’s rarely the case. If the leader instead actively engages each of the members of the meeting, and brings everyone’s voice to the table, it allows everyone to thrive. I do my part to create these opportunities, and encourage others to do the same.

Read More: We Chat To The Founders Of HomeGrown Podcast About The Black Expat Experience In Hong Kong

Aanchal Wadhwani, Founder of STAGE Creatives

Photographer, art director, entrepreneur, model and actress Aanchal transforms the fashion landscape in Hong Kong with her inclusive model and talent agency, STAGE Management, which represents beauty in all its forms. Her goal was to create an agency that celebrated diversity and inclusivity in the hopes of improving the local model and acting industry.

What does International Women’s Day mean to you?

Women’s Day is a global celebration of womanhood. It’s a day to celebrate and empower the incredible women in our lives (although that should be every day!).

What has been your experience with gender imbalance in Hong Kong?

Working in a male dominated industry has been a consistent battle of constantly having to prove myself. As a photographer, I’ve had to prove my work is really my work. As a model and actor, I’ve been subjected to sexual requests by male production crew members. As an entreprenueur, I’ve been challenged by male peers on statistics and whether women can really run the show.

Working in a male dominated industry has been a consistent battle of constantly having to prove myself.

Some of the wildest things I’ve been told throughout my career:

“Are you sure you can carry your gear? It looks heavy and you’re so thin!”
“You’re so young and you run all these businesses? Your parents must be the reason to your success!”
“Oh, you’re a photographer!? Do you know the technicalities or do you just have your assistant help you with that?”

My career began more than 11 years ago, but I’ve noticed an improvement over the past few years with more awareness on the subject. Hopefully the next generation of female entrepreneurs will find it more welcoming!

How are you striving to challenge gender roles in Hong Kong?

I truly believe that if I continue to push forward and break down the walls as I chase my goals, I am simultaneously paving a way for other women to follow suit if they wish. They’ll have more confidence, a sense of camaraderie and hopefully the strength to break barriers of their own!

Read More: That Girl – Aanchal Wadhwani, Actress & Photographer

Inès Gafsi, Co-Founder & COO Of Female Entrepreneurs Worldwide (FEW)

As Co-founder and COO of FEW, Inès leads the platform’s operations, international business development and special projects like FEW incubator “Invest in Women Who Tech”. She also heads up the chapter of international charity, Inspiring Girls Hong Kong, empowering girls to believe in their dreams by connecting them with female role models.

What does International Women’s Day mean to you?

Celebrating women’s advancements to collectively close the gender gap. It’s a day to remember that there is still a lot to do but also a day to inspire each other to dream bigger.

What has been your experience with gender imbalance in Hong Kong?

I personally feel that the gender imbalance in Hong Kong is not as strong as it is in the West because in the FEW network there are a lot of powerful and accomplished women. However, statistics still show that the number of women on boards or leadership positions is lower than men. Startups led by women struggle to get funded and overall access to capital remains difficult for women entrepreneurs.

How are you striving to challenge gender roles in your daily life?

Everything always starts with our mindset. We are often more limited by ourselves than by external parties. That is why I surround myself with people who believe in me and help me broaden my perspectives. Women in the corporate world should tap into male allies to be mentored to the top of the ladder. There are more and more female business-focused funds and investors looking at supporting specifically women in business which we bring together on the FEW platform. In the ecosystem we build, we gather men and women mentors supporting the growth of future female leaders.

IWD Influencers: Tiffany Huang

Tiffany Huang

Tiffany is a Taiwanese-American writer who has lived across the US, Taipei and Hong Kong. She is the founder of Spill Stories, a publisher and collective run by diverse women sharing personal stories for a nuanced world. Spill Stories has self-published several books, including Sex & Power and Black in Asia. Her passions lie in writing personal, raw stories at the intersection of gender and culture that encourage learning, empathy and catharsis among writers and readers alike. She is now based in San Diego after moving away from Hong Kong following a five-year stay. During the day, she works as a Customer Experience Design Director in Hospitality. The places she misses the most are ACO bookstore in Wan Chai (where Spill Stories books are stocked) and Grandpa Roast Goose Restaurant (阿爺燒鵝餐室) in Sai Wan Ho.

What does International Women’s Day mean to you?

It seems to me that people have lost sight of what International Women’s Day stands for. On March 8, someone will give me a pink balloon and invite me to a Champagne brunch at Soho, and that’s it. That being said, I think IWD is a good reminder that there is a struggle for women everywhere to overcome, whether it’s in the boardroom or bedroom.

For me, the day is an invitation for everyone, regardless of gender, to use our skills and networks to impact those changes meaningfully and unapologetically.

What has been your experience with gender imbalance in Hong Kong?

My experiences with sexism were less about one-off dramatic events, but reoccurring uncomfortable situations that made me feel lesser than, perpetuated by men, women and policies. In social situations, I’m lucky to have had allies at work who stood up for me, friends who spoke up, and sometimes, I had enough courage to say something myself. Most of the difference has been made due to the quality of friends I had around me and the quality of leadership I had at my work, and less about my own words and actions. I am so grateful for our team, including Janice Li, Charnell McQueen, Boipelo Seswane, and Dyondra Wilson for leading the charge with me.

How are you striving to challenge gender roles in Hong Kong?

I’d like Spill Stories to be a place where people can share personal stories and speak their truth. I think both men and women should have an opportunity to share their stories, and through honest conversation, learn how we can support each other. Some of the best stories have actually been written by men, because it’s so rare to see men share their feelings so openly, and I’d love to encourage that in a future series.

Read More: We Chat To The Editor Of Spill Stories Tiffany Huang About “Black In Asia” Anthology

Ophelia Jacarini

Ophelia is a multidisciplinary visual artist whose work involves interwoven processes of structural movements within the female form. Coming into her eighth year in Hong Kong, she continues to be influenced by her surroundings in her artistic process, while allowing her work to exist as an extension to how she believes to live: free and independent.

What does International Women’s Day mean to you?

It means taking the opportunity to rethink the way things are between men and women, and how that has changed over the centuries. We still have a lot to work on.

What has been your experience with gender imbalance in Hong Kong?

There is a common misconception that gender inequality only exists in developing countries. Despite its modernity, Hong Kong is still deeply sexist in many ways.

Some recent pay surveys make for depressing reading as the gender pay gap has actually worsened. The truth is, there is still not a single country in the world which can claim to have achieved complete gender parity.

Women have consistently made up the majority of victims in domestic abuse and sexual harassment cases. Barriers at work hold women back in their careers. Sexism is not only a workplace issue, it is a much more complicated problem where imbalance is happening at home. The work/life/family balance for men and women is still not shared equally.

How are you striving to challenge gender roles in Hong Kong?

As a visual artist I see my work as an opportunity to address this topic. In my backstage project I translated digital imagery of myself into a thought provoking message on the stigma surrounding female nudity. The platform mostly displays selected images of women in provocative poses, in which one image will display a suggestive photo followed by a revealing version that can only be accessed by users who have a paid membership to the platform.

This project is my way to understand the complexity of human sexuality and awareness. Can a female body be perceived as sensual instead of sexual? How has advertising trained us to observe what is decent or indecent? The purpose of this ongoing visual art project and social experiment is to test boundaries and the grey area of female nudity, and to convey how a digital audience perceives artistic nudity and soft porn.

Read More: 10 Questions With Ophelia Jacarini, Hong Kong-Based French Artist

IWD Influencers: Cammie Warburton

Cammie Warburton

Cammie is a Hong Kong-based wellness photographer who believes photography can be a powerful tool to help empower women. Her passion lies in celebrating humans of all sizes, forms, abilities and ages. She strives to make each of her subjects shine, feel comfortable and help them see themselves in a new light.

What does International Women’s Day mean to you?

International Women’s Day to me is a day to acknowledge the women throughout history who have paved the way for women like me to achieve their dreams.

IWD is a reminder for me to be proud of how far I have come as a woman of colour. To be proud of the conversations I’ve had surrounding what it means to be a woman in modern society. To be proud of my lineage, the struggles of my mother, of my grandmother and of my biological mother. IWD is a day I pay tribute to all the incredible women in my life.

What has been your experience with gender imbalance in Hong Kong?

I have encountered sexism through fellow photographers on Instagram thinking I was male bodied, and after discovering I’m not, deciding not to work with me. It took me by surprise, and ever since then, I have rebranded myself and my photography work to speak up fearlessly about women’s experiences – body awareness, mental health, self pleasure and period talk. I can see that female photographers are on the rise in Hong Kong. Photography is a predominantly male-dominated space and I’m truly blessed to have felt the impact of my practice, helping support women in representing themselves and their brand through the gaze of a woman.

How are you striving to challenge gender roles in Hong Kong?

Through having conversations! From having everyday “uncomfortable” conversations at family dinners and correcting men on a night out, to hitting people with facts on gender inequality in Hong Kong and sharing stories of women who don’t have a voice – every little helps!

Featured image courtesy of Sassy Media Group, images courtesy of respective influencers.

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