8 March, 2022
What IWD Means To Me: IWD Influencers
What IWD Means To Me: IWD Influencers
Influencers, Lifestyle

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

8 March, 2022
What IWD Means To Me: IWD Influencers

Nine 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 nine inspiring influencers to find out what International Women’s Day means to them, their experiences with gender imbalance and what they are doing to #BreakTheBias.

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

IWD Influencers: Aanchal Wadhwani

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.

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

IWD Influencers: Ines Gafsi

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: Ishita Desai

Ishita Desai

Ishita Desai is the creator of Aanya, a local label founded on creative self-expression and empowerment. Originally from India, she hopes to share the narratives of her culture and craftsmanship through her bohemian curation. Her mission is to inspire women from grass-roots and the larger community to celebrate their identity in style.

What does International Women’s Day mean to you?

It’s a really exciting time to witness the power of the modern woman, and today is a day to celebrate and reflect on the achievements of pioneers from the past and present. I’ve always admired the way women gracefully handle the moving parts in their life; from their careers and education, to personal growth and relationships – it’s a delicate balancing act. I’m lucky to have examples of strong women in my family, who have actively shaped my worldview today. IWD is about passing that message forward, and taking charge of our narrative and impact on society.

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

I’ve had long conversations with female entrepreneurs and business owners, and they clearly have the same impulses as men in pursuing their career, but with limited support and opportunity. Some women have had to stall their careers after having children, and it’s difficult to hear about the hurdles they face with starting or scaling their business while balancing their personal responsibilities. Women from marginalised communities, including women of colour and trans women, face further difficulties. This disparity can be compounded further by socio-economic status and the systemic barriers that prevents them from scaling further.

I hope to facilitate change through dialogue and education, and help women from all walks of life succeed in their endeavours. For example, in 2018 we collaborated on a series of workshops with a group of refugee women where we trained them in sewing skills with the goal of creating items for retail. A single mother of three travelled two hours every Saturday to attend our workshops, and her commitment to herself and her family was incredibly inspiring to me.

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

With Aanya, I’ve naturally gravitated to collaborating with female-owned businesses and initiatives. Our pop-up concept is appealing to many women and ‘momtreprenuers’ as we manage their day-to-day sales operations, giving them more flexibility to design their working hours. I would love to see more supportive ecosystems, from corporates to start-ups, where women can build a healthy relationship with work and family.

We’ve also partnered up with social organisations based in India and Hong Kong that empower and train women in minority groups in sewing and pattern-making skills. The aim is to utilise their creativity and passion so that they can become financially empowered. Hopefully by breaking old cycles, we can shed new light on the power of women.

Read more: Sustainable Style – Eco and Ethical Local Fashion Brands

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 Wanchai (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?

In a place like Hong Kong, the way you are treated depends not only on gender, but also on factors like the colour of your skin, where you live, your political beliefs, your income, and what kind of accent you have. For me, while I worked in Hong Kong, I was in a very privileged position where my cultural background as an American and ability to speak Mandarin helped me navigate my professional and personal life more easily.

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.

For the near term, our March project is launching our Sex & Power book to encourage open conversation about sexuality and power dynamics that surround love and relationships. Part of feminism is embracing sexuality. We will be publishing stories about infidelity, workplace harassment, sex work and other manifestations of sex and power. We’ll also be inviting different experts, including a BDSM practitioner, breathwork facilitator, sex coach, art therapist, and burlesque dancer to share their insights on our IG stories. I’m looking forward to creating more conversation and having some fun along the way.

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

Christina Sieber

Nina Sieber

Known for impeccable style and strength in the fashion industry, Nina is the founder of cult local brand We Eat Avocado Toast (WEAT) which embodies the go-getting, cosmopolitan, confident and independent woman. Pledging to use her brand voice to embrace diversity and equality, WEAT works with models of all colours.

What does International Women’s Day mean to you?

To me, International Women’s Day is a time to celebrate the accomplishments of women all over the world and a promise to uplift and support more women in the year ahead. I am grateful to have a great network of wonderful women who are supporting me along my journey in building a brand. It is so inspirational to learn from other women, and so important to cheer each other on.

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

As a female founder, I’ve had to overcome many obstacles along the way. In several cases, I have experienced prejudice and not being taken seriously. It can be very frustrating. It helps to stay firm, level-headed, and continuing to have your goal in mind. In Hong Kong, I have found people to be very open-minded and sharing a common goal of realising one’s full potential.

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

As part of our new S/S21 campaign launch, produced in Sai Kung, we feature both female and male models styled with our new handbags. Since day one, diversity has been on our agenda and part of our brand DNA. Why should we limit ourselves with stereotypes and gender roles? When it comes to fashion, the creativity is endless and we value the possibilities we have today in challenging past norms. At WEAT, we strive to have a modern approach, re-think, and inspire. We pledge to use our brand voice and platform to embrace diversity and equality.

Read more: 10 Questions With Nina Sieber, Founder Of We Eat Avocado Toast

IWD Influencers: Anisha Thai

Anisha Thai

Half-Vietnamese and half-Comorian, Anisha was born and raised in Paris and is now based in Hong Kong as a dancer, model, choreographer, influencer and Civil Engineer. She’s also an ambassador for racial diversity and African culture in Asia, as much as a figure of female leadership. Anisha is consistently celebrating female empowerment and diversity through dance, and showing people how to turn their uniqueness into a superpower. After choreographing and dancing for international artists/brands such as Just Dance Wii, Khaled and Naf Naf, she moved to Hong Kong to pursue her Civil Engineering career. Managing both her passion and her career at the same time has always been her goal as part of her message to empower women, especially those working in male-dominated industries.

What does International Women’s Day mean to you?

It is a day we celebrate all women, from all backgrounds and races. We applaud their accomplishment, their power, their beauty and their impact on this planet. It is important to acknowledge that women are still not on the same equal foot as men; that we (women AND men) are still fighting to get there.

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

The experience that I have been having with gender imbalance is obvious given the field I work in: the construction sector. Until now, we still struggle to have an equal number of females in engineering positions or at management levels. Observing this makes me want to flip the current situation, I often experience conversations with men (and women) telling me: “Oh, you’re an engineer? But you don’t look like one.” – almost questioning it. The best way to reply is to question them: “what do you mean?”, then they might feel that their question was not acceptable. Yes we can be sexy, smart and have enough courage and determination to have our voice in male-dominated fields.

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

I do think that we need to highlight and expose more successful women as role models, whether it is by highlighting them on social media, interviews or showcasing their achievement so that the upcoming generations have a good representation of strong women and follow their lead. My way to achieve that is to use my own social media platforms to use my voice and build a community of women (and men), and have open conversations that challenge their thinking, celebrate women’s excellence and elevate women to an ultimate level of respect and universal appreciation.

Read more: That Girl: Anisha Thai, Dancer, Model & Civil Engineer

IWD Influencers: Ophelia Jacarini

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. We have come a long way, but still have so much to work towards. 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.

Back to top