About 45 people were attending the Zoom call from their home, mostly women from different ages. The first speaker of this evening was Hana Taher, who grew up in Egypt and moved back to her home country after graduating from Erasmus University. She recently co-founded ‘The Us Space’, an online platform that allowed people to have powerful conversations about ‘controversial’ topics. “Being raised in Egypt came with a lot of expectations,” she says. “I was constantly criticised for how I looked, how I dressed, how I acted – all broken down to how to attract the perfect man. However, my dad raised me to be independent and to never rely on a man. I have always been outspoken, ambitious and free-minded and those traits were not always appreciated by Egyptian men, who called me intimidating. However, only recently I started to realise those comments were a compliment. Right now, I am proud of being the woman I am today.”

After the first speaker, people were assigned to break-out rooms. In these rooms, they were encouraged to discuss various questions, such as ‘What is it like for you being a woman today?’ and ‘What does female empowerment mean to you?’.

Speaking up

Amber van Workum, third-year student International Business Administration, started off her speech with a shocking fact: 30 per cent of all women experience physical or sexual abuse by an intimate partner at some point during their life. She shared her story about her childhood experience with physical and psychological abuse. “One day when I was 14, I came home before my brother. I locked the door of my room to be safe, but when my brother found the door locked, he started screaming and banging on the door. I tried to ignore him at first, but he was screaming so loud I couldn’t focus on my homework. At some point, he kicked the door with so much force, the wooden door started to crack and a hole appeared. Fortunately, this threw my brother off as well and he left me alone, but I have never been this afraid in my life.”

“Years later, I still get panic attacks when I hear a loud thud on a door. And the effects of the psychological abuse last even longer,” she says. “We as a society hold this in place by minimising or ignoring experiences. We ask women ‘Why didn’t you just leave?’, not knowing that 40 per cent of homicides happen when a woman tries to leave. That’s why speaking up is so important. Lots of women think their voices don’t matter, but they do. Your voice does matter.” Amber’s moving story led to a lot of positive comments and support in the chat.

Unconscious bias at the workplace

Tina Miedtank talks about her two years of working with UNESCO in Nepal, developing projects to help Nepalese girls and women speak their mind. “During my work there, all of my colleagues were male. I never talked to women, let alone immigrant women, and at that point it didn’t even ring a bell. Looking back, I realise that was just an example of how female forces are being taken less serious in the workplace. In addition, women also feel more insecure sometimes, as most vacancies are written to attract men rather than women. That’s why I want to tell young female academics: you can do it, you just have to go for it.”