It took me a long time to find my own voice.
Being raised in a generation and culture where women were still viewed as second-class citizens, my dreams and sense of self were often obscured with fear and doubt while growing up.
A talk given by Somalian refugee Ilhan Omar, who was recently elected into Congress, inspired me profoundly. She said that when she was born, a family friend apologized to her parents for having a girl as their first child, to which Ilhan’s father replied, “My daughter will grow up to do great things.”
The little girl was indeed raised to believe that she could and would succeed in anything she willed to do, and she did exactly that.
I told a family member about this story because it resonated with my own upbringing, although my experience was on the other side of the spectrum.
My father always expressed how badly he wanted a son, he couldn’t wait to bring a boy into the family. My mother tried her best, but this was well before the women’s movement had gone mainstream and she hadn’t found her voice or her power yet either.
My parents divorced and he remarried. His new wife gave him the boy he always wanted, and now I hardly ever hear from him.
During my growing years, I was surrounded by the mentality of being a less worthy member of society all because of the gender I was born into. I didn’t only experience this attitude from my father, it came from all around—it was embedded into the fabric of my culture, the media was laden with messages which regularly reinforced this belief to all.
When this is the mentality you are raised around, it becomes deep-seated, and it takes a lot of commitment, patience, and inner work to finally reach a space of self-love, self-worth, and self-esteem.
Our youngest years are fragile and impressionable, and what we are taught about our self-worth during those years impacts us throughout adulthood. It’s no secret that mothers are a girl’s first role model, which is why it is so important to ensure that we teach our girls to be empowered early on through our words, actions, and behaviors.
I want a better tomorrow for my daughter. My six-year-old girl is strong and sassy, and I love that about her. It is my mission to raise her to feel empowered, to encourage her to chase big dreams, and to know self-love.
She is a blank canvas at this age, and it is my responsibility to be a good role model. She holds me accountable just by being there, and I love that. Her father and I strive to give her the tools she needs to embrace her uniqueness and to speak up fearlessly.
We teach her that her feelings are valid, that her opinions matter. We discuss and read books that celebrate brave, female changemakers throughout history. Her school has a STEM program and encourages young girls to play the roles of scientist, mathematician, and engineer without gender stereotypes.
She tells me she wants to be a teacher and a mommy when she grows up, and I tell her to chase whatever dreams give her purpose.
The women’s movement has gone fiercely mainstream in recent years, and I am so grateful that my daughter gets to experience this time of collective empowerment and uprising. These days when I switch on the news, the media is overflowing with messages, marches, and movements paving the path for gender equality, and the collective voice is only getting louder.
My hope is that this movement will play a significant role in the better tomorrow that I dream of for my daughter, and for all women on a global scale.
It is through my journey of raising my daughter that I’m learning to discover my true passions in life and to tackle them fearlessly. I’m learning that creating my voice is just as important as finding it.
Self-doubt still occasionally pops up, but no longer stands between me and my dreams, and raising a girl boss gave me the confidence to rewrite a more empowered version of my life story.
My father may not have believed in me, but after quite the journey, I have found belief in myself. And that is the greatest gift I can give to my daughter.