Time to Get Personal

I’m the middle child and only daughter. I was confused throughout most my childhood about what it meant to be the only girl in my family, alongside my three brothers. But my confusion was almost always sedated by my persistence, or what my mother calls stubbornness. Whenever I reflect on my aspirations and what I value in my work and personal life, I cannot help but think of my mother as the person who has had the greatest influence on my perception and ambitions.

When I was young, it felt as though I was trying to catch up with my mom’s unfulfilled dreams – her dream to pursue higher education, fall in love, travel, and work. I studied languages because she wished she spoke English. While it could be unsatisfying to attempt to live someone else’s dream, mirroring my mother’s ambitions has laid the foundation of who I am today.

Growing up, there were always certain activities I was deprived of, like basketball practice or karate that my brothers were enrolled in. I was allowed everything equally, but with a certain restrictions. I could go play marbles on the street with my friends, but must be home when the sun sets, while my brothers were allowed to come home hours later. As I got older, these time stipulations took on a different form, turning into a curfew that weaved anxiety into my daily routine.

During my sophomore year of university, life took a different turn. Due to family circumstances, I had to start working. My work schedule made a mockery of my curfew. Becoming the breadwinner, along with turning 18, shifted the power dynamics within my family.

That same year, I travelled abroad for the first time. My participation in cross-cultural initiatives and exposure to different backgrounds challenged me, as people would nonchalantly throw stereotypical judgements in my face. I began feeling like I had to explain my reality to everyone, both people at home and others abroad. By that time, mere coincidence led me to an online course on women’s health and human rights. And that was it! The course was not just stats and figures; it made room for interviews with women who were taking the lead in their communities. It added faces to the figures. It felt personal and eye-opening, with references to “rights,” not just legal jargon. At the time, I had never seen anything like it. I finally found the language to articulate what stood in my way, and I have been learning ever since.

Every time I think about this accidental virtual journey, I think about how issues surrounding health had never resonated with me earlier in life. I had never imagined engaging with this sector of work when I was making future plans. I wonder if it’s because some disciplines – like health, law, and governance – are often constructed and gendered to feel distant and remote to women. Many women in my context have not been allowed to engage in these personal and political ideas.

I think this is the the reason things are not changing and social and political violations are not being uprooted. For most of us, our interest starts from a personal place, but by the time we roll up our sleeves, all we see are numbers. This field of work tends to look at issues from a global lens, making local realities feel distant at times. The grand scheme of things is important, but we must not forget the personal journeys that brought us here. We must continue to personalize the political and fight on.


#YoungWomenSay is a collaboration between SayItForward.org and The Torchlight Collective in support of International Youth Day 2018 and culminating on International Day of the Girl. This campaign features blogs from incredible young women from around the world, and is designed to harness the power of storytelling and social media to drive attention to the lived experiences, dreams, and aspirations of young women around the world

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Nana Abuelsoud