Courtesy of Sandile Nkala Self Defined
Feminism is an important topic at most United States university campuses, including NYU New York, where the Feminist Society is a popular student-led organization. At NYU Abu Dhabi feminism is a topic touched upon, unlike in New York, through organizations such as weSTEM, Women in Business, the Women’s Mentorship Program and the Women’s Leadership Network. The campus has hosted feminist-oriented events, such as in 2013 when Caroline Gobena, NYUAD alumna invited representatives from the Women’s Leadership Network to promote women’s empowerment. The event saw the participation of at least 80 NYUAD students and was considered a success. However, student turnout at such events held by NYUAD’s feminist organizations has decreased since then.
To this end, The Gazelle met with the UAE ambassador of a feminist movement to find out how her organization functions and in which ways the NYUAD community can be a part of this initiative.
Sandile Nkala, a 17-year-old student from Dubai, shares her experience as ambassador of Self Defined, a movement that strives to empower young women in making a difference through motivational speaking. Sandile, a self-declared feminist, reflected on the evolution of feminism and the problems that the feminist movement has encountered.
The Gazelle: What is the Self Defined movement and what does it intend to accomplish?
Sandile Nkala: Self Defined is a Christian motivational movement [formed] by both men and women trying to look out for girls from the ages of 14 to 25. We revolve around three aspects: educate, inspire and empower. The movement started in Cape Town, South Africa and it now has branches in Zimbabwe, Nigeria, the United States and the UAE. We want to inspire girls to be the best version of themselves, not to conform to society's standards, but to aspire for greatness.
TG: How do you advertise the movement and what activities does it carry out?
SN: We have an Instagram account and a Facebook page where we showcase girls’ talents to encourage each other. We also have empowerment classes with guest speakers to inspire these girls to become what they want to be and not just settle for mediocrity. We also try to help girls coming from backgrounds of poverty, bullying and low self-esteem issues. For example, we collect donations and then provide [menstrual products], food and clothes for girls who are underprivileged.
TG: Have you organized these activities in the UAE?
SN: I have [conducted] a few empowerment classes in Al Ain, where I used to live before moving to Dubai. I recently spoke with the Self Defined founder and we decided to reach out to young women in the UAE who might have [experienced] rape, bullying or low self-esteem, and then share these stories with the movement in order to empower and help each other.
TG: You define yourself as a feminist. What does this label mean to you?
SN: In my opinion being a feminist is striving for gender equality — politically, economically and socially.
TG: Do you feel that the feminist movement today has evolved into something different?
SN: Feminism has been distorted in so many ways. The basic definition I just [mentioned] is what we should be focusing on, but now [some] feminists are making it about being better than men. Feminism is not linked to hating men. Some [also] believe that being a feminist means being more manly but by doing so we are looking down on girls being more feminine, and that’s not what feminism is about.
TG: New research suggests that a boy born in 2016 will be 75 percent less likely to attend college than his sister. Other research shows that women are favored when applying for STEM job positions or graduate school. Do you think feminists are responsible for these changes?
SN: I feel like universities are now pressured to conform to what feminists [demand for]. I have a problem with that because feminism is about equality and we should give everybody equal opportunities.
TG: Do you have advice for all the women who still feel undermined by men in the workplace or classroom?
SN: I will speak from experience since I always had a strong personality, which is not really encouraged among girls. I was called aggressive and bossy due to the expectation to be more soft as a girl. I never wanted to conform to that so my advice is to be the authentic person you are by [continuing to express] yourself and only caring about your own goals, and not about other people’s opinions.
Andrea Arletti is Deputy News Editor. Email him at [email protected]