Muna Issa on Extending the Rights of Women Worldwide

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Muna Issa - Trustee of The Duke of Edinburgh’s International Award - explains why equality is still on the agenda and what part the Duke of Edinburgh Award plays in promoting and extending the rights of women.

On International Women’s Day, we seek to reaffirm our commitment to the empowerment of women worldwide. The Duke of Edinburgh’s International Award helps to provide opportunities for women, especially those whom are marginalised, and to build their self-worth. Our many stories confirm that the Award is helping to bridge the gender gap in many communities and continues to play an important part in the fight for equality, particularly in field of non-formal education.

Muna Issa is a trustee of The Duke of Edinburgh’s International Award. Here she explains why equality is still on the agenda and what part the Award plays in promoting and extending the rights of women.

“My identical twin sister and I grew up working in the family business, and my parents felt it was important to learn the business from the ground up. One of the first jobs I had was to wake up early and assist the pastry chefs with baking muffins for breakfast service. Other jobs included working as a telephone operator, tour guide and waitress, which all gave me insight into various aspects of the business. It followed a natural progression that I officially joined the business as Treasurer after obtaining my MBA in Finance and Human Resources from The University of Notre Dame in 1991.

“I’ve always taken pride in the work that I do and the positive changes I make in my personal and professional life. If you consider everything you do – every project you work on, everything you write, produce or create – as a reflection of yourself, it enhances the importance of the project and the sense of pride that comes along with successfully completing it. That motivates me.”

Breaking Down Barriers

“Most women would probably agree that historic and current gender discrimination makes us feel the need to work harder than our male counterparts. In this aspect, I feel that women, myself included, often strive more and commit to tasks on a deeper level to make up for underlying inequalities in the workforce and educational fields.

“Barriers for women exist at all levels of education and the workplace and appear in the form of discrimination, harassment and inequality. Those who hold tradition dear – regardless of how harmful or outdated the notions may be – will fight to keep it intact. Historically, women haven’t had the same opportunities that men have had. Education and workplace equality for women is a relatively recent movement that continues to this day. Women are breaking down these barriers by excelling academically and striving for senior level roles that once belonged to a “boys club.” With successful female role models in the political, professional and academic fields, young women and girls can see that there is no ceiling for achievement.”

Building Self-Confidence

“The Award has the ability to build self-confidence, which is a necessary boost for anyone who is feeling underrepresented or untalented. Any time women achieve on an equal basis with men, it demonstrates that the playing field in the professional and educational arenas is leveling. It gives women a stronger voice and a seat at the table. Women bring a unique and valuable viewpoint to anything we are involved in, and the world becomes a better place as it opens itself up to these perspectives.

“While women are better represented today than twenty years ago, our presence is still understated in many areas and fields. But ‘under-representation’ certainly does not mean ‘unnecessary.’ A woman’s perspective is an invaluable asset to any organization, industry or field, and we should allow under-representation to be a driver rather than a deterrent. Women should strive to fill currently male-dominated roles and put to use their unique skills and strengths. Talents are as varying as women are, and there is a unique place for each of us in society. Women should set goals and follow their hearts – without letting their heart rule their head of course – finding a role for which they feel passion and in which they best excel. We should always put our best foot forward, ignore the naysayers, and aim for the stars.”

Representing Women of the Award

“I got involved in the early 1990s when my father was appointed as Chairman of the Jamaica Award. In 2012, I was invited to become an International Trustee. I must admit that, despite my experience and achievements, I was nervous to attend my first meeting after learning that I was the only female trustee among nine men. Any fears I had was quickly thrown by the wayside as I was embraced by the group, who treated me as an equal from the onset.

“As a woman, I feel a certain responsibility to ensure women are celebrated and motivated to achieve equality within various aspects of society. The Award sends a necessary and positive message to women and girls everywhere. If I can use my voice and position to show just one woman or young girl that she is important and can do anything she dreams, that will be enough for me. I think The Award has the capability to do that and so much more.

“Movements like these never really have an end. It’s a continuous effort. While women have come a long way toward gender equality, there is still much to be done. As women, we owe it to each other to pave paths forward and make it easier for the next generation to step into important roles, just as the women who came before us did. Successful women should be aware that they are role models and aim to mentor and inspire young women, while men should support and encourage the women in their lives.”

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Muna Issa
Muna Issa
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