Kick Ass Women: Spotlight - Shiza Shahid
Here at Woozy Moo, we believe strongly in empowering our young girls and work towards this every chance we can get. We had the opportunity to interview 8 amazing women that have accomplished great things in a powerful interview series. This spotlight focuses on Shiza Shahid, Cofounder of the Malala Fund and a member of Forbes’ 30 under 30 list. The Malala Fund was founded by Shahid and Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai to empower girls through education. So let's begin!
Was there anything you were discouraged from doing as a kid because you were a girl (i.e. sports, career path, education, etc.)?
I was discouraged from playing sports. I remember the day my gym teacher made fun of me for running crooked, and from that moment on, I was always very nervous about being teased when I played sports in school. In any case, there wasn't a strong culture around girls playing sports in my society. So I started to opt out of athletics. It was only once I was in college that I found the self-confidence to start playing sports again. Now I love to exercise, and do so 5 times a week, but it took me a while to get that confidence back.
Do you have a role model that you look up to and why?
My mother. She came from a deeply traditional family, where women were very strictly controlled. She didn't get to go to university or build a career, but she made sure my siblings and I had the best education we could and gave us the freedom to live our lives as we wanted. And my father, who grew up in a village with very limited money and lost his own father [when he was] young; he built a life for our family against all odds and invested the income he earned in our education.
What message do you have for young girls wanting to enter in a career path similar to your own?
Follow your heart. Be bold. Understand what you love doing and tap into that, because its what you will be best at, and it will make you come alive. Don't follow the rules that don't make sense, instead recreate them. Chart your own course, and let it be defined by hope not fear.
What is one thing that you wish you would have had to help you in your education, career, and/or life path?
I wish I had understood earlier how much I could question everything, challenge the norms, and do things my way. I was always fairly rebellious, but it was in my 20's that I found the ability to be deeply independent in my thought, and the self-confidence to know that I could [create] significant change.
Was there a toy you remember playing with in your life that was categorized as a 'boy' toy? What memories/experience do you have of the toy and did it impact you in any way?
As a young girl in a very patriarchal society, I was taught early on that public space[s] belonged to boys more than to girls. While boys could roam freely, run around without being self-conscious about their bodies or harassed, and feel mostly safe outdoors, girls in my society had to learn early-on to cover their bodies early-on and protect themselves from harassment. It’s very unfortunate that so many societies are so unfriendly to women in public spaces.
You were drawn to activism at an early age. Do you remember what sparked your interest/desire to make a difference?
I remember feeling restless, curious, and passionate. While [I] had a loving home, and a relatively good education, I knew that around me things were not as rosy. Pakistan has the second highest number of children out of school and is consistently ranked one of the worst places to be born a woman. I wanted to understand the conflicts within my society and to change my society for the better.
What is one small thing we can do in the US that can have a big impact on women in other countries?
Empower women domestically to succeed. Even today women in the U.S. are not reaching leadership positions in corporations, in government, [and] in STEM. It’s time to focus on shattering the glass ceiling. When the next Facebook, Google, [or] Apple is started by a woman, girls everywhere will have incredible role models to look up to.
What can we learn from women across the globe who have become successful against all odds?
Change begins with us. We have the power to change what we cannot accept, whether that is in our own lives or in the world around us.
With all of your studies on women leaders, entrepreneurs, and heroes, what inspires you most?
Women leaders of all kind fighting for change, climbing new heights, and opening the door for many more women to follow—in particular, women entrepreneurs. I believe entrepreneurs change the world, and I'm inspired to see more women starting successful companies and focusing on ideas for social good.
With everything you have witnessed in your years of research, what do you find to be the most encouraging in the ongoing battle for gender equality?
Economic progress. As countries become richer, they create policies that allow women to participate. Also technology. We live in an era of unprecedented abundance. We have more information at our fingertips than presidents of nations had 20 years ago. We can redefine social norms, and re-imagine a world that is just.
You have lived in two very different cultures, what message would you have for young girls here in America and in Pakistan? Would the message be different/the same?
To all girls: live a kind, intentional, and meaningful life. If you are fortunate enough to get an education and choose your career, know that you are among the lucky ones. You must take the opportunity you have to create a life that matters. Find your passion. Don't get caught in the superficial stuff. Know that you are beautiful, and that beauty stems from self-confidence and kindness. Commit yourself to helping those less fortunate and making the world better. Dream big and know that anything is possible. You only get one shot at life, so make it worth it, and leave the world better than you found it.
To learn more about the Malala Fund, click here.
To learn more about Woozy Moo and join the fight against fun discrimination, read Woozy Moo's story.