Techstars APAC Summit 2018 Ashley Uy with women participants

I thought “women empowerment” was about blaming others

I joined my first international “women” event at the Techstars APAC Summit 2018 – Day 0 “Women in Community” and to be honest, I went in skeptical.

“Women Empowerment” wasn’t a topic that I wasn’t too fond of. Granted, I didn’t know much about it other than the reactions, rallies, and posts that I see in social media. Where I come from, I never once felt undervalued due to my gender. There were always other reasonable factors when I got criticism; my inexperience being the usual culprit. And I’ve always had this attitude of hustle — understanding the harsh world that we live in and learning to navigate around it to get to my goals. The people around me have also provided me with the support I needed, encouraging me to continue to be strong and assertive, helping me be better and competitive.

So when feminism and campaigns on women empowerment took to the mainstream, it didn’t resonate with me. I knew that there were women in other cultures that were being abused and discarded just because they were female and I knew that there were organizations that dedicated their lives to helping them. That was admirable. But when I saw the kinds of petty arguments and comments they had online, people blaming other people about the circumstances they’re in and encouraging others to hate instead of doing something about it — I didn’t like it so I wrote it off as nonsense.

Joining the Day 0 “Women in Community” event really changed my perspective on how conversations about women empowerment can go. Initially, I thought it was playing victim; blaming the world for your situation in life and not actually doing anything to change it even though it’s within your power. But then the event talked about self-care, self-love, and teaching other girls that you can do it, you do deserve that raise, you are the leader, and that you are the master of your own circumstances.

The conversation was about battling the perceptions that you had of yourself. That even if we’re living in “a man’s world”, this can very much still be our world if we have the confidence to stay true to what we want, no matter what others say, and learn how to “play the game” and do it well.

Sessions within the event talked about looking into ourselves and realizing that a lot of what we think we should or shouldn’t do can easily be changed by our own perceptions and willpower, and that we are oftentimes in control of what we believe. For example, even though we are taught to be gentle and motherly in our personal lives, and often times these traits are necessary, it doesn’t mean we’re expected to constantly be so especially if we’re in a leadership position. As someone in authority, I have to assert myself and be proud of it when the situation calls for it, but also be soft and meek when the situation calls for it. I think it’s important to understand that it’s okay to adapt to different situations and not force ourselves to adhere to a specific stereotype just because we think that’s what’s expected of us.

We also talked about the toxic environment that us ladies even create for ourselves! And that we had to be aware of it to be able to teach what’s right to the next generation of girls that come after us.

It was a great discussion on self-awareness and recognizing the current state of our mindset as a community of women. I loved the example that Monthida, one of the speakers, gave about her girlfriend’s brother getting an interview and right after the interview thought, “I should ask for a higher salary.” Monthida and her girlfriend were shocked! As women, we don’t even think about these things. We think “Oh I’m asking for a job from them. I should be happy with what they give me.” But this guy had the confidence to not only get the job but to get a raise along with it! “Why can’t we have the confidence to do the same?” was a great conversation starter that had me learn about perspectives from women in Pakistan, Sri Lanka, India, and many other countries in the Asia Pacific that I thought weren’t so different from women in my culture. And these impressions of ourselves should be something that’s changed if we want to progress as a society.

Suffice to say, I was heavily impressed by the event and the conversations that happened in it. I hope to join more open and honest conversations like these in the future and be able to facilitate this conversation between different schools of thought on the topic. Thanks for giving me such a great experience, ladies!

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