The Green Dress: What if she knew that there are no locked doors?
A radiant smile lit up her face, her heartbeat accelerated and her eyes sparkled when she learnt she was going to go shopping for new clothes and a new toy for her fifth birthday. Haya was counting the days, hours, and minutes. She was ecstatic and overjoyed. She was eager to choose colorful clothes - maybe an ornamented skirt or a frilly dress. Perhaps a new toy? “What should I buy?” she thought to herself, “Should I choose a toy that resembles my favorite animal? Or a talking doll, maybe? What about a beaded bicycle? My God, there are so many options to choose from!”
It was finally Haya’s birthday. She went shopping with her parents, and it was love at first sight as soon as she entered the shop. Her eyes caught a green dress from a distance. She ran towards it and stood there in awe, imagining herself wearing it, like a blossoming tree surrounded by birds and the scent of flowers. She imagined herself as a mermaid swimming in the water surrounded by all types of sea life. She imagined herself blowing her five birthday candles while wearing the green dress, and joy instantly filled her little heart.
Her train of thought was suddenly interrupted by a voice behind her saying: “No Haya, green does not suit little girls, why don’t you choose pink or red? You cannot wear this dress to the playground, Haya, it is better to buy a pair of pants so you can run easily. Ornaments and beads are not suitable for your age; you are still too young for these trends. You will not be able to ride a bicycle on the streets of our neighborhood. Why do you even like giraffes? Maybe choose a toy that resembles an animal that can be found in our country”. And this is how possibilities started to fade away since the age of five for Haya. Starting with her clothing and toys, and continuing to her studies and professional life, where to live, what hobbies to choose, and the partner she wishes to share her life with.
We grew up hearing expressions like “it is not doable”, or “it is not appropriate for girls”, or “it is not suitable”, and “you just can’t do that.” Many possibilities were taken away from us girls since childhood; many doors were shut in our faces. Did you ever imagine how the world of little Arab girls would have been today, or rather our world as a whole if we got used to telling them “nothing is impossible”? Or if we said “go ahead and plan your own future”, “when you come across a locked door, go and open it.” How would their lives have been if we just told them that they look beautiful in that green dress?
Today, I see Arab women who have paved their way in this life by opening doors that were thought to be “locked”. I see Shams, who has become a successful oral surgeon, announcing her engagement a few days ago. I see Samira who looked after her five siblings when their father passed away and is excelling in her professional career. There is also Aya, who discovered her true self again after her divorce and restarted her life armed with confidence and happiness. I see Sarah, who learned how to ride a bicycle at the age of 35. I see Maya who got married at the age of 21 and is still in love with her husband after 40 years of marriage. There is also Souad, who started exercising after a knee injury and started training at the gym at the age of 88. I see Samira, who passionately works at a gas station to improve her living conditions.
Today, I see myself surrounded by the love of many people, most importantly my family. I have a successful career and teach yoga during my free time. I received an MBA from one of the most prestigious universities in the world. I have lived in 10 different countries in Asia, Africa and Europe, visited more than 45, and my travel journey is still in its infancy. I recall a very memorable experience when I took the stage at TED to talk about ways to save water to address what is becoming a global crisis. Even though I am single at the age of 34, I am happy and believe I can start a family of my own at whatever age I choose to. I continue to follow my passion for supporting women around the world in various ways, most recently through a group I have established, entitled Laha (or For Her in English). I feel my heart fill with joy every time I come across a locked door and open it.
To every Arab woman out there, I say from my heart to yours: You look beautiful in that green dress!
Watch her TED Talk here: