Haifa Addas, Lina Samman, Sahar Parham Al Awadhi And Gada Shaikli On What It Means To Be A Strong Woman Today

Interview, Leadership, Women Empowerment, Mother, Women in Business, Emirati Women, Female Empowerment
Kristin Nystrom
What glass ceiling?

HAIFA ADDAS

42, Syrian / Lebanese, founder of Instaglam

“I feel the term ‘female empowerment’ is often used in the wrong way. I’m a Muslim, and in Islam, women have always been empowered. I was privileged enough to be raised by a very strong woman. My mum spoke no Arabic but moved to Saudi when she was 17. When my grandfather suddenly found himself jobless, she opened a salon and supported her whole family. I’ve inherited her philosophy, but I understand that it’s not the same for everyone, so I think for empowerment to gain more traction we need to push education and encourage women who already have the power to pay it forward. We should all try to have a positive impact on our surroundings. That’s what I try to do with the people that work for me at Instaglam. My aim is for it to become the worldwide trusted beauty partner for women so that you can travel anywhere and book hair and make-up to come to you. I feel so happy to be a woman, as working in beauty it has given me an advantage. My grandma was Miss Lebanon so it’s in my blood, too. She set an example to me and I hope that I’m doing the same for future generations of women. My message is that everything is possible. If you really want something, you can achieve anything.” 

Blazer, Dhs2,050, Rotate at Harvey Nichols–Dubai. Earrings, Dhs1,080; Ring, Dhs960, both Ennui 

LINA SAMMAN

52, Syrian, international fashion ambassador

“I’ve done so many fun projects with fashion brands over the years – the highlight was becoming the face of Nina Ricci in the Middle East and creating a limited-edition bag with them that sold out – but my main job is being a mother. I’ve raised two successful, strong women and I’m so proud. I’ve done my best to pass on the message of empowerment to both my daughters, Tala and Tamara, and taught them to always be themselves and to stand up and fight when they need to. Life is changing now and you need to have a voice, although I’ve always had that attitude, even when I was little. I was always a bit of a rebel, but I’m more of one now than ever. It can be hard for anyone to speak up these days, though – not just women. But I try. I really feel that social media has given me a voice to do that, and I like to use it in a smart, genuine way. I will only ever post things that are authentic and natural – I don’t do it for anyone else. To me, that’s empowered.”

Blazer, Dhs6,965, Off-White at Harvey Nichols–Dubai. Top, Dhs6,210, Tom Ford. Trousers, Dhs2,450, Max Mara. Bracelet, Dhs1,360, Ennui. Shoes, Lina’s own 

SAHAR PARHAM AL AWADHI

30, Emirati, chef at Burj Al Arab

“The reason I got into pastry was because I got tired of waiting for other people to make the ones I wanted to eat! I took matters into my own hands, and even though during all my internships every chef tried to scare me off with tales of exhaustion, I knew I’d keep wondering what it was like to work in a restaurant until I actually did it. So I did. And what I discovered was that the kitchen doesn’t care if you’re a guy or a girl… it just takes whatever it needs from you. The people in it, however, are a different matter. Professional kitchens are incredibly male-dominated and filled with old-school chefs that are still uncomfortable taking orders from women, so I had to work extra hard to prove that I didn’t need babysitting and that I could do everything they could do. I had to stop seeing gender; to forget that I was female and they were male and remember we were all equals. I only wanted to be afforded the same opportunities and to work my way up by learning everything from scratch – from apprenticeships in Paris where I got up at 2 am to go the bakery, to working in a kitchen where I peeled 10kg of apples every day. A lot of people’s perceptions of Emiratis is that they have everything handed to them, so as well as proving that I could handle being a female chef, I also had to make sure people didn’t think I was taking the easy way out. Specifically in the UAE, though, the leaders are so supportive of women working and following their passions, even if they’re outside the box like mine was. In fact, there’s now a higher percentage of Emirati women working in leadership roles than Emirati men. Isn’t that amazing?” 

Trousers, Dhs1,850; Blazer, Dhs2,150, Kage. Top, Dhs2,875, Victoria Beckham at Harvey Nichols–Dubai. Ring, Dhs620; Earrings, Dhs810, Ennui. Shoes, Sahar’s own

GADA SHAIKLI

40, Iraqi, athlete and personal trainer

“A few months before my 40th birthday, my eldest son went off to college and I thought, ‘What do I have to show for myself?’ I’d been working in HR, day in, day out, and then stopped working altogether when I moved to Dubai. I was always a very competitive person but growing up in a conservative Middle Eastern family I wasn’t given the opportunity to follow my dreams. So a year and a half ago, I decided to become a trainer and started competing in races. I’ve won 30 medals since my last birthday. I feel like my two biggest challenges when I started – my age and my gender – turned out to be the things that have earned me the most recognition. People made fun of me at the beginning, telling me that it was a man’s sport and that I was a mum so I should act like one. I just stuck to my instincts and now I’m inspiring women my age, who at 40 feel like they’re forgotten. To them, I say that’s nonsense. Age doesn’t matter. If you set your mind to it, you can do anything. I’m beating 20-year-olds in my races. I’m beating men half my age.”

Trousers, Dhs2,705; Blazer, Dhs3,150, Jonathan Simkhai at Harvey Nichols–Dubai. Top, Dhs2,595, Off-White at Harvey Nichols–Dubai. Earrings, Dhs1,080; Ring, Dhs960, both Ennui. Shoes, Gada’s own


Prices approximate.

Photography: Kristin Nystorm

Stylist: Tabitha Jane Glaysher

Hair and Make-up: SJ Make-up 

Styling Assistant: Abhiti Dudeja

Producer: Laura Prior

With thanks to Toro Toro at Grosvenor House



From the July/August Issue of  Harper's BAZAAR Arabia

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Interview, Leadership, Women Empowerment, Mother, Women in Business, Emirati Women, Female Empowerment
Kristin Nystrom