ARNA Talks TO MONIKA NOWACZYK FOUNDER OF BEEBEE + BONGO & CAMBODIA KNITS
Tell us a bit about yourself and what you do? What's your purpose?
My main purpose is to support women who have been left out in development in Cambodia and to provide them with opportunities to raise themselves and their families to a better life, regardless of their education. I have been living and working in Cambodia for over 15 years, am married to the country (my husband is Khmer) and am daily inspired to make the world a better place by and for my daughter, sassy, six-year old Sophea. I believe each and everyone one of us can have a positive impact on our communities and the world.
What is something you've learned about yourself this year?
I learned that I can be resilient, but that resilience is something we have to choose and work on every day. Some days we lose it and it's easy to fall into negativity. In March/April I found myself at a crossroads with my social business. I could have thrown my hands up in the air and said, we can't do on in this economic climate. But something internal clicked and I found myself more focused and more determined than ever to ensure that our little but impactful social business could keep going.
What do you love about yourself?
I love that I am able and willing to keep learning and growing. The past few years especially, I have learned how to learn from failure, something that in my earlier years I was not able to do.
When we do reach gender equality, what does this world look like to you?
My favourite is the quote from Ruth Bader Ginsberg about having 9 women on the Supreme Court. There were 9 men and no one said anything about that. Gender equality will happen when we have more women in leadership roles and no one questions why they are there. In 2016, Canadian PM selected a cabinet that was 50% women and questions in the media focused on: are they all qualified and picked through the CVs of each one. That does not happen when a cabinet is 60-70%+ male!
What do you believe are the behaviours that hold women back?
I think many of the behaviours that hold us back, are taught to us early on by our culture. Whether it is minimising our language by adding in words like "just" and "only" and being hesitant and shy to stand forward, this is something that has been unconsciously pressed on us by our cultures.
While I can't speak for the experiences of Cambodian women, I can see that the culture here, which is very patriarchal and misogynistic, diminishes women. There is an old poem from 300 years ago called, Rules for Women, that lists behaviour for women that is still taught in schools today. Some examples of what is in there: don't laugh too loud, don't sleep with your back to your husband, walk softly, don't talk back to your husband, if he hits you try to understand why.
I think it is also important for us to understand the different between self-confidence and self-esteem. The advertising and messages we re bombarded with hard our self-esteem much more deeply than our confidence.
What has been your boldest move to date?
My boldest move so far has been to keep going on my social business this year, in the face of a struggling economy and multiple challenges. I put out of a call for help and announced (to be myself committed) to the world we were going to fight for the women and families who make our products. I put my own financial security on the line and continue to aim high with our new brand.
What's your call to action for women?
Build yourselves up from the inside out! Learn what is holding you back and face the gender disparities of history and culture and learn how to overcome them. Support other women to do the same. Most importantly, don't see other women as competition, but stand up for and support and cheer one another on.