In November, we wrote about an amazing conference. It was born from the realization that women’s leadership needs to be a priority in the health ‘business’ landscape. Not only because women’s voices should be present at the ‘decision making table’, but also because a new narrative on leadership is needed for all the young women and girls out there.
Girls need female role models to look up to. They need role models who can inspire them to work towards their own goals and tell them that nothing is impossible. Role models who say: ‘you can, and should, fight like a girl in order to become whoever you want to be!’
Inspired by this feeling, Swedish Organization for Global Health wants to share the story of some of these role models. We hope you will feel inspired and relate to them. Maybe you’ll even decide that, yes, this is exactly what I would like to do too!
First up is Ola Abu Alghaib, the current Director of Global Influencing and Research at Leonard Cheshire – an organization supporting people with disability to achieve their goals and live life at their very best.
Ola embodies the real meaning of the word activist.
Her job is to fight for the rights of those who are generally underrepresented or even ignored by society – women and men who live with some form of disability. Her work tells you exactly what kind of person she is, but it doesn’t tell you for how long she has been an activist, or why she became one.
Her life is the expression of leadership. Ola was born north of Nablus, West Bank, in Palestine. Like every child, she had many dreams and goals for her life.
When she was just 14 years old she underwent surgery, but a mistake during the operation resulted in Ola losing the ability to walk or move her right hand. Ola says, “this was obviously very shocking, but it didn’t change who I was and what I wanted to achieve in life”.
However, she soon realized that people around her started to see her differently. Many thought she could not live a ‘normal’ life, that she was broken, and that the only option she had left was to survive. Ola proved those people wrong. She was, and continues to be, a very determined and ambitious woman.
She is not just writing her own story but is also influencing the lives of others on her way.
After completing her first degree, Ola came across the German Organization for the Disabled, who decided to invest in this smart woman. Through them, she started to work in a rehabilitation center that supported people with disabilities. In the following 8 years at the center, she was aware that she was the only woman working there.
She felt that women with disabilities were not being given the opportunities they deserve, and knew was time for NGOs to act and involve more people. However, the issue seemed to fall on deaf ears. Her response?
Ola founded Stars of Hope. Their mission is to abolish disability and gender discrimination, while empowering women with disabilities to achieve their goals.
From that first step into advocacy, Ola has done so much work to bring the voices of women with disabilities into decision making rooms, such as the UN disability committee.
“Access to services continues to be a challenge for women,” she says. “Influencing policy is fundamental to changing that.”
Ola has often underlined her belief that women with disabilities are generally forgotten by the feminist movement. She says this happens because disability-related issues make things even more complicated for women’s rights advocacy, but also because women with disabilities don’t ask to sit at the table. She says:
(1) We need to understand what disability means for a woman
(2) We must make sure disability receives as much attention as any other issue
(3) Women with disabilities need to demand their seat at the table
When I asked what leadership means to her, Ola told me: “Leadership is the privilege that comes with it”. If you are a leader, you should use that position to make your own contribution to improve things for others.
If you are a girl or a woman who feels, “I can’t be a leader,” and if you are suffering because of the way society defines you, Ola has this piece of advice: “The world is changing so take the lead and be determined, starting in your household.”
Feeling inspired by Ola’s story? Are you a woman with disabilities and want to become a leader in global health? Check out the following links that could give you some ideas about where to start, but remember – everything always starts from within, from you.
Google Europe Students with Disability Scholarship
Wellcome Trust fellowships/scholarships