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One woman’s quest for equality

As a young doctor in 1985, Yasmin Darwich was invited to speak about the difficult balance between career and family.

Thirty years later, she is still having the same conversation.

The president of the International Federation of Business and Professional Women (BPW) addressed the organisation's Bermuda audience at its HSBC-sponsored 40th anniversary gala on Saturday to recognise the progress made by members of the group.

Dr Darwich, who specialises in obstetrical and gynaecological surgery, told Lifestyle of her life-changing trip to New Zealand from Torreon, Mexico, more than 30 years ago when BPW asked each federation for a member under 30 to attend the international conference.

Her then-husband was also a gynecologist in the same clinic. They both worked full-time, but cultural expectations dictated that she allow his career to thrive above her own.

She said the trip was an eye-opener.

“When I went to this conference it was a shock to me. Hundreds of women from all over the world, working so hard, doing so many things,” said the mother-of-two and grandmother-of-three. It was like one Yasmin before and another Yasmin after. Completely different — in my professional and personal life.”

Listening to women talk about equality and respect at home, that was her light-bulb moment, she said.

“In that year, my speech was on finding balance with my career,” she said. “I always say that I was born a doctor. I love my profession. It's in my soul, my body, but I love my daughters and I love my family, so it was so hard for me.

“I started to see the many things I was living with — I accepted that it is what it is. I asked myself, what are you doing in your life? You are doing nothing for others.”

“When I was back I tried very hard to change things.”

“And now it's the same for the new generation. They have the same problem.”

Her husband came from a prominent family in Mexico, but she could no longer accept so many of the ideals ingrained in her culture. Less than two years later, she divorced.

Dr Darwich said it was crucial that men were part of the conversation.

“We need to include men in everything that we are doing, not only in the family. We have workshops about equal payday — no men.”

“If you have a line of men and you ask them, do you know that men and women the salary is different? They don't know.

“That's why, when I had the opportunity to participate one minute in front of Ban Ki-moon (Secretary-General of the UN) I just said, ‘I think we've had enough words. We already have all the statistics, all the numbers, all the signatures. We need action.' ”

She said she has witnessed an awakening in her own son-in-laws as they raise her granddaughters.

“They have daughters, sisters, mothers in their families, so we really need to integrate them.

“In every workshop or conference, we need to invite men as well — as speakers and in the audience — and be sure that they will make up half of the audience. If not, all we are doing is talking and talking and talking.”

“We need to sit with the men and say, ‘This is the reality that we are living. How can we fix these things in order to have a better future?'

“In Spanish ‘igualdad' is one thing, ‘equidad' is another. Equal is half-and-half. Equality means ‘same'. We are not the same. They have their own skills, we have our skills, but together is the only way that this world can function.”

The organisation offers several programmes around the world to accommodate each country's particular needs. Their main initiatives are the “equal payday”, a worldwide campaign led by BPW Germany and “Women on Boards”.

“BPW has core initiatives, but each country works on whatever it feels its women need. And this is what makes us unique. We are not a charity organisation, but we are very worried about legislations and programmes that help women.”

BPW international's biggest project is a nursing school in La Paz, Mexico, which is part of BPW's Project 5-0. The school is built on donations sent by federations around the world.

“We are giving the resources to young people to improve their lives through education. This is, for us, one of the most important things.

“As professionals we need to receive training on how to be leaders,” she said.

With opportunities to network with women all over the world, Bermuda's organisation works to enable women to sustain themselves economically.

Katie Partington Howarth, president of BPW Bermuda, said “When it started 40 years ago, Bermuda was a very different place. The women here in Bermuda have really done great work in not only driving women forward, but the whole population forward. A lot of the things our sisters campaigned for are things we take for granted today.”

The group offers personal development programmes for members such as mentoring, leadership training and e-business training, as well as a focus on skills that are traditionally dictated by men, such as how to be more assertive, how to manage your own construction project, how to plan your finances and how to set up a will.

Calling for action: president of the International Federation of Business and Professional Women, Yasmin Darwich

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Published May 17, 2016 at 9:00 am (Updated May 17, 2016 at 9:05 am)

One woman’s quest for equality

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