As a young girl growing up in Iraq, I would always stare at myself in the mirror, focusing on my long hair which my mum prided herself on and my feminine features which my relatives always commented on telling me I would never struggle to find a husband. And I hated that!
I hated these comments! I hated the reflection staring back at me! And I hated me being a girl! So I tried, I always tried to hide this feminine side of myself.
Tying my long hair back, acting the same way a boy is expected to act, distancing myself from all feminine influence just to feel like I am good enough for my culture. And I didn’t hate myself as much then, I didn't hate myself when I was playing football with the boys instead of hanging out with the girls. And I prided myself when my dad told me I was just as good as a hundred men. I loved it when my dad told me he would never marry me off to a man. But I was wrong, acting like a tomboy and looking for validation from my dad didn’t give me the strength that I was looking for, denying my feminine side wouldn’t make me any stronger because being feminine isn’t a weakness, denying it is!
Now standing in front of all of you, on this stage, with this award, I can finally say that I’m strong, that I am a strong individual and that my gender could never stop me from achieving what I’m capable of achieving in life. And I urge all women sitting in this room to embrace who they are, to ignore all these comments people throw at you and do whatever the hell you want to do.