I will #BeBoldForChange for women and girls by listening and supporting women and girls who need someone to be there for them – and help them rise up!
Today is International Women’s Day. All over the world, on March 8, communities and individuals come together to highlight the achievements, challenges, and opportunities for women around the world. This year, the United Nations has asked the world to focus on the theme of “Women in the Changing World of Work: Planet 50-50 by 2030.” In addition, the campaign theme is #BeBoldForChange. In order to achieve an equitable planet, we must take bold steps to make change happen. This month, we are pleased to introduce you to an inspiring woman who helps us understand what it means to take bold steps. Elizabeth Cook, a 34-year old Gender and Communications Specialist, is the epitome of what it means to dare to dream, dream big, and believe in your dreams. Among her accomplishments, she has travelled to over 50 countries! How and why did she do this? Read more below.
Here’s Elizabeth’s #StrongEnough story:
- Tell us about (describe) yourself.
I am from Ottawa, Canada, one of the coldest capital cities in the world – don’t visit for the first time in the winter!
From the age of 14 I knew that I wanted to go out and explore the world. When I was 21, I set off into the universe, and I have been on a journey ever since, from embarking on a solo working holiday year in Australia, learning Spanish in Argentina, working in reality TV in Brazil, volunteering in Israel, working for NGOs in Palestine and Sri Lanka, to consulting Emirati clients in Dubai as a Public Relations Manager.
I recently completed my MA in Gender and Development this year from the Institute of Development Studies in Brighton in the UK, which was a dream of mine for the past ten years.
But with these experiences, it has made me the person I am today, and I try to remain a compassionate, hardworking, humble person, who can see the positive side to everything, and to always, always, make people laugh – laughter makes the soul stay young!
- What are your hobbies (things you enjoy doing)?
I am an avid backpacker, and I always travel on a budget – meeting people on buses and local restaurants from local cultures, learning new languages and staying in hostels as well as Couchsurfing to meet fellow travellers. I have also arrived in countries, without knowing anyone, and managed to work in many countries to support myself while there, which is a wonderful part of the adventure.
It was always my dream to become a world traveller and I am happy to say that I have now travelled to over 50 countries- I have travelled alone in countries from Bolivia, Mozambique, Brazil, India, Peru, Israel, Palestine, Morrocco, to Sri Lanka, among others. This could be perceived to be risky at times, but I never felt to be in danger.
I always tell my female friends – try to travel alone at least once in your life, it will make you learn how to handle stress better, develop interpersonal skills, make new friends from different countries, gain confidence and best of all – see and experience things you would have never imagined of until you arrived there!
- What activities are you involved with in your community?
As I have been a bit of a nomad the past 10 years, community is wherever I am living. So in the UK I was involved in many university events, from organizing a ‘IDS Gender Week’ – an informative week for our classmates to learn about gender and feminism, to a photography exhibition to raise funds for Syrian refugees.
Before that, I was in Dubai for 6 years where I was involved with helping stray animals with TNR (trap, neuter and release) and adoption, as unfortunately, there is a huge problem with expats leaving cats and dogs behind and no proper shelters.
I have just moved back to Canada and I am currently volunteering with Oxfam where I am handing the social media to promote an ‘International Women’s Day’ event in Ottawa – that’s what’s keeping me pretty busy at the moment and where I will helping out on March 8th!
- Who or what inspires you?
The kind of people who inspire me are those who really fought to get to where they are today. I’m not saying that if one is privileged that they do not deserve what they have achieved, but those who worked their butts off – with blood, sweat and tears, and then finally reached their goal – for me, this is the most inspiring act of accomplishment.
- Is there something you are passionate about? If yes, what is it?
After travelling the world and meeting women from differing ages, cultures, religions, and socio-economic backgrounds – hearing their life stories, made me very passionate to advocate for women’s rights abroad and within my own community, and make a real change for women’s empowerment.
Although I have not yet worked specifically in a women’s rights organization, you could say that I have been an activist for women’s rights at a community level with my peers as someone who has lent an ear, offered advice, discussed current events and always encouraged my friends and colleagues to stand up for themselves – as a feminist! Now I hope to take this to the next level in my career.
- What is the biggest challenge you have ever faced? How did you get through it?
This is a hard question to answer, because I feel that I am always challenging myself!
Whenever something scares me – I push myself to do it, because this is the only way to grow.
But, I would say one of the first challenges I endured on my own was having an emergency appendectomy while travelling. I did not know the local language or the culture – but I got to the hospital and through the ordeal with a smile on my face.
After this experience, I knew I could endure hardship– as this taught me how to truly be brave, and accept that life may not always go to plan.
- What is the biggest challenge that you see facing girls/young women in your community?
It troubles me to see young women not reaching their full potential. I have met women from all walks of life from many countries – some wealthy and many others with nothing.
Coming from Canada, there can be many ways to get ahead, with programs and funding opportunities. But if young women do not have the right role models to inspire them, they can miss their chance. I finished my MA at 34 – it is never too late to achieve your dreams.
People can be comfortable within what they are doing and afraid to push themselves into the next level, but when you are young, why not reach for the stars? Even if something is uncomfortable or scary, just try, take a risk. Even if it does not come right away, I always believe it is never “too late”.
- What advice would you like to share with girls/young women in your community?
My advice would be to push yourself and be strong – there will be so many obstacles in your life – and if you can prove to yourself that you can surpass what is challenging, there will be so many easier roads that you will cross in the future – believe in yourself and never lose focus of your dream (I have always visualized my dreams and I truly believe that I am finally on the way to obtaining it).
If you do not have people in your family who can encourage you, or have someone to talk to, find a mentor in a community group or at school.
Also, don’t try to be someone or something that you are not – be your authentic self, and proud of who you are!
- Who is your favorite female leader/role model, and why?
I have so many female role models, but I have to admit, (though it may sound like a cliché) the one that is sticking in my head right now is Beyoncé.
As popular culture is something that we ingest on a daily basis, Beyoncé has made so many women all over the world believe in themselves through the power of her dance, song and lyrics ranging from race issues, body empowerment and politics, among others. People of all colours, religions, and nationalities seem to identify with her – she is a force to be reckoned with! Every time I listen to her I feel stronger and empowered, like I can take on anything that the world throws at me.
- What do the words “Strong Enough” mean to you?
Being strong enough to follow your dreams, even when they seem too difficult or far off into the distance. Strong enough to admit to a mistake. or when you are wrong. To laugh at yourself. To pick yourself up when you fall and try again.
- Do you have a favorite quote/verse/song lyric?
“The only way to succeed is to be willing to fail” – This has been my personal mantra for many years.
We are inspired by your energy and passion Elizabeth. Your sense of adventure is admirable and very impressive! We hope more girls and women are inspired to take risks and pursue adventures as they work towards accomplishing their dreams. We celebrate you as our #SEGoftheMonth for this women’s month edition. Keep being a shoulder to lean on and lending a helping hand to other women.
You can follow Elizabeth on Instagram @a_feminist_abroad where she shares photos and stories of present and past adventures.
LET’S HEAR FROM YOU!!!
Do you have a question for Elizabeth? How has her story inspired you? Share your thoughts in the comments box below.