Interview by Brianna Taylor
Name: Salwa Mansuri
Origin: Mumbai India
Based In: London, England
Ethnicity: South Asian
// How would you describe yourself in one sentence?
I’d say hard-working. I think people mistake your ability to make change [by thinking] she's just lucky. But you just need to work incredibly hard for whatever you want or [ to get] where you want to be, so I think hard-working is something that describes me well.
// Where did you establish your work ethic?
It started with the IB curriculum I did in high school, and I think that was very fundamental in allowing me to establish a work ethic and routine that helped me balance pressure and wanting to perform my best. Skills like time management, for me, came from outside of the classroom, specifically as an ambassador for the World Literacy Foundation. Balancing being a student and my engagement with extracurriculars definitely prepared me for the work I would be doing later on in my life.
// Did you/do you believe you have a strong support system to help you manage all of your work and engagements?
100% I don’t think I would've gotten through high school without a strong support system. I remember volunteering at that time, and I was volunteering with refugee women in Delhi. That was an incredibly refreshing experience because of the kind of support they showed me to get through high school. I highly recommend volunteering because it’s a great way for you to interact with other individuals and simultaneously create this ecosystem where you are supporting each other in a way that helps everyone grow together.
// What was it like growing up in India as a young woman?
I’d consider myself lucky because my parents are incredibly supportive individuals. For a lot of Indian Muslim women back home, it becomes very difficult to live in a society where your character is constantly questioned. For me, my parents have always been supportive of my passion for studying and attaining knowledge and that’s definitely a privilege in my society. It is a privilege to study, go to school, and be able to pursue higher education.
There’s a lot that goes into trying to prove your worth in your society and that constant need to prove myself comes from the fact that I’m from an Indian-Muslim woman background and that sense from constantly needing to achieve things comes from that identity. It has helped me push myself and has proved to me what Muslim women can achieve.
// Can you think of a time when you first became aware of your gender and its implications in society?
To be fair, my parents were incredibly unbiased, and they never made me feel like being an Indian female would hold me back in society. I do recognize that having them is a huge privilege that not many women have. Even just me switching from STEM to Politics and International Relations; they were also there to support me and whichever direction I wanted to take my work/passion.
// What is your proudest accomplishment?
I wrote an extended essay in high school about a refugee crisis after the time I spent volunteering at a refugee women’s camp in Delhi. I wrote this essay to share the story of refugees that the media often ignores. Many people have a boxed view of the refugee women and the refugee crisis. The media focuses more on how much pity they can make people when they show people in refugee camps, but to me, pity is a passive act. I wanted my essay to make people feel empathy because empathy is active. Empathy will make you reflect and dig deeper into why refugee women live and are portrayed in a particular way; it’ll make you want to help refugee women long term.
// How do you empower yourself?
I wasn’t the most confident and extroverted person. It took a lot of time for me to find my passion, but once I did that, I really started to develop a sense of power. Being rooted in my purpose and acting on that is what makes me feel empowered. Also, my ability to balance being strong and in control and then being empathetic. I believe that’s a skill most women develop naturally and what makes us so powerful as a group.
// What advice do you have for young women who want to find their purpose and begin their engagement work?
I would definitely say not to be afraid to start small and take as much time as you need to find what you’re passionate about. Sometimes, we don’t think we have time to reflect on what we like, what we don’t, and what really ignites passion in us. It takes time to figure it out, and you deserve to take the time to do so. - GGH