We're continuing our "Focus On Her" blog series throughout the month of March in honor of International Women's Day 2020. This series began as a conversation with women in Sitti's global community who have a unique voice and perspective on how education accessibility has impacted their lives. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, we are continuing this series with a new sense of urgency. This conversation now demands the questions: What is the importance of education accessibility in times of even greater marginalization and inequality? How can we "flatten the curve" in more ways than one?
Isle of Man, UK
Laura Cretney is a PhD student and creator of the site Pink Jinn. Laura began the website in 2015 in response to her own frustrations after returning home from a six month study abroad program learning Arabic in Oman. Questions from people back home would play on repeat: “Is it safe?” “Isn’t it dangerous for a woman out there?”
Laura wanted to dispel the common preconceived notions of the region as war-torn and oppressive towards women. She wanted to tell people about the beauty and nuance of the region, the culture and the people who uphold it.
Laura created Pink Jinn to show a more positive side to the Middle East and North Africa. She wanted to share stories and images that would inspire people, emphasise their commonality and deepen their understanding of the region.
As a student of the region and someone who is working to create more accessible and fact-based content about the Middle East to a western audience, we knew Laura would have a lot to say on education accessibility for women for our series.
What does education mean to you?
Opportunity. Everything I have achieved in my life; the things I've done, the people I've met and the places I've seen; all of my goals, dreams and ambitions; and all of the good that I hope to do in the world - all of this is because of my education.
Explain a specific moment when access to education played a major role in your life.
As a girl from a tiny British island of just 80,000 people, my exposure to the world growing up was limited. I hadn't travelled much, nor had I come into contact with many people from different backgrounds to my own. My university education was my key to the world. I learned languages, studied politics, met people from different countries and cultures, lived abroad, travelled around the Middle East, volunteered in India - and all before I graduated with my Bachelor's degree. My education literally opened up the world for me.
Was there a female teacher/educator in your life who is memorable to you? How did she help you as a student?
My Egyptian Arabic teacher, Aziza. Her inspiring energy, her love of teaching, her ongoing support and encouragement, and her infectious laugh made Arabic fun, easy, hard, terrifying and wonderful.
How does your education influence your life today?
Education is part of my daily life, both as I pursue my doctorate, and also in every other aspect of my life from my worldview to my business to my wellbeing.
I'm always seeking to expand my knowledge and I love nothing more than talking to people who are different to me and trying to understand how they see the world. If my education and all of the opportunities that came with it have shown me anything, it's that I will always be learning.
This has inspired my business, Pink Jinn, which exists to promote cross-cultural learning and engagement, and build bridges between the Middle East and the 'West'.
What is one hope you have for the future of education for women and girls?
I hope that women will be inspired through their education to pursue paths less travelled; to create their own futures instead of following the prescribed path; to leverage everything they have learned - both in the classroom and outside in the world - to create, build, inspire, teach, and to make the difference they were born to make in the world - whether that's building a world-changing empire or inspiring their own daughters to be the best possible versions of themselves.
Education matters to me because …
it gave me the life, the direction and the freedom I have today.
I believe in Education because …
it helps us understand how other people see the world, which is, in turn, our best hope for making the world a more peaceful, tolerant and prosperous place.
Thank you, Laura!
We encourage you to check out Laura’s latest (and very well-researched) post on Pink Jinn’s blog, “Coronavirus in the Middle East: Everything You Need to Know.”
This post is part of Sitti’s “Focus On Her” blog series. In the spirit of International Women’s Day and as part of the our IWD 2020 Initiative, we are sharing stories and images on the Sitti blog of women around the world whose access to education has helped shape their lives. International Women’s Day is a global celebration of the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. It is also a call to action to accelerate women's equality. The more we understand how education impacts womens’ ability to succeed in their goals and ambitions, the more we can advocate for education equality regardless of gender. Learn more about how you can be an advocate for education equality with Sitti at: https://sittisoap.com/pages/international-womens-day-2020