Women's day marks a historic journey of women around the world, who have taken oaths to better their lives. International Women’s Day (8 March) comes as a reminder that while a lot has been achieved, the journey is long, and a lot more that needs to be done. 

Maliha Abidi, an artist, and writer #ChoosetoChallenge her limitation and improve the representation of women through her book 'Pakistan for women', her work focuses on women empowerment - shining a light on societal issues, mental health, and issues impacting women in today's time. Maliha via her talent chooses to celebrate women - chooses to help create an inclusive world for our sisters, mothers, and friends. 

HELLO! talked to this wondrous lady to get her opinion on how we all can challenge ourselves to bring about a change in our lives. 

What does the 2021 International Women’s Day theme, #ChooseToChallenge mean for you in your work life?

I think #ChooseToChallenge is a great theme, it shows that women have always been standing up to the wrong. It's just that people try really hard to suppress their voices. For me Choose to challenge is just being Unapologetic about you know... things in my life and just challenging anything that tries to oppress me.

Why did you decide to write 'Pakistan for Women'? What was the idea behind creating an illustrated storybook?

'Pakistan for Women' is the biggest project of my life, it's something that's close to my heart. I've worked hard on it and why I decided to create ‘Pakistan for women’ was because I was seeing so many books from around the world about women from various countries and various fields being highlighted and when it comes to Pakistani women - I love Malala and like her story, there are so many more untold stories so I decided to create 'Pakistan for women' and Malala’s story, alongside other stories to show, there's so much diversity in Pakistan and women are at the front lines on about different issues around Pakistan. And because Pakistan is also portrayed in a certain way, people are very one-dimensional about the country and the Pakistani women, they see Pakistani women as submissive voices. So I wanted to make sure that I've talked about Pakistani Mountaineers, our firefighters, astrophysicists, women in sports, women in education, women activists. And of course, Pakistan has issues, but these are the women at the front lines fixing those problems and making Pakistan a better place. So Pakistan for women is not just a celebration of their stories, but it's also an answer to people around the world, that this is how you can find diversity within our country.

What barriers have you faced, as a women artist and in becoming successful? How did you overcome them?

I mean, I have a very supportive family. So I haven't faced that many barriers as such but one thing that I'm dealing with is people are not taking artists or art seriously. I mean, I don't personally care about it, there was a time when people were like, you need to focus on school and I am a good student as well. But it's just like let's say if I had chosen to just study art or just focus on art right, that should be okay with everyone to instead of like, stop questioning me if I want to be an artist or just want to focus on Art. I think art is seen as a hobby rather than a true career and that needs to change because that's so harmful. And today because I chose to ignore those intrusive voices and ignore those people who were being, you know, really opinionated about me creating art. I think that's what really contributed to my success because today I can proudly say that I'm not just an artist but I'm a businesswoman and I'm a writer stemmed from my passion for art and through that I'm able to work with global organizations. So I think the first step is just ignoring those voices and just you know, staying true to your passion for art

In your opinion, how do our individual actions, conversations, behaviors, and mindsets have an impact on our larger society?

I think our individual actions, conversations, behaviors and mindsets have a huge impact on the larger society because with each person, you know, it's like a puzzle piece. Like each person has a puzzle piece and I think we don't have all the pieces together, we don't see the bigger picture on top of the puzzle. So I feel that each action, each conversation, each behavior is a huge contributor to society in general which is why we must start with ourselves whenever we're trying to talk about women empowerment whether you're talking about racism whether you're talking about colorism whether you are talking about anything you need to fix yourself first and then start, spreading awareness around or start campaigning so it starts with us and there are so many examples in our society and that one person has done so much to inspire others and bring others on board as well. Like we have, of course, Malala, we have gratitude, Berg. We have Rosa Parks. We have so many amazing incredible voices from Pakistan and outside of Pakistan of Youth of girls and women. 

On International Women’s Day, how can men get more involved? How could men contribute to promoting gender equality?

I actually have a huge problem with making international women's day just one day. I feel like women should be celebrated throughout the year, and I feel like we shouldn't just try to celebrate on the 8th of March. I think it should be like a long-term thing and how men can get involved. I mean, they can start on International women's day, but they need to keep it going because it shouldn't be just a matter of one day. So how men can get involved is again start with your household, reflect on your actions or how you are helping or how you're helping women around you sometimes, the best you can help women is by not stopping them from doing something. So if you have a mother, sister, daughter, wife or whoever, a woman that's in your circle that surrounds you, how are you contributing to their well-being and yet I think that's a good start. 

In your words, how do you define feminism?

I don't think it's something objective. It's like a very factual thing and definitely, feminism is gender equality, men and women both can be feminist - feminism is reaching equality for women, and definitely, feminism doesn't mean being more than men or women thinking that they're better than men. It's literally about equality

How can women better enable each other instead of competing? What needs to change in your opinion?

Firstly I feel like women don't compete. I think that's a stereotype about gender. I know that there is a competition just in general between humans. I don't think it's a good way to see women that women compete with each other or I think that's a really bad stereotype that has been said about gender but in general, I think we just need to support each other. So it's not even about how women can stop competing, I feel like men compete more with women than women compete with each other and men try harder to keep women down, so we need to remove this mindset that how can women stop competing with each other, we just need to make sure to understand that only by supporting each other we can reach a better Society. So ultimately it is benefiting you if you're helping someone else so it's kind of like coming full circle

What do you think helped you get so far in your career? How can we mentor young girls to dream bigger?

What has helped me get this far in my career as a mixture of things, number one is the support that I've received from my father and my husband - these two men in my life have been an incredible support for me. The second is anger, I felt so angry in my teen years and my early twenties towards society, there were people around me who only wanted the worse for me, so I think I used that anger and I channeled that into my work. The way people were underestimating me helped me get this far with each project that I wanted to create with my work. How we can mentor young girls to dream bigger is that we should stop asking them to become doctors if they do not want to, stop asking them to pursue a career so that they'll get a better marriage proposal. Stop conditioning girls and women to do things according to other people's expectations. This was another reason for 'Pakistan for Women', you don't have to push your daughter to just be a doctor if she doesn't want to, don't have to push her to go in science or any field that she doesn't want to. 

We should definitely push women and help them in terms of education because in Pakistan millions and millions of girls outside of school they don't have that access to education, but at the same time girls are so smart and they have so many aspirations. In ‘Pakistan for women', you'll find our firefighters, footballers. You'll find women from all different fields, and we should make sure to stay out of their way so that they can achieve their goal and support them instead

How your art and your book has changed your life? 

So I feel like with each piece of art and with each project and with each writing project that I do, including 'Pakistan for women' I get educated about various issues myself, so I think with my art and writing moving forward, my thought process is getting broader and what I'm learning about the world and various social issues. I think my knowledge on that is getting wider.

Why do you support women's empowerment and gender equality?

Because we all should do that and that's the basic human right. Equality is a basic human right and. We are the least, all we can do is not suppress their voices and that's why we need women empowerment and that's why we need gender equality. Because one gender has way more power than the other gender

The artist community is growing day by day; do you feel that you have achieved what you wanted to?

I do have a set number of goals and no I haven't achieved all of them. I'm quite ambitious and like it's not that I haven't achieved everything that I wanted to but I do work really hard to raise my goals. So and I'm happy that the artist community is growing but one of my goals as an artist as I keep moving forward is to support emerging artists, so that's something that I'm working on as well.