Posted by Katie Byrne on 7th Mar 2021

#ChooseToChallenge #IWD2021

“A challenged world is an alert world and from challenge comes change.”

Gender discrimination is a global problem and the onus is on us to call out the biases and social norms that lead to this inequality. When we question the barriers that women face and celebrate the achievements of those who have been able to overcome them, we take another step closer to a more inclusive world.

To mark International Women’s Day 2021, we’ve partnered with the lifestyle platform The Grace Tales to tell the stories of four change-makers whose strength and tenacity have led them to achieve incredible outcomes, despite the obstacles in their way.PICTURED: JACQUELINE SANDAL IN WHITE—PRE-ORDER

Starting today and for the rest of March, we will use our platforms to share the voices of these incredible women, and highlight the strength we all have within us to not only challenge the expectations of others but to rise to our own challenges.

This week we’re speaking to Aminata Conteh-Biger, a former refugee who is now an author, inspirational speaker and Founder of the Aminata Maternal Foundation. Aminata escaped civil war in Sierra Leone to build a life here in Australia and has used that opportunity to help the women of the country she was forced to leave.PICTURED: ORLA HEEL IN ECRU—PRE-ORDER

It’s International Women’s Day – what does today mean to you?

Women should be celebrating every day, every minute, every second. We are phenomenal human beings. For me, it’s a day of celebrating womanhood and sisterhood but it’s also a day where we should celebrate every woman around the world because a lot of the world doesn’t even know it exists. It’s also a day where we should think about others – not just people speaking or having their voices amplified – we should think beyond where we are. There’s a lot happening around the world, and each and every one of us should read a story about a woman in Afghanistan, in Iraq, in Chad in a refugee camp because 80% of people in refugee camps are women and children. We should go beyond what the hashtag is and the beautiful speakers we are listening to and think of the women who are not standing where we are standing.   

You have walked tall your entire life and you’re such an inspiration. What does walking tall and standing up for what you believe in mean to you?

First of all, if you don’t walk tall, nobody will do it for you. This is something that I recognised for myself very early on – I have to do the walking. My father used to say, “When you walk into a room, you are the most important person in the room, but you’re not more important than anybody else.” I always remember these words.

When did your love of fashion begin?

My love of fashion really began with my Dad. I talk about this in my book Rising Heart. My Dad always dressed in a really elegant way. It was simple, but he really taught his children the art of elegance and the importance of appearance. When I talk about him, I can still see him.

How would you describe your personal style?

First of all, comfortable. Like my Dad, I love elegance. I love wearing blazers with jeans and a pair of heels. My outfits really depend on how I feel, and I always dress for myself. Of course, you want people to admire you, but you should dress for yourself. I never wear anything that makes me feel uncomfortable and always dress to feel confident.

You have an incredible collection of shoes and I know this because I’ve been to your home!

I have always loved shoes and I like to wear heels. There’s just something about heels – even if you put the smallest heel on, they just lift you up and help to lift your spirits. I look for comfortable shoes, which are classic. When I look at photos of myself when I was a little girl, it reminds me of how my Dad would buy shoes for us from London or Europe and they were all very classic. When I buy things, I also look for classic pieces – many of my shoes I’ve had for 15 years. I’m not a trend person.

In 2012, the year that your daughter was born, you had a near-death experience that inspired you to embark on a new mission to help provide support for maternal health in Sierra Leone, where mothers are 200 times more likely to die having a baby than in Australia…

I truly believe that we are all on this planet to contribute to this world. I saw first-hand how my father cared for people in general, and contributed to humanity. I wrote in my book Rising Heart that I always thought my job as going to be a ‘giver’ because my dad gave to people relentlessly.

When I gave birth to Serafina, I had seven doctors in the room. Now you have to imagine in Sierra Leone, it’s a country of seven million people, and there are only six obstetricians in Sierra Leone. I had seven doctors to save my life and to save my baby’s life. The doctors knew that I was going to die if nothing happened. If I was in Sierra Leone, she would have died, but because I’m in Australia, that didn’t happen. I had people that fought for me to survive. I came home and I start researching about maternal health. I started seeing the horror my country where one in eight women dies through childbirth. For me, I’ve experienced something that is preventable. They can prevent it. I just had this light in me that I needed to do something and be part of something. For me, it was a ‘why’?. Why should a mother and a child die in Sierra Leone just by coming into this world?

How have your experiences when you were 18 change your perspective on life and how you live each day?

I live each day. I know each day is a blessing. It’s a miracle. Every day for me, I practise forgiveness. I choose to forgive because I wanted to be free from the people who kidnapped me. I choose to forgive because I want to dance with life. I love life. I know how much I fought to survive every single minute when I was kidnapped. I do not want to waste my life. I also know that there are tough times and I’m not in denial of that. When they come, I embrace it. I practice gratitude every single day.PICTURED: PENROSE PUMP IN AMETHYST—PRE-ORDER

We will be showcasing amazing women like Aminata every week, so make sure you tune into our Instagram Live every Tuesday of March to hear more inspiring stories. You can also check out our newsletters for further insights and read the feature articles  

You can also be part of the action, by donating to IWD charities and commenting on our IWD social posts to tell us how you will

#ChooseToChallenge in 2021.

Photography: Julie Adams | Interview: Georgie Abay | Guest: Aminata Conteh-Biger

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