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International Women's Day Month:
Tamara Alissa

International Women's <strike>Day</strike> Month: <br>Tamara Alissa

With the arrival of March, we’re proud to celebrate International Women’s Day all month long, and to extend our support, we sat down and spoke with eight creative women to highlight their work in practice.

The theme of this year’s IWD is “Break The Bias” — seeking a world free of stereotypes and discrimination where difference is valued and celebrated to create a world that is diverse, equitable, and inclusive.

We were fortunate enough to talk with women from Toronto and Vancouver, discussing their careers, achievements, and upbringings while focusing on their artistry and individuality. They welcomed us into their homes, studios, and workspaces to get a feel about who they are, what they do, and why International Women’s Day is important to them.

Can you introduce yourself and tell us a bit about what you do?
I’m a Syrian and Filipina multidisciplinary artist with a main focus on pottery/ceramics based out of Toronto. I use both wheel and hand-building techniques, typically with an intent to engage with colours, textures, shapes, and traditions from Southeast Asia and the Levant. Throughout my Kinesiology degree, I had always practiced music, illustration, and pottery whenever I had the chance. Mastering multiple things at once has always been a tendency of mine; however, when the pandemic hit, I focused my efforts on opening my studio and teaching/making pottery full-time. My approach to ceramics is amorphous, classical, and meditative.

What does International Women’s Day mean to you?
When I recall the New York City march in 1908 — where thousands of women demanded better pay, humane working hours, and the right to vote — I recall my mother’s stories of fighting for better pay because, as a Filipina woman, she was paid less than a typical salary. I recall my aunt, a pathologist, demanding better COVID testing and vaccination measures by the Quebec government. I recall my 19-year-old self instigating an improvement in policy of the sexual violence prevention act at my university. International Women’s Day is a reminder that the acknowledgement of women’s rights and achievements should be visible every day in our language, politics, values and structure, and not limited to a single day.

In your experience, what skills have been essential to succeed in your field?
The ones that stand out are curiosity and a bit of impulsivity. I’ve always trusted that even though I can fall pretty hard, I always get back up. I’ll make a hasty decision, but I’ve known that if the decision leads me to temporary failure, my undying childlike curiosity leads me to keep exploring. Another quality that has helped me is being comfortable with reaching out to others for help. I’ve been lucky enough to have such supportive and talented friends that led me to where I am now because they taught me a range of skills and believed in my vision. Asking for help can be daunting but sometimes the small push or the extra hand from our friends is all we need to keep going.

How can we encourage more women to pursue entrepreneurial roles/creative careers?
Women have already held up most of the sky. We just have been widely suppressed. We need to continue discourse of the importance of having female-identifying individuals as directors, which can then increase work opportunities, decrease the income gap, and increase education in femme communities. We need to engage with the existing femme leaders in our communities and learn about their process, barriers, and hopes. We need to deeply engage with each other and avoid competitive intentions. The more we have these conversations, the more tangible a reality of female-identifying leaders becomes.

Which women inspired you growing up and why?
The women that have inspired me growing up have all had similar experiences managing geopolitical displacement and adversities including racism, classism, witnessing/experiencing violence, and exploitation. 
My mother experienced a multitude of barriers as a Filipina migrant worker living alone in Saudi Arabia and managed to repeatedly demand her rights when faced with oppressive forces. My paternal grandmother was an established professor in Lebanon who educated about the pan-Arab struggle. Janna Jihad, a Palestinian youth activist, begun reporting the IDF’s violence in Palestine at the age of 7. I could go on, but these are only a few of the women that shape my identity and awareness.

What advice would you give to your younger self that's just starting out?
I would tell my younger self that her visions of doing what she loves will come true, and that she will get to the exact place she has been daydreaming about. I would also tell her to remember to go easy on herself because the process of getting there is going to be a lot more difficult than she expects. She’s going to face a lot of patronization from others which means that she’d need to extend herself further to get what she wants. So, I’d tell her to remember to rest and give herself the space to feel angry or sad, but to trust that her efforts will pay off.

Do you have a favourite moment from Nike’s longstanding history of empowering women?
I felt both ecstatic and relieved when I saw that Nike had released the Nike Pro Hijab in 2017. I remember witnessing many of my friends in Saudi Arabia retract from sports because of the possibility of their hijabs falling off or because of how uncomfortable they felt in the heat. Including hijabs in sportswear allows a severely neglected demographic of women within the discourse of women’s rights to play and pursue sports.


For more from Tamara Alissa, you can check her out at @___solem.

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Jasmine Kiara