Health Care Mental Health Health Wellness

Free counseling is the best thing that has happened to me and my mental health this year

I don’t need to start this article by saying that this year’s been tough on everyone in some way, shape, or form. By now, it is simply a fact of life, a characteristic of nature, just another feature of our ever-expanding spacetime continuum. Interestingly, a lot of my difficulties throughout this year just so happened to be college-related: Where am I supposed to go? Where am I meant to start? Am I going to be at par with everyone else? Is this what I even want? I was fresh out of high school, and instead of excitement, all I could feel was fear. 

Throughout this summer, the idea of starting college was so anxiety-inducing that I had developed the habit of simply ignoring all the emails I was receiving from my college. I know, not so type-A personality of me.

An email letting me know about all the student organizations I could join? Ignored. Another one with some updates about my freshman fall? Reading that later. But when my phone flashed with an email about getting free counseling, I clicked on it without even thinking twice. 

In retrospect, my instantaneous reaction sort of shocks me. I’ve had plenty of experience in therapy at mental health service centers in the UAE, and my experiences never quite went the way I expected them to. From having my emotions reduced to not being listened to at all, I — for a very long time — internalized the idea that maybe therapy just wasn’t for me. Maybe it was less the industry’s fault and more of a problem directly stemming from me. I thought that maybe I was the kind of person who wouldn’t get better from talking about my problems. Perhaps instead I was the kind of person who should keep everything to themselves and hope that somehow, in some way, all my problems would go away. 

Immersed in a culture of “dealing with it”, within a larger world where navigating mental health services is obscure and oftentimes elitist, meant that I’ve learned to live through difficult experiences without support. But one can only be immersed in hardship for so long; at some point, you’re going to feel suffocated. At some point, you’re going to need to swim up to the surface to breathe. 

My moment of needing to swim up to the surface to catch that breath of air manifested itself in checking that email from my university’s health center. This time, help was being offered to me instead of me having to actively be on the lookout for it. This time, it was completely free — readily available and present for me and for so many, regardless of the monetary resources at our disposal. 

Taking a deep breath, I drafted an email to the health center introducing myself timidly, with a gentle, “Hello! My name is Fatima, I’m a freshman, and I’m interested in signing up for counseling throughout the fall semester!” and, every day I am grateful that I had the courage to do so. 

It’s been a month since my fall semester has commenced, and I’ve communicated to my counselor that I need to meet on a weekly basis to talk about things and clear my mind. Happily, she’s signed me up for recurring meetings that now sit patiently in my Google calendar.

It’s important to note that other than finally finding a counselor I feel listened to and genuinely supported by, the biggest difference between my past experiences in therapy and this one was the fact that my other sessions cost about 750 to 950 dirhams per session (about $200 to $260 for reference), while the counseling I was getting from my university was absolutely free.

There was a pang of deep guilt that surmounted my being every single time I would sit in the car with my mother on our way to my sessions. Most specialized mental health services tend to be located in more urbanized areas like Dubai, so in order to receive help for my Anorexia in 2017 and 2018, we’d have to take an hour-long drive in the morning, do my one-hour session, and then drive back with a 950 dirham dent in my mother’s wallet. Beyond the direct financial costs, there was also the cost of time, energy, fuel, and transport.

It seemed like there were far more obstacles to this therapy thing than there were positives. And there are so many factors that can make these obstacles even more insurmountable. Things like social class, availability of transport, and family support can affect whether or whether not someone gets the help they need. Beyond that, there exists a knowledge gap in knowing how and where to get help in the first place, which can make all the difference. These nuances and intricacies make the existence of free and accessible mental health resources in every and all communities all the more vital.

Of course, my problems have still not gone away. I still wake up so fatigued on some days that I do not have the energy to move. Most days, I can’t figure out the purpose of my existence, of the choices I make. But there’s something so cathartic about that gentle knowing in the back of your mind that, no matter what, every single week, you always have someone who willingly chooses to listen to you. That support won’t cause an astronomical dent in your savings. That you don’t need to depend on anyone else to pay for these weekly counseling sessions. They’re free and available for you whenever you want them, and especially when you need them.

Now I look forward to every Monday at 12 p.m. I wear an outfit I’ve thought carefully about — an intentional selection of textiles and colors and shapes and sizes.

I wear a cool set of earrings.

I write a short journal entry beforehand laying out all the concerns I’d like to discuss.

I keep a cup of tea an arm’s length away.

I join the Zoom call five minutes ahead of time as per the required etiquette.

And when I see my counselor’s shining face on my screen — just for a moment — I am able to breathe.

If you or someone you know is in emotional distress, check out the resources below:

* People who are deaf or hard of hearing can reach Lifeline via TTY by dialing 1-800-799-4889 or use the Lifeline Live Chat service online.

* Text TALK to 741741 for 24/7, anonymous, free counseling.

* Call the SAMHSA Treatment Referral Hotline, 1-800-662-HELP (4357), for free, confidential support for substance abuse treatment.

* Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline1-800-273-TALK (8255). Here is a list of international suicide hotlines.

* Call the RAINN National Sexual Assault Hotline, 1-800-656-HOPE (4673), for confidential crisis support.

* Call Trevor Lifeline, 1-866-488-7386, a free and confidential suicide hotline for LGBTQ+ youth.

7 Cups and IMAlive are free, anonymous online text chat services with trained listeners, online therapists, and counselors.

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Coronavirus Race Inequality

America’s COVID-19 protests are a lesson in hypocrisy

On August 9th 2014, Darren Wilson, a white police officer, shot an innocent, unarmed, black teenager, Michael Brown, in Ferguson, MO. For many in America, this terrifying incident was just a glimpse into the severe racial discrimination that black people regularly face in the hands of an oppressive system. I remember what happened afterwards, when that neighborhood rightly broke out into a protest that lasted for weeks, which prompted parallel spouts of #BlackLivesMatter activism in similar neighborhoods. I remember the tear gas and rubber bullets that the police, wearing riot gear, confronted protesters with, and I remember the military style tanks that were deployed by the Missouri National Guard to quell those protests. 

I watched again in 2016, when NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick refused to stand during the national anthem at games, opting to kneel instead, in protest of this country’s treatment of racial minorities. He is quoted by NFL Media to have said, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people are getting paid leave and getting away with murder.” Many other athletes followed suit. 

I remember President Trump fanning the flames of white supremacy when he said that Kaepernick should leave the United States and “find a country that works better for him.” From that moment on, Kaepernick was the one who was labeled by a large sanction of Americans as being unpatriotic and disgraceful. 

Then, in 2017, neo-Nazis gathered for the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, VA. Hundreds of white nationalists joined forces to protest the removal of Confederate monuments, bearing torches and shields. As the night progressed it turned bloody. One counter-protester and two police officers died, others were badly beaten. Two days later, during a press conference, President Trump said, “You had some very bad people in that group, but you also had people that were very fine people on both sides.” 

Fast forward to this week, and I have seen and continue to see thousands in states like Michigan, New York, California, Nevada, and Illinois rally against statewide stay-at-home orders amidst the coronavirus pandemic that has so far taken the lives of nearly 70,000 Americans. None of those among the “anti-lockdown” and #reopen protests are donning facemasks or practicing safe social distancing. 

This video is just one snippet from the protests this weekend, but it speaks volumes. None of these police officers are in riot gear, there appears to be no army tanks, and the protesters are not met with tear gas or rubber bullets. Those who are participating in the anti-lockdown demonstrations are aggressively close to officers and are even behaving viciously while putting their hands on them. But nothing happens to them. These protesters, who are historically the ones who respond with “just obey authority” when a black person is beaten or murdered at the hands of the police, are displaying their ignorance for world to see. The cops too are somewhat unable to see danger when it comes to white people, even when the danger is clear, because that is the narrative that has been ingrained into our society. Meanwhile, according to that same narrative, there is an ever present danger when it comes to black people, even when no danger exists.

This is hypocrisy in America.

In Michigan, angry protesters who want the stay-at-home order that has been in place since March 23 to end forced their way into the statehouse. Many were armed gunmen, carrying confederate flags, and wearing Trump/MAGA gear, while waving signs that read, “Give me liberty or give me COVID-19”. The crowd attempted to move up to the second floor of the Michigan Capitol building, where Governor Gretchen Whitmer was, but they were met by police blocking the door. 

The predominantly white demonstrators, though a minority opinion in their state, are mostly concerned about the economy. They are frustrated and feeling oppressedwhich is quite a conflationby the current lockdown order. They would like to see some normalcyOf the protests in Michigan, President Trump tweeted:

What about the families who have lost loved ones to this virus, don’t you think that they are very good people who want their lives back again? 

Or, better yet, what about the community in Ferguson who watched while Michael Brown’s body laid in the street for hours under the August heat after he was murdered in front of them. America should have given in a little. America should have put out the fire a long time ago. These are, indeed, very good people. They are the ones who are angry, every single day because of the reality they face. They want their lives back, safely. 

And, if we really wanted to talk about patriotism, the anti-lockdown protesters would, in a just world, be the folks that are at the brunt of those “find a country that works better” remarks. These unpatriotic and disrespectful demonstrations are being done at the expense of Americans who are working and risking their lives on the frontline. The protesters are effectively going against everything they ever claimed to have stood for except for one… racism.

Music Pop Culture Interviews

Billy Blond’s new EP ‘Glow Up’ is a therapy of the heart

Broke: Growing up

Woke: Glowing Up 

Growing up isn’t always fun nor comfortable, but thankfully we’ve got music to get us through it.

Billy Blond’s new EP Glow Up is what you need right now. Born and raised in the UK, Billy Blond has been writing music for a while. If you’re picturing an American poster boy gone wrong? You’re on the right track to Billy’s aesthetic. 

I’ve had the pleasure to interview him recently. Music helped me save myself,” he told me. Billy is a spiritual man, he believes words are spells and melody is magic. “A song is pretty fucking powerful you’ve got be careful what you say,” he continues, “thoughts are very powerful, then to speak and chant it is powerful.” 

For Billy, putting the rights words and desires to the Universe matters. Glow Up is about that: trusting the Universe and healing from heartbreak. This is how he approaches music: with respect and honesty for a craft that has the power to change the world. 

Inspired by Gospel singers, and with an idealist look on the industry, Billy thought everything would be fine once he got a publishing deal but, like many of us, he realized that your first job isn’t what it seems. “It was too early days, I didn’t know how to say ‘no’ and I didn’t know how to put my boundaries up.” Job descriptions versus reality can sometimes be worlds apart. 

Heavily directed, Billy started taking on everyone else’s opinion about him, so much so that he lost his own perspective on his music. “I thought music wasn’t for me and that I was never going to be making it again.” So he did what he had to do: disappear from the industry, retire and take care of himself. Initially scared to put himself out there again, Billy told me “now it’s my second time around and I have learned from my mistakes, I know how to look after myself, I know about self-care.”

Self-care is today inherent to his music. Describing it as positive and inspirational, he wants to help others pick themselves up: “I want to make music which brings light to people.” Inspired by his everyday life Billy translates his emotions into music to inspire others. Musically, Amy Winehouse is his biggest inspiration. With a similar upbringing as well as attending the same music school, she has a massive influence on his work. 

Billy Blond
Billy Blond

The dark and at times uncomfortable aesthetics of Glow Up is somewhat reminiscent of the works of David Lynch. The song was inspired by American Honey, a coming-of-age movie about a teenager running away from a troubled home. Glow Up tells a similar tale, acknowledging Billy’s sexuality and the fact that ‘life gets you down but love brings you round again’. Love is at the heart of Billy’s music. One of his biggest dreams is to open a trashy drive-thru wedding venue on the British seaside. 

Billy confessed that “if I like someone, he will mean the world to me and nothing else matters and I would do anything for that person I am so over the top.” His song Without Warning narrates the story of sudden love. It’s a catchy melancholic melody that Billy says was inspired by his lover at the time. He confides that this man continued to inspire him for other songs, even after their breakup. Following from Without Warning, a new track called You Killed Me First is in the works and set to be released next year. 

Billy’s approach to music is very visual, which he says is funny’ because he is losing his eyesight. Diagnosed with a hereditary degenerative eye condition, Billy struggles with night-time vision but this doesn’t prevent him from creating a strong visual aesthetic. He knows a song is complete when he can see the full visual experience, and when all the senses connect.

As for new music, Billy has got an entire movie playing in his head already. Now in control of his own destiny with the freedom to write and express himself, his focus is to get a team together and to keep writing.

Love Life Stories Wellness Inequality

Here’s why we need a Fat Acceptance Month – and how you can help

Note: Denarii Grace uses both she/her and they/them/their pronouns.

As someone who is Black, disabled, and fat, Denarii Grace runs into a lot of spaces that aren’t welcoming or accessible to her. They have used that discomfort to teach others about what our identities mean and that just because we don’t conform to the status quo doesn’t mean we aren’t still worthy of self-love. Her activism runs through the intersections and asks us to consider what we can do to lift each other up.

I was very lucky to snag a few moments of Denarii’s time recently to talk about what why she’s working on a Fat Acceptance Month.

1. What do you feel is the most common misconception about being fat and the fat acceptance movement?

I think that the most common misconception is the idea that fat people – especially fat people who adhere to the fat acceptance movement – don’t give a shit about our well-being.

Health is relative and there are many of us who will never be what an ableist society considers “healthy.” “Health” should never be a marker of a person’s value. This is how ableism and fat antagonism go hand in hand. I’m a multiply disabled fat person. I’ve been fat pretty much my entire life. For me personally, I measure my “health” (if we wanna call it that) primarily on metabolic stats: my blood sugar, blood pressure, cholesterol and triglycerides, liver and kidney function, that kind of stuff. Based on that, I’m super healthy despite the fact that I’m 5’7″ and weigh about 275 lbs in a society that claims that, at that size, I’ve got one foot in the grave.

Of course, as someone living with seasonal depression and PTSD, among other things, and living in a society that hates me for my size, race, skin color, disabilities, sexuality, spiritual practice, and a host of other identities, I also measure my “health” based on my mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being. None of these things can be separated from each other: so-called physical “health” is tied up completely in our mental well-being and our experiences with oppression.

2. What is the difference between body positivity and fat acceptance?

Like so many movements, body positivity was co-opted by thin privileged people (and so-called “small fats”), and turned into a movement about our “feelings” and our looks (which is part of it, but not the be all, end all), and then capitalists did what they do best – exploit and water it down until it’s practically meaningless.

Fat acceptance is about liberation from harmful, oppressive ideas about beauty and health. It’s about a “healthcare” system that acknowledges the painful, traumatic relationships that many fat folks have with food and our bodies and treating us as whole beings instead of shoving diet culture down our throats. It’s about representation in media and politics. It’s about creating spaces that are physically and mentally fat-friendly. It’s about creating a society in which size diversity is both celebrated and inconsequential, which sounds like a paradox, but I believe that that world is possible. Otherwise, I wouldn’t do the work that I do.

3. I know you’re working on creating a Fat Acceptance Month in 2019. Can you share a bit about that?

It’s in the beginning stages. I want it to be observed every January. In a Christian, Western context, the beginning of January is seen as the “new year” season, a time to dedicate ourselves to setting various goals and hopes for the upcoming year. In a fat antagonistic society, this means being bombarded with diet and weight-loss messages.

My hope is to counteract that messaging with healthier messaging about weight-neutral wellness, discussions about systemic thin privilege and fat oppression, and various other issues that we face that are rarely highlighted, even in so-called “progressive” communities.

Right now, I’m looking for folks to get involved in different ways. It would mostly be an online, digital, social media campaigns, infographics. Hopefully, I’ll get some articles written, interviews like this one, etc. I’m hoping for in-person events, too.

4. What do you wish you could tell your younger self or a teenager struggling with their weight?

“Fuck diets. You don’t need them because you’re perfectly fine and fabulous just the way you are. You aren’t on a collision course with death and, even if you were, your life holds value way beyond the numbers on any scale. Fat and fabulous is the way to go, love!”

I never heard any messages of this sort until I got to graduate school in my mid-20s and discovered Health at Every Size. That’s a long time to be starved (pun intended) of self-love and bombarded with erroneous ideas about the body you live in every single day.

To keep in touch with Denarii, you can find them on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, and Patreon. To join the Fat Acceptance Month listserv, shoot her an email.

Politics The World

Banning plastic straws in the UK won’t help us. It’ll hurt us.

In the past year alone, it’s become commonplace for restaurants not to offer straws or to offer paper straws only. More of us are exchanging plastic straws for metal or bamboo alternatives. Recently, the British government has indicated it would ban the sale of plastic straws and other single-use plastic items like drink stirrers.

The reason for this is understandable: there is way too much plastic waste in the world. Since plastic isn’t biodegradable, this waste is destroying the environment. For this reason, many people want to pursue a ‘zero-waste’ lifestyle where they avoid using anything that needs to be thrown away. This includes using single-use plastics, like straws, drink stirrers, plastic cotton buds, plastic bags and so on.

We certainly should avoid using single-use plastics as much as we possibly can. But banning plastic straws can have some harmful unintended consequences. Plenty of disabled activists and their supporters are pointing out that banning straws could be problematic for many disabled people.

A lot has been said about pre-cut foods, including peeled fruit and vegetables, that are packaged in plastic. While some people point out that this could produce a lot of plastic waste, others point out that if you have certain disabilities – including chronic pain and muscular disorders – pre-cut and peeled foods are life-saving. With plastic straws, it’s a similar situation: people genuinely rely on them to survive.

In a compelling article for Huffington Post, activist Michaela Hollywood explains how straws literally save her life. Without them, she wouldn’t be able to drink. “I live with a rare muscle-wasting condition which renders me unable to scratch my nose without help. I definitely cannot lift a glass of water, a cup of tea, or a bottle of juice to my mouth and drink normally,” she says. “I’m lucky that I’m in the position to spend over £100 on a specifically designed mug with a reusable 36-inch straw to cut down on my throwaway plastic,” she explains. Many people aren’t as lucky, and they have to rely on cheap plastic straws to get by.

What happens to people like Michaela when we ban plastic straws?

When we discuss environmental waste, it’s important to think about who decides what waste is. ‘Waste’ implies that something is unnecessary, and people who are disabled have different needs to those who are not. These needs need to be taken into account when we talk about environmental activism.

Most of us don’t need straws, pre-made food in excessive plastic wrapping, and other single-use items. If those of us who don’t need those plastics reduce our use, it would reduce the impact on the environment considerably. A small number of the population using plastic straws because they need to are not the sole cause of environmental devastation.

There are, however, ways protect the environment without harming disabled people. For example, if we make metal, bamboo, glass and paper straws more accessible, we can reduce the need for plastic straws while helping those who need straws. If those materials aren’t ideal for people who need straws, we need to come up with another solution.

The British government has also indicated that they’ll create further long-term plans with other Commonwealth countries to reduce plastic waste globally. As more governments create plans to reduce plastic waste, it’s imperative that we think about people who have disabilities. Environmentalists need to consider accessibility as well as the environmental impact of certain policies. We should ask ourselves: How can we package ready-to-eat food and peeled produce in a more environmentally-friendly way? How can we make alternatives to single-use plastic cheaper? If someone needs single-use plastic items to survive, can we create alternatives that meet their needs without harming them?

Do we, as a world, use more plastic straws than necessary? Certainly, and we should reduce waste wherever we can. But the policies and laws we create to protect our environment should not leave out people with disabilities, a marginalized group that is under-represented as is.

Tech Career Advice Now + Beyond

6 ways the UAE can become more inclusive and accessible


I dream of a society where people with disabilities are not on the other side of the glass, where people don’t look at them with pity or to feel inspired, but instead see them as active individuals. 

These are 6 ways, we can make the UAE more inclusive.

1. Let’s start with education

Formal education is the first chance for people with disabilities to interact with the world. If they have are in a regular classroom, then why not train teachers to accommodate and make it illegal for schools/teachers who refuse to have them in the class? In most cases kids want to be treated normally but that does not mean depriving them of accommodations. I have been in both situations. In first grade a teacher didn’t want me in class because I was a slow in writing -mobility related-. I had to join the “special needs class”, yet after a year they decide I didn’t need to be in that class.

In college they “treated me equally” which means they did not help with anything I needed. They did not always accept my medical reports for absences, or give me extra time during exams. If I needed anything, I had to talk to a lot of people and departments, but ultimately, no one would help.

Every school should have an accessibility department and preferably hire people with disabilities, because they know the most about disability. Ask each student about what they need because each individual’s case is different and provide support in the form of resources and aid when needed. Make sure the medical info is communicated effectively to the individual’s instructors as well, and the necessary measures are taken, to ensure full accessibility.

2. Healthcare

If the disability is caused by a medical condition, healthcare providers should research how to increase the quality of life and wellbeing of the patient.

I was born prematurely– I have a chronic condition that affects how my muscles function and has affected my sight, mobility and overall health. Growing up, I developed other medical conditions and doctors didn’t (and still don’t) seem to know what do and how to stop my body from deteriorating, or how to make my symptoms manageable.

3. The media

Characters with disabilities on TV are often played by able-bodied actors- this is a problem. Every role is a chance for a disabled person to act, yet if they are visibly disabled that is the only role they can play. It would help to reject stereotypes and have actors with disabilities playing diverse roles. The media’s job should be normalizing disabled people, so we could be viewed as people with similar problems, hopes, and dreams.

4. Employment and economy

We are not a burden to society. We can offer a unique perspective, if we are given the tools.

There are notions that people with disabilities are unproductive and unreliable and have nothing to offer, these stereotypes make it difficult for people with disabilities to get jobs.

If we are not given the chance to contribute then how will they know what skills or talents we have? There are more than 1.3 billon people with disabilities globally– that means businesses are failing to address a huge market of underrepresented people.

5. Accessibility

Accessibility is not just about putting up wheelchair ramps, it’s about designing places in an accessible way, so that we can get around independently. My previous college campus was not wheelchair-accessible and the elevators were always out of order. This made college a lot harder for me, and actually worsened my health condition significantly, because I had to limp around instead of using a wheelchair.

6. Awareness campaigns

Most of the work I see on “disability awareness” is a waste of time and resources. It’s only done for publicity, with no real results. I don’t think “how to deal with disabled” lectures are beneficial it because emphasizes the idea that we are different, when we are not. Special treatment will only create more barriers – making proper adjustments and accommodating us won’t.

Maybe instead of the awareness campaigns, we need changes in legislations, laws that protects us from discrimination here in the Middle East, in all areas. Even here, I witnessed a receptionist refusing services to a disabled man because he had a speech impairment – this was in a private hospital. This would not have happened if people were aware of a clear law against discrimination.

Here in the UAE, more light is directed toward disability. Initiatives are done out of good intentions and the awareness is raising -of our existence? – more and more people are willing to offer help.  But, I hope we grow out of the inspiration phase. I know that this will take effort and time. But, I hope to see more inclusivity and accessibility in this country, one day.

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Tech Science Career Advice Now + Beyond

6 companies that celebrate diversity & inclusion in the United Arab Emirates

Presented in partnership with Naseba. 

 These six companies in the United Arab Emirates made serious strides last year, by creating modern work environments striving for equality and inclusiveness.

1. Roche Diagnostics

Roche Middle East
Roche Ranked 3rd Globally in Diversity and Inclusion Index

Roche is a research-based healthcare company which provides innovative diagnostic and therapeutic products and services. They are leading the diversity and inclusion efforts in the region.

They had an inclusive internship in partnership with SEDRA foundation and Naseba. The internship programs included work readiness workshops to ensure that interns had the best shot at success when they left the internship program.

Roche regularly organizes coaching for their teams on disability etiquette and provides on-the-job coaching to ensure clear learning outcomes.

Roche Diagnostics is doing a great job at ensuring diversity in their company because they believe in “bringing together all kinds of talents and ideas under one roof”, as said by Harald Wolf, General Manager of Roche Diagnostics Middle East.

2. Visa

A group of women from VISA holding different signs with text: VISA is, innovation, fun, passionate, leader, diverse, impactful. They are standing on a VISA stand.
Source: Twitter

Visa is an American multinational financial services corporation and they are striving towards diversity and inclusion as they consider it imperative.

Gender diversity is a huge priority for them because they believe female leaders bring different views and perspectives in the decision-making process. They are demonstrating their commitment to gender equality by developing and promoting female leaders. They provide training, development, and programs designed to increase female representation in the workplace. Events were held across MENA to celebrate International Women’s Day in 2016 and they have had training for Women’s Leadership Network across global offices.

From October 1, 2016, to September 30, 2017, 50% of their workforce hired in MENA (The Middle East and North Africa) were women.

Visa has also worked towards helping people with disabilities. They have partnered with charities supporting disabled people as well as a Visa Employee Resource Group (ViAble – for employees with disabilities) to promote the growth of employees of determination.

3. Al Naboodah Group

Al Naboodah
Al Naboodah received the Happiness Work Environment Award 2017

Al Naboodah Group is a construction company in the United Arab Emirates that concentrates on three major areas of construction: civil engineering, building, and  MEP (mechanical, electrical, and plumbing).

They are constantly working toward greater gender equality in the workplace. Their 2016 Sustainability Report gave a comprehensive overview of their gender empowerment and employee welfare initiatives.

They also launched the Women’s Development Programme, which was designed to help women at all levels of the company tap into their strengths and work to the best of their capabilities.

Al Naboodah even has an in-house training school (ANGE Trade School) where they provide workers with opportunities to refresh their skills or learn new trades. ANGE was awarded the ‘UAE’s Happiest Workplace’ award this year.

They have signed an MOU  (Memorandum of Understanding) with Stepping Stones to place students with disabilities in various internships within the company. This will be implemented in the next year, expanding the company’s commitment to inclusion and diversity within the workplace.

4. Siemens

Siemens Middle East
The Siemens Middle East Innovation Center consists of a diverse and highly motivated team of 15+ dedicated scientific researchers and engineers, representing 9 nationalities

Siemens is an industrial manufacturing company headquartered in Berlin and Munich, Germany.

Their CEO in the Middle East and U.A.E, Dietmar Siersdorfer has been quoted as saying, “Businesses have thrived in the midst of diversity”. He says that Siemens continues to reap the benefits of diversity, especially where innovation is considered.

To demonstrate their commitment to gender equality, they signed the Women’s Empowerment Principles (WEP) (needs citation) put forth by United Nations to strengthen the women in their company. The ratio of women in global management at Siemens has nearly doubled in the past 10 years.

They also work to promote a healthy work-life balance by providing services to fit different employee lifestyles and needs. Siemens offers childcare, flexible work schedules, diverse employee networks, and workplaces equipped for people with disabilities.


Engie – Middle East

ENGIE is a multinational electric utility company that operates in the fields of nuclear and renewable energy, electricity generation and distribution, and natural gas.

They have some pretty awesome gender diversity policies in place. They’ve committed to having 25% of their workforce be female by the year 2020. Their gender diversity policies also state that 30% of all their new recruits must be women. They also have a lot of initiatives underway to promote gender equality and increase career development opportunities for their female employees.

ENGIE is among the Top 30 companies in the world that promote gender equality in the workplace.

Isabelle Kocher, the CEO of ENGIE has said that “Gender diversity in business as a whole has greater ramifications than the representation of women in management or leadership positions… diversity also fosters critical thinking and innovative thinking and innovative solutions.” She genuinely believes that creating a diverse company means creating a better company.

6. GSK

A group of people standing together, some are sitting and some are standing. Most are wearing white polo shirts with GSK logo.
GSK PULSE Volunteers

GlaxoSmithKline is the world’s sixth largest pharmaceutical company.

They are striving towards equality of actual or perceived race, color, ethnic or national origin, age, gender, religion or belief, physical ability/disability and/or chronic health conditions, genetic make-up or other protected characteristics as they might be relevant. For example, their Project SEARCH initiative has helped people with disabilities get meaningful paid employment.

They have a Global Disability Council which has identified a wide range of opportunities to increase GSK’s disability confidence and their Disability Confidence Network has also helped the process of accessibility and raising awareness.

In a society as diverse as ours, to see inclusion, diversity, and accessibility being pioneered by some of the biggest companies in the world is an absolute delight. It is an important part of becoming a more holistic society in general.

With awareness, comes great responsibility to do whatever is in our power to make this world a more inclusive one. And to see this being done in practice is a huge step forward in the right direction.

Tech Career Advice Now + Beyond Interviews

Meet force of nature Haben Girma, Harvard Law School’s first deafblind graduate and fearless accessibility advocate

Recently, The Tempest had the opportunity to interview Haben Girma – an accessibility advocate, Obama’s Champion of Change, and Harvard Law School’s first deafblind graduate. As co-founder and CTO, I was able to snag the interview – and it was an incredible conversation.

Haben will also be speaking at Naseba Global WIL Economic Forum this October in Dubai. WIL is a true catalyst for change and because they connected us I was able to have a fascinating conversation with Haben that ultimately led to our pivot and commitment to accessibility. Before the actual call, we’d gone back and forth with a few emails- she sent me two links, which I think all journalists should read: a guide to producing positive disability stories and FAQs about her around accessibility, and general writing advice for journalists writing about people with disabilities.

Here’s how the call went: Haben’s friend would type what I was saying, and her keyboard was connected to a machine translator that would convert the text to Braille. She’d then respond with her voice.

I looked forward to the call because I’m also passionate about accessibility, although my previous work has been in Deaf-accessibility initiatives. I wanted to know more about Haben’s work, although just one article alone won’t do justice to her list of accolades. She’s worked as a lawyer in the DRA (Disability Rights Advocates), has given an Apple keynote on accessibility to developers, and even fought a case against Scribd, to make their content accessible.

“There are 1.3 billion people with disabilities in the world,” she told me.

“That’s a huge population, like almost the size of China, and a lot of companies completely ignore this population. But, it’s in our interest to think about this population and to think about what products we can build, or rather than having separate products, making our mainstream products accessible to everyone. There are guidelines online that teach people how to make websites accessible to blind readers, so blind people can access websites. Or, how to make videos accessible to Deaf people, like captioning on videos.”

I asked her how audio can be made accessible since the boom in podcasts has made them an indispensable part of current culture. She said, “What’s helpful is an audio transcript. Deaf individuals who want to hear the podcast will need to read a transcript. If I’m going to access a podcast, I need a transcript. Another thing to keep in mind is it helps your readership. When there’s more text associated with the content, it allows for more keyword searches. So people who are searching for that topic are more likely to find your podcast if there’s also a transcript with all the associated keywords. So it helps everyone, not just the deaf community.

So, how could we then tackle stigmas that people have – questions that they’re afraid to ask people with disabilities?

Fear causes people to lose so much. Lose potential knowledge, lose potential friends. I wish people would stop living in fear and start asking questions so that they can learn. I really appreciate when people ask questions out of a place of empathy a desire to understand,” and she can differentiate when people are trying to understand vs. when they’re asking a question and communicating pity by saying statements like: “Poor thing I would never survive if I was in your position.” or “Ungrateful, I don’t have your condition.

I can tell when something comes from pity versus the desire to understand. I’m always happy to answer questions and to teach people- that’s why I’m in this space of being a public speaker, a teacher, a lawyer. I’ve decided to choose this. Some people with disabilities don’t want to have to deal with educating the public, and it’s everyone’s own choice, not everyone should be an ambassador, it’s their personal choice whether to teach the community or not.”

I asked her about the changes she’s seen in terms of accessibility, and what corporations are doing. She said she’s definitely noticed a change and while she’s also doing a lot of work, she also tells me about other organizations who have been advocating for access for years, and how many changes have happened because of them.  She mentioned Amazon’s Kindle books and how they weren’t originally accessible to the blind.

The NFB (National Federation of the Blind) advocated for Kindle books to become accessible. And eventually, Amazon changed its products to make them more accessible. “So now if I want to read a Kindle book, I can get any book on their store. It can be converted from speech to Braille.

I asked her about her time at DRA – Girma worked for the DRA after school and she tells me was able to focus on things that interested her, like access to digital, and she elaborates on a case against Scribd, where DRA was representing the NFB, “Scribd insisted that they didn’t have to make their online services and digital library accessible. The judge ruled in our favor because the Americans with Disabilities Act applies to online businesses like Scribd. That was a huge victory, it was thrilling to be able to reach a landmark decision, to impact history and make a difference in our cultural history.”

This was also when Girma realized, “There’s more to advocacy than just lawsuits and I decided to make a switch and focus more on teaching. I wanted to help people do the right thing, so they don’t get sued.”

She continues, telling me something I didn’t know: “Apple is the most popular choice for people with disabilities…and they are doing more than any other company to make their products as accessible as possible.

The iPhone is the most popular smartphone amongst blind individuals- there’s a screen reader called VoiceOver on the iPhone, and it reads everything out loud on the screen from digital to braille.”

She continues, telling me about Tim Cook’s official statement about how accessibility is a priority at Apple: “It means so much to have the leadership of a company acknowledging and telling all employees that accessibility is a priority and a human right. I wish that more leaders of companies would come out and say to us that we’re going to prioritize this.”

This was the point in the conversation when I truly felt that as a co-founder I had the power to make this change happen at The Tempest. Learning from Haben and leaders in the disability/accessibility community like her is critically important for understanding the kind of revolutionary changes that we are aiming to make at The Tempest.

Accessibility isn’t a buzzword: something you can add on to your site or product and hope for the best. It’s a challenge, an ongoing mission that requires creativity, empathy, and commitment to building a world that works for everyone in it.

After all, inclusivity is the foundation on which The Tempest was built.

The Tempest is proud to be media partners with Naseba Global WIL Economic Forum. The WIL Forum is a catalyst for change by focusing on diversity and inclusion and leading efforts such as an inclusive internship project for this edition. This interview was edited for length and clarity.

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The Tempest is committed to leading the accessibility movement in media

When we first began The Tempest in early 2016, our company ethos was crystal-clear: evolving global conversations using inclusivity and diversity through every facet of our work. It is an ethos that has allowed us to compete alongside older, more established media entities, a set of values that every person on the team espouses on a day-to-day basis.

Through the lens of inclusivity and diversity as core values, growth took off – and continues to do so – with the conversations, realizations, and messages our platform fosters daily reaching millions from more than ninety countries across the world. Between 2016 and 2017, our audience grew by 500%. Our audience is composed of engaged, enthusiastic individuals who are seeking out their place in the world – mostly women, mostly politically engaged, and tapped into a larger reality that stretches far beyond their zip code.

Quite simply, our audience reflected our team at Tempest HQ – people we’d love to grab a coffee (or chai!) with to discuss anything from technology to travel, beauty to cultural realities.

As a young media company, our team consistently makes an effort to step back and gauge how we’re doing – and what we can do better. To stay stagnant is to strip our mission of its effectiveness, and besides – experimentation and smart pivoting is part of how The Tempest thrives.

[bctt tweet=”Tempest HQ has decided to actively incorporate accessibility into every initiative.” username=”wearethetempest”]

With that in mind, we came to the realization that while we were practicing inclusivity for much of our audience, we were falling short for a significant demographic: people with disabilities. With more than 1.3 billion self-identifying people with disabilities in the world, we were doing a disservice to crucial members of the world by failing to fully optimize our offerings for their consumption, too.  

Rather than attempt to brush this realization under the table, Tempest HQ has decided to actively incorporate accessibility into every initiative and product offering. Our pivot is spearheaded by our Co-Founder and CTO, Mashal Waqar, who notes that, “As a company, we have a considerable amount of power in shifting norms and expectations. As such, we are prioritizing and employing techniques to make sure our content, in all formats, including audio and video, will now be fully accessible. Quite simply, we are here to prioritize accessibility because it is a human right.”

[bctt tweet=”With inclusivity and diversity as core values, growth took off and continues to do so.” username=”wearethetempest”]

Through this shift, we hope to see more corporations, media outlets, and organizations move in a fully inclusive, accessible direction that brings the entire world to the table. We are still a ways from a world in which everything is accessible, but things are changing.

The Tempest is committed to being at the forefront of the accessibility movement.

Tech Now + Beyond

Seven saucy apps that will completely change your love life

Let’s face it: The quality of sex education sucks, and it’s a problem.

Across the U.S., there is a slew of states refusing to allow public schools to teach sex-ed, and how sex-ed is taught across the world is just as inconsistent. We’re lucky if our guardians even gave us “the sex talk”.

Abstinence-only education is not working. The negativity, judgment, and stigma surrounding sex are preventing many from learning how to have safe, consensual sex or how to embrace sex as an affirmative experience.

Sex education shouldn’t be embarrassing or inaccessible, and we owe it to ourselves to take sex-ed into our own hands. And thanks to the digital age, we now have mobile and web apps that are revolutionizing how we talk about sex.

1. HappyPlayTime

HappyPlayTime is breaking down social stigma surrounding female masturbation with their lighthearted and necessary web app. ‘Happy’ is an adorable cartoon vulva that takes its users through interactive games to learn about anatomy and basic techniques in pleasuring yourself. Simply move your cursor or finger around the directed area to unlock different moves around the clitoris, clitoral hood or vagina. Let your partner have a try at it so they can get educated too.

In an interview with Broadly, Tina Gong states that she created this adorable app to overcome her embarrassment over sex and sexuality. Her conservative upbringing stifled her journey to discover her own body, and she wanted to change the conversation around sexual pleasure.

2. Juicebox

Juicebox is a sex and relationship mobile app where you can get advice from certified “sexperts” and get sexual health information where we communicate the most: our phones.

There are two main components to Juicebox: Snoop lets users submit questions to be answered by sex therapists, counselors and educators, who publish their answers and resources for the entire Juicebox community to read. So if you’re embarrassed about asking a question, rest assured that there’s an entire community of people who are having the same musings.

The Spill function lets users share personal stories about sexuality and gender to foster community and break down the embarrassment and stigma surrounding sexual experiences.



F*CK YES is a web series that models what consent looks like in a world clueless about how to discuss safety in pre-coital conversation. Produced, written and directed by an all-women team, these sex positive videos are showing how consent is affirmative and sexy.

Although consent definitely doesn’t need to “sexy” to be necessary, these digital shorts have fun with the notion that consent is a part of the sexual experience and doesn’t have to “ruin the mood”.

4. OMGYes

OMGYes is a website committed to exploring female sexual pleasure and creating better orgasms through new research and science. This platform is taking the stigma around sexuality head-on by taking a candid look at the ways women find pleasure.

The website uses video testimonials, stats, and simulation to educate users about stimulation and sexuality. Through its interactive videos, users can test techniques by touching their screens. The videos give you feedback in real-time so users can better fine-tune their movement. There’s only a one-time fee to start using OMGYes. Once you pay, you can access all of its episodes as much as you would like.

5. SexPositive

Sex positive is all about counteracting the fears, misinformation, and negativity around human sexuality. Instead, it embraces sex as a positive, affirming experience. The app is modeled as a wheel where users can spin to learn what happens when one body part touches another, or even an object. The result gives users  safe sex recommendations.

Created by the University of Oregon Health Center, this convenient mobile app provides users judgement-free information about sexually transmitted infections (STIs), safe sex practices, communication tips and other advice.

6. Bedsider

Bedsider helps people take an active role in their reproductive health by providing the most comprehensive birth control information possible. Operated by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, Bedsider is completely independent and is committed to providing users with honest and unbiased information.

[bctt tweet=”@Bedsider helps people take an active role in their reproductive health.” username=”wearethetempest”]

Users can explore and compare different birth control options through an interactive breakdown, while also learning what they can do if birth control fails. Bedsider also lets users know where they can access birth control, from health centers to at-home delivery services, and even helps users remember to take their birth control through their Bedsider Reminders mobile app.

7. Eve by Glow

Eve by Glow is a sex app and period tracker made for women who want to take control of their sexual and reproductive health in the convenience of one platform. In this hybrid app, users can log their sexual activity and keep track of their cycle, so you can worry less about the health of your cycle and unplanned pregnancies and more about your sexuality.

Users can get as specific as they’d like on the app, logging data like when you’ve had sex, with who and how. You can also record your mood and if you’ve been exercising, which all factor into how your cycle works. Eve gives its users trusted information on birth control and sex tips, and also has a discussion forum in which users can share their stories and experiences, or ask for advice from each other.

Gender Love Inequality

Meet Hana Shafi, the incredible creative lighting up the self-affirmation revolution

Hana Shafi is an artist, journalist and all-around creative being from the Greater Toronto Area. With her Instagram and Tumblr art blog, Hana inspires and lights up people around the globe through her positive affirmation series. The series, which encompasses healing and soothing images in soft tones and comforting themes, went viral last year, and she’s never looked back. She spoke with The Tempest to share her thoughts and feelings about her creativity, out-going personality, and motivations behind her positive affirmation series and her other artwork.

The Tempest: When did you start developing your creative voice?

Hana Shafi: It’s hard to really pinpoint where that started, because like most creative people, it’s been a lifelong process, and there’s always sort of been some creative development at every stage of my life even before I started putting more time into art. I mean, I didn’t put as much time into visual art when I was a kid. I was doing mostly writing, and I still do writing, but now obviously, I started to put a lot of time into visual arts. 

What drives you to make art? 

HS: I mean, I think it started off as a mostly therapeutic thing for myself. It was something for me to do for myself to ease my anxiety and my stress, and have a sort of healthy outlet for things. Some of it too was just sort of natural.

Like I’ve never been in a situation where I’m not doodling something. It was always a habit of mine throughout my school years. I used to have my old high school binders, they were literally like covered from top to bottom in drawings. It was sort of just something that I do, like I have to be doing it. Yeah, I think it’s just sort of something that comes to me very naturally.

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Property of Hana Shafi

A lot of your art encompasses healing, acceptance, affirmation. You talked a little bit about how your art is therapeutic to you. What drew you towards encompassing those ideas into your art, and why do you think that’s important?

HS: “I Believe Survivors” was trending on Twitter and it had become this big hashtag. So, I made three pieces of “I believe survivors” artwork. I just got a really positive reaction and people, it just made them feel really safe or happy and, you know, my art had never had that effect on people before. When I got that reaction from people, I was like, “Wow, there is art you can make that makes people feel really good, and that makes me feel really good.”

Then I decided that maybe I should do more of this kind of style, just like very healing and very centered around self-love and social justice and sort of accessible advice. So I started making more of those and that’s just how it kind of took off.

I think that also the need for accessible advice and positive affirmation work that wasn’t completely informed by privilege, because that’s what I have seen mostly in terms of the whole positivity community or the wellness community is a lot of it is very privileged, very impractical, doesn’t really take into account the different factors in people’s life that might stop them from being able to take certain bits of advice, so you see you see a lot of things like “travel to broaden your horizons” and “don’t let mean people talk you down.” I mean, I just think that’s bullshit because things will hurt you and you have to be able to live your sadness for as long as it takes before you can move on from it.

So I was like, you know, “I’m going to make art that I think is accessible that relates to me and my problems” and also can, you know, relate to others that may not necessarily be in the most privileged position and won’t be able to follow sort of conventional positive rhetoric.

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Property of Hana Shafi

How have you come to understand your style?

HS: So, the way that I would sort of get into understanding my style is when I first started starting doing more drawing, I’m sort of deeply meditating when I’m doing my work, because you have to dig down very deep to transfer whatever weird ideas you have filtering in the back of your subconscious, like through your head and through your arm, through your hand and to your fingers and onto the paper.

So I would really have to dig very deep, and, I would just have — it sounds so creepy to say — but I would just have weird images in my head and I couldn’t really explain why I pictured things a certain way, so when I was doing really like weird, like long faces and things like that I don’t know why I drew body parts so exaggerated and so intense, but you just kind of have to go with it, like real slowly and really focus on yourself and tune everything out and literally take that weird image. The problem is is that we try to sort of self-edit, we try to edit things that we see in our head so that when we put it on paper it’s something that makes sense and is appropriate, but art doesn’t have to make sense, right?

So, I slowly started to embrace that kind of that weird style, that kind of intense style, that disproportionate look. I took advantage of the fact that I already had trouble drawing proportionate features. 

To get into the positive affirmation, a very simple, kind of clear cut, kind of digital style. Obviously, that was inspired by the work that I saw around me. I liked how people could create such sweet images. And, again, I thought a lot about what images I sort of associated with those messages, right? When I thought of something like, healing, for me, it tended to make me think of things like nature and that were soft and organic and reliable. So, those kinds of feelings I would bring into my head and it was just a matter of putting it on myself and translating that.

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Property of Hana Shafi

Do you have any advice for young women of color who are looking to pursue what you’re pursuing right now?

HS: I guess, I would advise them to understand their value and their self-worth, and that they are worth it and that they are good at what they do, because the thing that tends to debilitate a lot of creative people, especially young women and women of color and really any marginalized folks — trans folks, nonbinary folks, folks with disabilities, folks with mental illness, folks with face trauma — is that we tend to undermine ourselves, because society undermines us and makes us question our value and our worth and makes us think that our contributions are somehow lesser or not good enough. Understanding your worth is the thing that drives me to creative things, when you don’t understand your worth is there is little other incentives to do these things. It does not sustain a livelihood for a lot of people.

Some people do become successful in art, but other people, you know, they need their day job. That’s the reality of life.

And people are mean when you put art out there, you are vulnerable when you create something. People want to tear it down … I see it with my art. I see it with my writing. The only thing that gets me going — aside from obviously all the wonderful support from great people — is me saying, “No, I’m worth it. My art is worth it.” That’s what keeps me going. You have to have self-worth, which is easier said than done obviously, but it will give you the drive to keep going in a field that is so often undermined, especially when you are marginalized and so used to being told you can’t. 

Make sure to check out Hana Shafi on her Tumblr, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.