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You must be in the front line and fight for everyone’s rights.

19 aug

March 8, 2012, I find myself in Washington, D.C. Today I had the opportunity to see, hear and meet women who change the world up close. I am among the 700 guests who will participate in the “2012 Internasjonal Women of Curage Award Ceremony“. Before me sits the ten winners. Women who risk their lives every day to create a better world for girls and women. With them is the U.S. first lady Michelle Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and two Nobel Prize winners, Leymah Gbowee and Tawakkol Karman.


They fight for women and girls’ rights. They saw corruption, violence, injustice, poverty and discrimination, and they decided to do something about it. They use their voice and risking their lives to create the reality that can ensure girls and women equal life, equal rights, says a fervently Michelle Obama in his speech.

M. Obama begins her speech to pay tribute to women and a special tribute also goes to Hillary Clinton for her fierce commitment to women’s rights and feminism.


These strong women have had many different journeys, tough travel to reach this goal. We hear their stories and everyone in the audience sit and shed tears. Joy, pride, sorrow and anger, all those feelings take a trip to our hearts.


You are not alone!

When we hear Hillary Clinton talk about Jineth Bedoya Lima from Colombia, which was prone to gang rape because she was a journalist who wrote about weapons smuggling, we know the feelings of powerlessness and fear of death she must have felt in the hours. After the assaults, said the rapists to her, «this is a warning and a message to the press in Colombia.» Since that day, Jineth Bedoya Lima worked even harder to bring up issues that affect women, and she demanded justice, not only for themselves but for all women who are victims of violence and abuse. She is also an active participant in the campaign «Rape and Other Violence: Take my body out of the War.» As I listen I think of women who are victims of violence, maltreatment and abuse in Norway. Yes, this concerns us also.

Not only fight for women’s rights, but for everybody’s rights!


Peace prizewinner, Gbowee says:  “No woman should sit down and allow a man to speak about her reproductive rights”. “Over time the woman’s movement of this world has mellowed. Our issues and our conversation have become issues of men. I get angry when I think about it.” 

Then she turns to M. Obama and H. Clinton and says, let us honor them, but do not let pride be the only recognition. They need support, policy and political changes in order to succeed in their work. And we can do something about it. Then Tawakkol takes over. She has a clear message to all of us, you must be on the front line and fight. But, do not fight for just women’s rights, but for everyone’s rights. Sending a message to our sisters in Syria who are fighting a bloody battle.

Never give up your dream!

Girls in seventh grade from one of the schools in Washington were invited to this ceremony. «We invite girls, the future leaders of this ceremony because we want them to be inspired and meet role models. I want all girls to see, meet these women who have followed their inner voice, their dream, despite the attempted murder and violence. The road can be difficult, but never give up your dream, says H. Clinton.

M. Obama and H. Clinton invite twelve, thirteen years old girls to various meetings, conferences and ceremonies. They meet women leaders in business, politics, organizations and public sector. The goal is to let the girls meet role models so that they dear to dream of a better life.

An hour near these women has eternal traces in me. The desire to make a difference for women and girls in Norway has been enhanced.




It’s about having faith in the girls dreams.

25 jul

My biggest challenge was that nobody believed in me. No one expected me to succeed, says Sara Manzano-Diaz.


Manzano-Diaz,director of the Women’s Bureau, Department of Labor in the United States, welcomes me and twelve other committed women leaders from Europe. A dedicated, targeted, attentive and focused woman, has set

Loveleen Rihel Brenna with Sara Manzano Diaz

aside a full hour to tell us about «women and leadership» on various levels. She lectured in everything from managing themselves out of poverty to governance at the national level.

She says that the Women’s Bureau was established in 1920, and their three priority areas at that point were:

–        Eight-hour work day

–        Working conditions for women

–        Equal pay for equal work for both men and women

We have not yet reached the finish line yet with these issues, she says with a sigh.

Wage differences between men and women, is not an unknown battle for Norwegian women.

Wage differences

This question also concerns Manzano-Diaz. Women earn less than men systematically. Salary conditions are as follows:

White women earn 80 – 100

Afro-American women earn 70 – 100

Latin American women earn 60 – 100

Wage differences are due to several things in addition to gender differences. An example would be that we have few women who educates for careers that offer higher wages, such as science, engineering and green growth. Green Growth is a priority that can lead many women out of poverty. It will be an important focus for us in the future.

Nontraditional education and business

What about women of Asian background, I ask. There is something strange there; they earn little more than white women. This is because they take often take non-traditional education and they are putting more on stake more on business.

After an exciting hour with many good ideas and suggestions on how we can empower women, I ask: what was your biggest challenge to get to where you are today?

My challenge was that nobody believed in me. No one expected that I, a girl with a Latin background, could succeed. I came from a poor Latin American family from the slums. I was an interpreter for my family, and through interpretation of the role, my dream of being a lawyer grew. But the environment around me tried to kill my dreams, through their attitudes towards my background and me. But my parents had faith in me. Eventually I came in contact with good mentors. But mentors are not enough; you must have someone who sponsors you, gives you a chance and have faith in you. Today, she represents 72 million working women in the United States.

After the meeting wit Sara Mansano-Diaz, I was even more sure that Seemas focus on humans will and power to learn, develop and dream of a better future is the way to go. For us it’s about having faith in girls and women who want to follow their dream. It may be the dream of becoming a leader, or find a way out of poverty. We have faith in employers and businesses looking to make a positive difference in society by taking social responsibility for people in vulnerable situations.

It’s about believing in girls and women, and give them a chance! It’s about having faith in humankind. It’s about faith in the girls’ dreams.



Willing to learn – they cannot ignore you

22 jul

 Get as good as you can in your field so that the environment around you and the labor market cannot ignore you!

Leadership is about what you do when your boss, your colleagues, your friends and your network does not see you. It’s about how you spend your time when you’re not in the «limelight,» says Sharma.

Robin Sharma

February 14 last year I, Loveleen, participated at a seminar with Robin Sharma, one of the world’s five best speakers on leadership and personal development. Sharma spoke of being a » Leader without title», which is also the title of one of his books.

He believes that leadership is about character and responsibility. The advices Sharma provide, or hundreds of other management gurus give are alike. They use different examples, but the core is quite similar. One of the advices I would like to point out, that I think may be useful for Seema participants, are always be willing to learn and develop.

Willingness to learn

This is a theme and a focus area that I have been concerned about for a long time. To deliver good results, strengthen your business or organization, you must be willing to grow and learn. Your growth will affect your reputation, who you attract, your confidence about what you work for or about your passion, and it affects your success in you business or personal life.

«As long as you’re green, you’re growing. As soon as you’re ripe, you start to rot» (Ray Kroc).

Some believe that if they receive an award, a title or a degree, they have reached the goal. They stop learning more, they cease to accept new ideas or listen to others. They stop growing.

Attend seminars and workshops.

My advice is: read something new within your field every day. You must develop, renew yourself, and be willing to integrate something new with the familiar, every day. Seek people who know more than you, and include

people working in the same field as you. Choose your friends and your network that promotes growth, either on the professional or personal level. The more you read or learn about a subject or a phenomenon, the «greener» you become, the danger of «rot» is reduced. When you learn and develop yourself every day, you will be noticed. They cannot ignore you!

You must be the architect of your own life.

26 mai

Anisa, Najda, Monika og Isha.

”I want to quit school”, I overhear a young school girl tell her friend.   


”It’s just too hard”, she answers in Urdu looking away.

“Ok, but you don’t need to take school so seriously, you only need to get an average D and you will pass and get your high school diploma”, the other advises looking concerned.

“I know, but I don’t see the point, I’m not planning to work after getting married anyway”

“I see, however, a high school diploma might come in handy at a later stage, don’t you think?”

The conversation took place between two Norwegian-Pakistani high school girls on the bus. The conversation lingered with me. Naturally, the girl on the bus (any girl really) has the full right to dream and to choose a future as home wife if that is what she prefers. However, I kept thinking, how well founded is her life choice and has she considered the implications?

Disparity in life conditions

”There are large disparities in living conditions comparing men and women with immigrant background. Women are more often socially excluded. They are often bound for house work, are less fluent in Norwegian, have fewer Norwegian friends and more often feel marginalized and alone. Work outside home decreases this disparity significantly.(NOU 2011: 14 Bedre integrering).

Typically, the men the two girls from the bus will marry will most likely be” brought” from the parent previous homeland. So why is this important or even relevant? Very often this implies that their newly-wed husband does not speak Norwegian, does not have a job or relevant work experience, meaning that they will be dependent on their wife’s and the wife’s families for a considerable period of time..

Hence, if these school girls choose not to educate and dream of becoming a housewife – what does this life choice entail for their future families? How will they manage economically? Do they ever stop to consider that having no education limits opportunities, and, as a consequence, often result in life in relative poverty?

No unusual choice

At a later stage, I shared the story of the school girls on the bus with a young Norwegian girl of Turkish origin. She was not surprised at all and shared that many young Turkish girls world make the same life choice. She

Vejin og Isha.

reflected; “Many choose to marry early as this is perceived as an easy way to obtain some freedom – freedom to go out, freedom to have a “boyfriend” and to live the life on your own premises.”

“However, they are not free”, she says with sadness in her eyes. “They believe they chose freedom and a life different from their parents, but in practice they are economically very “un-free” and will be facing many of the same challenges as their parents – often economic difficulties and dire conditions.

When the first wave of immigrants came to Norway in the late 60’s and early 70’s, many struggled. They did not know the Norwegian language, they owned nothing, lacked social network and longed for their families and friends back home. Home sickness, loneliness and marginalization often prevailed. But the pains and losses experienced by former generations, does not need to be inherited by future generations. The opportunities today are there – another future is on offer by choosing to educate and work and therefore, become economically independent and free.

Seema – advocating for the alternative

I very often think of the school girls on the bus… I think of the considerable amount of research conducted, both in Norway and internationally, on the consequences of dropping out of school at early ages, re-production of social inequality and how social exclusion and poverty still prevail in families with immigrant background.

Fra Seemas Workshop 14.april 2012

The question continued to haunt me: How can I use my education, knowledge and insight accumulated from being the leader of the National Committee for parents who have children in primary and/or secondary education,  the leader of the government appointed “Kvinnepanelet” and leading the research resulting in the NOU publication «Med forskertrang og lekelyst», not to forget my personal experience as an immigrant woman to advocate for the alternatives – alternatives to marginalization, social exclusion and poverty for women with immigrant background?

Based on this Seema was established.

SEEMA stands for (in Norwegian):

Selvstendighet (Independance)
Endring (Change)

Seema will through mentorship, coaching, competency programs and sharing of network provide girls and women with immigrant background access to the work life. Companies we partner with (and their chosen program mentors) will be offered skills in diversity and management of a diverse work force.

Seema believes in the equality of human beings and our inherent force and will to develop ourselves. We believe in potential to be strong and free – and we want to equip girls and women with the tools to validate alternatives and to make them good architects of their own lives.

Our focus and mandate is education and work! We want to make the path to education and work education for girls and women with immigrant background shorter.

Photoes: Gry Monica Farstad Hellevik

Achieving diversity in the workplace cannot be put on hold

10 mai

Man: Hi, are you the leader for the national committee for parents who have children in primary and/or secondary education asks the man who sits beside me on the plane.

I: That’s right, I used to be. Currently I am in the process of setting up my company, Seema AS. I give him the brief elevator speech focusing on our vision of promoting diversity, before asking – what do you do?

Man: I am a manager in a medium sized organization and one of our key values is diversity.

I: How exciting, please tell me how you are working to promote diversity in the workplace?

Man: We have included it in our values, but unfortunately, we have very little time and capacity to fully implement our values at the moment.  A full focus on diversity will probably have to wait until we have more time.
I: First, building diversity into the organization values is a good starting point.  Maybe I can help you look at how your organization further can promote diversity in the workplace?

Man: Currently we have no employees with immigrant backgrounds in our business; however, we may in the future, so it is certainly on our agenda.
I: (smiling) I am sure you have some diversity in your staff already.
Man: No, we have only employed Norwegians. But now that I know about Seema AS, I know who to call when we are looking for advice on how to handle diversity. Currently, we do not have the capacity and need to focus on the bottom line. Les videre