For 110 years, International Women’s Day has celebrated women’s achievements across the world, focusing on gender bias and inequality in a bid to develop a more inclusive world.
This year’s theme – Choose To Challenge – comes with one bold mission statement: a challenged world is an alert world, and from challenge comes change.
The UAE is no stranger to confident business women who are prepared to seize opportunities and challenge norms. We’ve chosen to highlight three who are using their entrepreneurial knowledge, healing therapies and fitness support to alter mindsets and make positive changes to women’s lives and the communities around them.
Kaya Peters is the owner of Kaya Yoga, a six-figure global yoga teacher training brand. Her passion is empowering women to live their dreams, let go of limitations, take better care of their bodies and build careers from their own passions and sense of purpose.
“I’m passionate about helping women find their truth, accept themselves, love themselves and form successful careers,” she says. “Becoming financially abundant and creating stability for themselves is something I teach in my schools.”
Peters has had to overcome a number of hurdles as a woman in the business world, including changing the way she promotes her yoga business on social media.
“One of the things I find really challenging as a woman is being objectified,” she says. “I post a lot of yoga positions (splits, headstands) and if I’m doing it on a beach, I may wear shorts or a bikini. But I find that as a woman, I have to dial myself down to be taken seriously. I’ve had men want to invest in my business but there was always that energy of still trying to hit on me or making sexually inclined comments. As a woman, I really struggle with. But I’ve become very strong in setting those boundaries and adapting, because I don’t want to be objectified or be perceived as ‘asking for it’ because I am wearing tight leggings.”
Her own journey into the yoga field came from a difficult upbringing and an eating disorder that carried on through her adolescence. In her twenties, after what Peters calls a ‘self-abusive’ lifestyle, she felt a calling to move from home in the Netherlands to Thailand, where she had her first yoga session in a Thai monastery.
Over the past decade, Peters has used her entrepreneurial knowledge to start another two businesses. The second is an online platform for entrepreneurs, where she teaches women about how to start their own business in the lifestyle industry and how to overcome all the internal confusion about their life’s purpose. Her third is a yoga clothing brand called RAIN, born out of her own frustration in trying to find non-synthetic, beautiful and comfortable things to wear when she was teaching.
“I wanted to wear something in my classroom that made me feel super feminine and pretty,” she says. “It’s important when women perform yoga that we feel good and tune into our feminine energy, as well as feeling that the fabrics are nourishing us.”
Leading an empowered life requires admitting what you really want and need, says Peters.That means overcoming some of the rules imposed by society and the indoctrination by the beliefs of others and conquering the habit – common to so many – of living in fear.
“There is nothing that gives more peace of mind than knowing that you can rely on yourself,” she says. “Whatever path lies ahead of you, there has to be some sort of foundation in your life so that you know if anything ever happens, you can fall back on yourself.”
Neha Bali is an experienced female entrepreneur who uses healing tools with a holistic approach to keep the mind, body and emotions connected.
Those tools challenge deep-rooted personal issues and baggage taken on by society while restoring balance and a sense of wellbeing.
“I feel it’s important for everyone to take on holistic healing therapies, as they are safe, non-invasive and they complement modern medicine,” she says. “They deal with situations in a gentle and kind way and because they deeply connect you internally, you can come up with beautiful solutions for yourself, by yourself.”
Women, says Bali, need to be cheerleaders for each other.
“We have to unite and be there for each other, because women understand women,” she says. “Instead of competing, be compassionate, kind and soft and you can only start that by being those things to yourself.”
She believes that celebrating achievements, even the small ones, is the foundation to happiness and fulfilling your purpose in life. Bali implores female entrepreneurs to think about why they want to have their own business and to consider whether it will serve humanity in some way, because that will make them feel happy and fulfilled from within.
Born, raised and educated to MBA level in Delhi, she took her healing knowledge to Germany and Moscow before settling in Dubai and launching her business, which bears her name, Neha Bali.
Bali uses a number of healing therapies including meditation, theta healing, family constellation, and EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique). She comes from a family of medical healers – her parents worked in hospitals – and first turned to holistic healing when her own father’s health began to fail. Not knowing where to find the answers she needed, she decided to try meditation to clear her mind of negative thoughts. That taught her how to change her mindset and live in the present moment with a sense of purpose and joy.
“Even in your darkest moments you need to find the silver lining because that’s what gives you hope to live,” she says.
For Bali, having a purpose is more important than chasing money.
“You are the most important project, so work on yourself and everything else will come to you.”
UK-based Iraqi fitness coach Rachael Sacerdoti’s own growth – and weight loss – started three-and-a-half years ago after three pregnancies.
““Usually, I was a social and energetic person but I was in a rut, depressed and not in control of my life,” she explains.
The catalyst for change came from her brother. After watching her eat a large amount of ice cream, he asked her: “Who are you right now?”
“I took baby steps and I’ve got where I am today with a lot of hard work, consistency, dedication and a strong driving force,” she says. “I believe you can achieve anything you want as long as you have a strong drive to reach that goal.”
After losing 30 kilograms, other people started asking her for advice. Now Sacerdoti is on a mission to offer workouts, nutritional advice and support to women who have found themselves in a rut during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Her 12-week online program It’s So Simple is designed to maximise the potential of a short amount of exercise. It is based on Sacerdoti’s own fitness journey and relies on two fundamental ideas:consuming less calories than you burn while increasing muscle mass.
The program is conducted online, disseminated through online exercises, nutritional meal plans, progress tracking, personal consultation and a WhatsApp group. There are easy-to-make recipes for the whole family, which come with a grocery shopping list of items that are available in the UAE.
With 150 clients globally, Sacerdoti has quickly created a sisterhood who support each other whether they are taking their first step or are almost at the end of the course.
“I have come from a place where I understand what it feels like to be them,” she says. “To start a program and feel completely out of control and not understand what to do or what steps to take is a desperate feeling, which I can relate to. I love inspiring and spreading the light to empower them to do this. They just need to take the first step.”
Accountability was key for Sacerdoti.
“Throughout my life, I didn’t own the motivation myself, I didn’t understand the ‘what’ and ‘why’ and there was no ownership from my side,” she says. “I found that the goal and the journey I had chosen wasn’t synchronized with the method or way in which I was getting the help. That changed when I decided to own my personal journey.”
Asha Sherwood owns Abu Dhabi Review, an online and social platform that gives you the scoop on everything happening in the capital.