A HUGE THANK YOU to Sukces Jest Kobieta for featuring little old me as their 1st Non- Polish Influential Woman in their Annual Magazine!! Your girl got a THREE page spread HOLLAAAAA 😉
Each year Sukces Jest Kobieta publish this glamorous magazine which features an array of inspiring female Polish CEO’s, Social Workers, Teacher’s, POP Stars & other women making changes in society = FEMALE POWER
So how did this amazing opportunity come about? Shortly after my BBC feature had aired in July 18, I came across an Article that Sukces Jest Kobieta had written about me and the work that I do for abused women. One of their Journalists; Michal Karis then reached out to me wanting to put together another Article about me, however this time in the form of an Interview.
And so it began, emails back and forth every few days answering questions and more new questions discussing Women’s Unity Movement, Body Beautiful International, Islam, DV and my views on society topics. After a few months Michal advised me of Sukces Jest Kobieta’s Annual Heroine Magazine and how he would love to have my Article featured in the Magazine. I was so intrigued by the Magazine concept and so honoured to have been asked about having my Article published in the Magazine, as opposed to on their website.
I’m so grateful to have been seen by Sukces Jest Kobieta & chosen for an in-depth Interview. Below is a copy of my Interview, I hope you all enjoy it!
**Please excuse any ill formed words as their website has automatically translated it to English as best as it could.
One of your goals – whether through Women’s Unity Movement or through media appearances – is to support women. At the same time, you are a Muslim convert to Islam. Meanwhile, this religion is considered to treat women subjectively. What does it look like in your eyes?
Natasha Toffa, Founder of Women’s Unity Movement: Many people in Australia look at me strangely or question how I can change to this religion at all. Why I didn’t stay a Catholic. Unfortunately, there is a media image that doesn’t make it easy to be a Muslim. We are constantly criticized, wrongly judged or stereotyped based on what the minority is doing. I would divide people into three simplified groups: those who understand Islam; those who are against Islam but do not have factual knowledge of religion itself; those who also do not have knowledge of Islam but are open to obtaining it.
Islam has come with a revolutionary message that raises the status of women, giving them equality in faith and worship. Of course, in Islam men are presented as the hosts and guardians of women, but – in relation to the foundations of Islam – duties and rewards are equally for women and men. Few people know about it, but Islam has granted women rights centuries before the Western world. As the first religion, he gave us the right to own property and inheritance. So, it is difficult today to accept the fact that today we Muslims have to fight for our rights when we received the first one about 1500 years ago. Many men choose from the Koran only what is best for them to force women to dominate. That is why believers of other religions perceive Islam in this way. But we, Islamic women, are brave, belligerent and the fact that – for example – we cover part of the body, it does not diminish us. Me and many women in the world are an example of this.
Undoubtedly, Muslim women are brave, but also some Muslim countries today force them to have this courage, denying the rights of citizens of other countries. Do you personally see radical interpretations of Islam as a threat?
Absolutely! Such situations particularly help feed the stereotypes of others, say ignorant people, about Islam itself. This is a threat to us all as a public. Everything that is done by force – even for the best intentions, regardless of whether we are talking about the West or Islamic countries – should be considered inaccurate and cannot be praised.
We’ve talked about Islam seriously, but it also has a more frivolous edition. You belong to the so-called hijabistas (a combination of hijab and the word fashionista – editor’s note). So you combine your religion with fashion and have fun at the same time.
Haha yes! Even before changing my religion, I loved to dress: American fashion, bold prints, colorful clothing. After switching to Islam, I see no reason to give it up, of course, apart from covering my body in accordance with the rules I adopted. I am often complimented on Instagram and on the streets by non-Muslim women, which is a source of some satisfaction. That the choice of a scarf or the way it is tied, or the way in which I am fully covered yet still fashionable can still be admired and seen as inspiring. In a way, it’s breaking the barrier, telling people about Islam. Some people assume that covering the body is a boring, fashion-resistant duty to cover yourself with only black, but it is not!
And your greatest work, Women’s Unity Movement (WUM, Polish Movement for the Unification of Women) was founded just over a year ago. What are the assumptions of such and how do you assess the beginning of operations?
Women’s Unity Movement is an international organization that I started alone and its success over the past year and a half is a massive blessing for me. The goal of the Women’s Unity Movement is to bring women of different denominations, ages, ethnicities and experiences closer together so that we can truly unite.
I aim to promote social change through women’s support, love for each other, education about how to differ between us and at the same time celebrating diversity amongst each community. The means to an end is the organization of events – somewhat elegant but also cheerful – exclusively for women every two or three months. So far there have been eight in Australia and one in Los Angeles. There are 60 to over 100 women with a very diverse identity at one time.
As part of Women’s Unity Movement I run the Body Beautiful International project, which is not only about supporting women, but also about self-love and self-confidence. For the celebration of our origin, skin tone, shapes, sizes. In other words, the goal is to redefine the stereotypical perception of beauty in the media to represent all women in the world. For this project, the point is for each participant to be an inspiration to the younger generation, but also to peers and the wider community, being a more realistic reference point in terms of beauty.
So far I have prepared video and photographic projects as part of Body Beautiful International in New York and Los Angeles, and in December I will be implementing another one in Malaysia. From the beginning of starting Women’s Unity Movement, I have been trying to make the initiative reach global reach, which is why I still have many more Countries to visit and capture in these projects.
Body Beautiful International sounds wonderful as an idea. But you don’t have the impression that you are alone against the whole world? The media or fashion industry is based on these deep-rooted stereotypes of female beauty. Although wrong, or maybe too narrow, they are certainly strong and it will be difficult to change them.
This is obviously a huge effort, very stressful, but also a lot of satisfaction. Fashion and the media are constantly changing, and undoubtedly a significant part of the changes is a response to the expectations of the audience – what we want to watch. That is why we see a growing variety in terms of skin color, size, origin and so on. It’s beautiful and a “trend” so let’s enjoy it.
I would like to help women of all generations – but especially teenagers who are most exposed to pressure from the society in how they should look, dress and act. I aim to encourage them through my work to love themselves and what they are like. It is just such a change to get rid of the stigma and find young women more attainable patterns than those on television, in music videos and on social media. That is why I carefully choose who participates in the Body Beautiful International projects.
You just noticed something very important in Instagram. This medium is often considered the habitat of vanity and self-abuse. However, you mentioned the responsibility for reaching many people through social media. On the one hand, you produce content yourself, on the other you get a lot of reaction and you answer it yourself. It’s titanic work, how do you deal with it?
To be honest, it’s really very hard alone, having some life outside of social media and the women I assist in relation to DV- in addition – a full time job in administration, planning and running the Events and organising the Homeless drives. Even to take a photo session, sometimes it is difficult to find time.
I always try to devote a lot of time to my followers, I reply to all messages, relevant comments and questions under each post, and view their content and interact. Regardless of the number of followers, I always try to respond to messages in a decent timeframe. If someone took their time to reach me, then I should find time and return the gesture. Some are impatient, but I try not to reproach myself anymore if I can’t always manage – I only have as much time as I have, so I answer whom and when I can.
You also get these really tough messages, from scared women whom you impressed with courage. You told about a nightmare of violence, eight years in a toxic relationship that you managed to escape. How it was?
To tell you the truth, when I look back, I am surprised that I did not come up with my “big plan” at an earlier stage of the relationship. But I couldn’t, it wasn’t the time yet: I was too much in love, too weak and gullible to break free and it wasn’t part of God’s plan. After having tried everything, I realized that the only way to leave such a relationship alive (literally!) was to play his cards. Manipulating him, feeding him lies similar to his lies. And quietly, I was looking for a safe shelter and planned my escape.
It seems that for many women – victims of violence – just having a plan would be too risky, at least in their eyes. Anyway, the aggressive partner’s goal is to dominate so that the woman can’t see the way out. At some stage, however, women decide to write to you asking for help. When?
Each case is different, although many have a similar course. I divide them into three groups. The first one is women writing after the appearance of the first acts of violence by a partner. They think “maybe I am also in a violent relationship, can he behave like that towards me?” And write for advice. In the second set, there are women who need confirmation that he will not change, but too terrified or involved in saving the relationship to leave. The third group are women who need immediate help getting out of such a relationship.
My task is to support them so that they can do it as safely as possible, without risk. Many of them discuss suicidal thoughts and even suicidal attempts with me at least once, which unfortunately may seem like a real alternative in such relationships.
What about the first two groups? Do you influence them or do they have to get to the point where they are looking for the end of the relationship? Can this process be speeded up somehow and save them suffering?
Unfortunately, in both these groups it is very difficult to really help because they are either not ready to abandon their partner or do not think it is so bad to consider parting. You need to show patience, give them time and be ready until they are able to leave. So my role is a kind of buffer – they need to talk, trust someone in the most painful case and be able to throw it out. At this stage, it is really difficult to reach a woman’s consciousness because she is terrified, insecure, helpless and the very thought of leaving may be out of reach, especially when there are children in the relationship.
From loving your body to believing in yourself and leaving a toxic partner – you have a lot of valuable advice for women. Is there a single, more universal recipe that each of us could use, struggling with smaller and larger problems on a daily basis?
Society and the media – especially social media – are constantly creating ideas of what our lives should look like. It is so with the canon of beauty. Apparently, being beautiful means having an unrealistic body that cannot always be achieved without surgery. Who sets these rules?!
My best advice to women: always stay true to yourself, your individuality and uniqueness is what makes you beautiful. Do not bend under the pressure of society and do not let change into someone whose task is only to please others!
Interviewed by: Michał Karaś