As part of our International Women’s Day spotlight on incredible women, we’d love to introduce you to the super strong and inspiring force of nature, Khadija Gbla. An African Australian human rights activist, Khadija is the definition of an empowered woman fighting for what she believes in and pushing for positive change around the world.
After coming from Gambia to Australia as a refugee at just 13 years of age, Khadija has experienced the sad truth of discrimination, racism, inequality and abuse many women face first-hand.
Now, she is not only a survivor but a passionate advocate for other women who have suffered the same, dedicating her life to helping young women around the world – campaigning against and raising awareness for Female Genital Mutilation (or FGM).
We took five with Khadija to ask her a few questions about her inspiring work as well as her dreams and how she chooses to challenge every day. Keep reading to learn more and be sure to keep an eye out here as well as on our socials and Kristina’s Your Dream Life Podcast for plenty of inspiring content from a range of inspiring women over the next week.
Q| Tell us about yourself and what you do.
My name is Khadija Gbla. I am a human rights activist, entrepreneur and mother. I provide advocacy, training, keynote speaking on domestic and family violence, sexual health, racism, human rights, mental health, gender and cultural diversity, and working with migrant and refugee communities through my business, Khadija Gbla Cultural Consultancy. I support and build the capacity of government agencies, organisations and businesses to be culturally competent, culturally safe and on how to engage culturally and appropriately with diverse communities.
I am the lead voice and campaigner against Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in Australia. I have been doing this for 20 years and I am still fighting for the girl child’s rights, fighting for the 11 girls a day who are at risk of being mutilated and the 200,000 survivors of FGM in Australia.
I am also an Ambassador for Our Watch, a national leader in the primary prevention of violence against women and their children in Australia. We work to embed gender equality and prevent violence where Australians live, learn, work and socialise. I raise awareness of domestic and family violence, its impact on so many women across Australia, especially those even further vulnerable like migrant and refugee women. They are made especially vulnerable by barriers such as language, adapting to a new culture, lack of system literacy, and the experience of racism which further marginalises them.
Q| What inspired you to join the fight against FGM?
My fight against FGM stems from my own experience of surviving FGM. I realised that when I was between the age of 9 and 10, I was subjected to FGM by my mum and by the time we migrated to Australia by age 13, through a chance encounter, I got my memory back and remembered what had been done to me. At that moment, I realised I was part of 200 million girls globally who have been subjected to FGM, and I made a choice at that moment that ends with me. Enough was enough, and I didn’t want this practice to continue in my own family, my community or anywhere else in the world. So, I decided to do my part in ending this brutal form of child abuse and gender-based violence.
According to the World Health Organisation, ‘Female genital mutilation (FGM) involves the partial or total removal of external female genitalia or other injuries to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.’
There are no health benefits to FGM. The practice exposes girls to severe acute and chronic health consequences, including pain, bleeding, difficulty urinating, cysts, infections, and causes problems in childbirth. The data also shows that infant resuscitation and death rates are higher among babies born to women who have undergone genital mutilation.
Q| What does International Women’s Day and this year’s theme #choosetochallenge mean to you?
The theme, choose to challenge, couldn’t have come at a perfect time giving what’s happening in our world, especially with the impact of Covid-19 on gender equality and human rights issues worldwide. Choose to challenge is a call of action for all of us. We have the opportunity to choose to challenge gender inequality, choose to challenge institutions that abuse their power. We can choose to challenge all forms of discrimination and bigotry. We can call them out. We can hold accountable those who abuse their powers, challenge the status quo and hold institutions and governments responsible for their actions. We can do our part!
It is a choice to choose to challenge! As an activist, it is a choice to show up for my community every day. It is a choice to have a voice, it is a choice to speak out, and that’s what this theme is asking all of us to do. You don’t have to be an activist. It is our collective responsibility to try to make the world a better place. Every single one of us can be people who choose to take a stand against gender inequality, violence against women and girls, homelessness, sexism, discrimination, and so much more. We all have the power to challenge, raise our voices and stand against systems that silence oppressed and marginalised members of our community and nation. I genuinely believe we are the solutions to the challenges our families, communities and nation face. We just have to choose to challenge and act!
Q| Do you have a daily routine or any tips for making the most of every day? If so, please share.
I treat every day as a new and fresh day. I start with a bit of meditation in the morning just to ground and centre myself. It allows me to be present and have gratitude towards my day. It also allows me to set my intentions for the day. Every day has a different vibe and feel, and it requires another part of myself. So for that, I need to set my intentions. It can be as simple as just wanting to call upon a sense of patience for my day. But most of all, I always want my intention to be that I will show up authentically to the world and that I do everything in kindness, to myself and to others but most importantly, that I do my best.
This usually sets the scene for my day then I get out of bed, light some candle, and do some journaling. This allows me to do my gratitude. Then I shuffle some cards that would enable me to have a word or statement of the day. I’ve been using my kikki.K x Malala Fund partnership Empowerment Cards. I shuffle these with the intent to find positive words to help lead my day. It gives me a sense of focus because my work is very emotionally hard.
When I do my makeup, I also use it as an opportunity to manifest and affirm myself. I say to myself, ‘I am beautiful, I am strong, I am worthy, I am smart, I am the expert in my life, I am going to kick ass today’. Simple things like that help set the scene for my life.
Q| What is one thing you enjoy doing that’s just for you?
I like to see myself as the queen of self-care. I enjoy my morning routine, but a good nighttime routine is just as important. It stands as an opportunity to reflect on my day, redirect my mind to resting. I make a bath, light some candles, put some soft music on, write in my gratitude journal, close my eyes, daydream, or meditate.
When my finances allow, I enjoy an excellent spa treatment of a whole body and facial. You cannot fault a good massage. Just to release the tension your body carries around.
On a more detailed note, going to bed early, drinking enough water, having a comforting meal, seating outside enjoying the sun, putting on my dance playlist and dancing in my living room in my undies, going for a walk and really hugging and loving on my son are my simple pleasures and self-care practices.
Q| Do you have a favourite inspiring quote?
The quote that I live by or utilise a lot in my life and that I find inspiring is the one that says:
“All it will take for evil to prevail is for good people to do nothing.”
I live by this quote, and I even used it in my Ted Talk, and I use it a lot to motivate others. We can all stand against all inequalities, oppressions, discrimination and human rights violations and play our part to make this world a better place. All it takes for the crimes against humanity to continue is to stay silent and do nothing. For good to win, we have to be people who choose to speak up, call out injustice when we see it and challenge it.
I think about this quote, especially on days where I feel defeated. It reminds and encourages me to keep going.
Q| Share with us a Dream of yours.
My big dream is to live in a world where people, no matter their race, gender, sexuality, class, education, whatever point of difference may be, can have access to opportunities that allows them to live a fulfilling life thrive. This is the one dream I have for my child, my community, myself, my nation and our world. No matter our differences, we should all be able to have the quality of life that allows us to thrive. To be treated with respect, dignity, and valued members of society.
My personal dream is to write my memoir that is a New York List best seller, be interviewed by Oprah and do a world speaking tour.
I want to raise my profile, collaborate with like-minded brands, be financially secure enough and have a great life and work balance so that my activism is sustainable.
Q| What is something you Believe strongly in?
I believe strongly in human rights. I believe strongly in all people’s right to be treated equally.
Q| What do you want to Challenge?
For me, it is not so much what I want to challenge, but what I already challenge. I already work and live in a space where I challenge every single day. I challenge rigid gender stereotypes, sexism, racism, ableism, homophobia, transphobia, human rights abuses and the status quo. That is what I have done since I was 13. I challenge this notion that people should be treated differently or can be treated less than or inferior. I challenge those notions.
I challenge the notion that black women can’t be everything that we want to be, that we can be soft, strong, empowered, have a voice and take up space without being called angry black women. I challenge those notions that being a single mother prohibits me from having a career and do it well. I challenge those notions every single day. To challenge is a normal part of my life.
Q| What do you want to Achieve?
What I hope to achieve is to protect the 11 girls a day who are at risk of FGM in Australia. What I hope to achieve is to continue to provide holistic trauma-informed care for the 200,000 survivors of FGM by fundraising $500,000 to support my work. I want to achieve a world where the girl child is safe from practices like FGM, forced marriages, where the girl child can access education, where no woman is safe in her relations or out in the street. That’s what I want to achieve.
Find out more about Khadija and the incredible work she does @khadijagbla and www.khadijagbla.com.au – and don’t forget to keep any eye out over on our socials this week as Khadija uses her voice to spread her inspiring story and messages ahead of International Women’s Day!
Plus, don’t forget to tune in to this week’s coming episode on Kristina’s Your Dream Life Podcast where Kristina and Khadija chat about all things equality, dreaming, human rights and more!
With this incredibly strong theme in mind, this year at kikki.K, we invite every one of you to celebrate and support all the incredible women in your life – and around the world. As a brand, we’re choosing to represent and celebrate women globally and to collectively raise our voice as we choose to challenge and champion change for a more inclusive world.
This International Women’s Day and every day, #choosetochallenge with us and be inspired to dream, believe, challenge, change and achieve, because with challenge comes change. Together, we can all challenge gender bias and inequality, and make our world a more inclusive one.