What International Women’s Day means to me

Written by Cam Khalid
Art Lindsey LaMont

March 8. Another typical boring day for some. And yet, for half the world, this day is one of liberation and empowerment. 

It holds a special place in my heart as a woman and as an advocate for equality. It reminds me of the daily efforts that I, as well as all the women in my life, have put in both our personal and professional lives for an unbiased world. It is also a day that has always stood to me as a strong marker for the strength of womanhood. 

Observed as International Women’s Day, March 8 is a United Nations-recognized event that celebrates the cultural, political, and socioeconomic achievements of women throughout the years. 

However, despite such significant achievements, a majority of the world still experiences a gender pay gap, lack of female leaders, lack of research in female healthcare, violence against women and girls—the list goes on. Therefore, it also marks a call to action to push for gender equality.

A major event like IWD has no geographical or religious borders, and that’s the beauty of it—to me, at least. No matter where we are on the map, IWD serves to educate and raise awareness of the daily struggles of women and girls around the world, while honoring those who have been at the forefront of fighting against gender inequality. 

Since the early 1900s, the month of March has been the focal point in the women’s rights movement. While it is hard to pinpoint the exact point in history that kick-started this movement, it has been acknowledged that the first National Women’s Day—as it was called then—fell on February 28, 1909. It was propelled into the streets of New York by a Ukraine-born suffragist named Clara Lemlich who demanded better pay, shorter working hours and improved working conditions.

Soon after, IWD was formalized in 1910 when Clara Zetkin, the leader of the ‘women’s office’ for the Social Democratic Party in Germany, encouraged every country to celebrate women one day every year while pushing for their demands of equal rights. The event gained traction around the world, starting on March 19 in 1911, before shifting to March 8 in 1913.

To this day, IWD is celebrated on March 8 with women around the world continually bringing attention to issues such as gender equality, reproductive rights, and domestic abuse through activism and protest.

That makes it a century’s battle for gender parity.

Photo by Chloe Simpson

Sadly, the light at the end of the tunnel is far from near. According to the World Economic Forum, as stated on the official IWD website, “none of us will see gender parity in our lifetimes, and nor likely will many of our children.”

However, this doesn’t mean that all the sacrifices that have been made are in vain. We still need to keep the conversations going, amplifying the voices until we attain full gender equality.

While it’s easy for me to grumble about the shocking pay gap between me and a male colleague of mine, who—mind you—has less work experience than me and does not need to suffer through period pains on the desk, I am fully aware of the efforts that my company has made to level the playing field. I have been given opportunities that have helped me with my career progression, from working with a diverse team including women leaders to having my achievements recognised with awards and even a pay rise. I was even allowed to continue working while studying for my Master’s degree.

While these workplace events have allowed me to acknowledge the privilege that comes with living in a ‘woke’ system, we also have to understand that many others are not as fortunate. According to UNICEF, 129 million girls around the world are out of school. In South Sudan, nearly three-quarters of girls do not attend schools. 

This extends beyond education too. In countries like Egypt, Nigeria and Yemen, girls are subjected to female genital mutilation (FGM). In Malta, if a man who abducts a woman marries her afterwards, he is exempt from any punishment. Last year, Poland introduced one of the most restrictive abortion laws in Europe. Therefore, it is important to also recognize and reflect on the horrors lived by women everyday.

Before the pandemic, UN Women reported that 243 million women experienced sexual and/or physical violence by an intimate partner. Since the pandemic, such violence has intensified.

To make matters worse, a 2020 UN report stated that almost 90 percent of people are prejudiced against women globally. It’s no surprise that McKinsey & Company reported that more women than men were dismissed from their jobs during the pandemic. I’ll even admit that I was working from home in fear of being laid-off, despite having a good work ethic and relationship with my manager.

As relevant as it was in 2020 or even 1909 when it all began, this year’s IWD theme is #BreakTheBias. Whether it’s in the boardroom or bar, it’s important for everyone – men and women alike – to recognize and address bias, ​​conscious or not. There’s simply no place for prejudice.

That is why I will continue to observe the annual celebration, admiring the incredible women around me, marveling at how far we have come, fighting the good fight alongside our international sisters and anticipating the lengths we have to go through to finally achieve gender parity.

Photo by Vlad Tchompalov


A New Year’s Resolution: Ditching the list

Written by Cam Khalid
Art by Content Pixie

You know the drill. It’s December 31st and you reflect on everything that has happened throughout the year. You begin to reconsider the stuff you want to start, stop or continue, fingers crossed for a better future. You make a mental list (or key it down in your Notes app) of New Year’s resolutions. “New year, new me!” – you tell yourself and everyone else. Cheers.

Looking back now, most of the resolutions I’ve created were based on shallow trends, social norms or something someone has told me to change. I remember prioritizing weight loss in 2017 after a relative pointed out my weight gain: “What a waste of a pretty face.” While it was a horrible quote that lived in my mind rent free for a couple of months, it managed to get me to sign up for a gym membership.

Sure there was some good in listing New Year’s resolutions. There were undesired habits that I wanted to break and personal goals that I wanted to achieve. On paper, these looked feasible, but year after year I found myself failing more than half of my resolutions. I would give myself an excuse like lacking the funds for a gym subscription, not being mentally ready for a certain task, or prioritizing my day job over my hobbies. Sometimes it can be something as silly as blaming the gloomy weather for not completing my daily walks. 

I guess the idea of starting fresh on an arbitrary date like January 1st was easier said than done.

In 2020, I had a list that  included eating less meat, being more sustainable, travelling more and spending less time on social media – the latter of  which bombed thanks to the compulsion of doomscrolling through the pandemic. I gave myself a pass for that. And… for most of the things on the list too. It was a tough year, okay?

Then 2021 rolled in, and instead of fireworks, only uncertainty hung in the air on New Year’s Eve. So I thought to myself: what’s the point of making another list? The previous year has left me feeling anxious, burnt out and exhausted. I was completing my master’s degree and working full-time in a world that felt like a five-alarm fire. At that point, obsessing over new beginnings in the new year just felt daunting and unnatural. Creating a list of New Year’s resolutions would just feel like a mandate to fix myself in a world that’s still coming to terms with the new norm.

Two years on and the last thing I want to do is put too much pressure on myself, especially when Covid restrictions still apply. For example, the constant across all of my resolutions lists happens to be weight loss. But in the last 24 months, I’ve re-evaluated my relationship with my body. I’ve learned to be kinder to myself as my body responds to the stress. Even if I plan to go to the gym five days a week to shed a couple of kilos, I’d find myself in a sticky situation if it shuts because of Covid. Mapping out plans at this time, let alone a list of New Year’s resolutions, just seems futile.

In the name of self-care and well-being, I’m now learning to propel any toxic energy and attract only good vibes without having to rely on a list. I take time to reflect on my choices, trust my instincts and make the necessary changes, one step at a time throughout the year. And to be honest, doing so feels quite liberating, so why not continue ditching the list in 2022? 

Don’t get me wrong – while skeptics like me may stew over whether the practice is worthwhile, there’s no doubt that drawing up resolutions still makes a great way to set up good intentions. But personally, it’s the practices that are developed throughout the year that matter most. This will enable us to keep them long-term. After all, there is no one way and no deadline when it comes to achieving our goals.

Finding ataraxy in the galaxy

Written by Cam Khalid
Art by Unsplash/Usukhbayar Gankhuyag

There was something about late night, long drives home that used to comfort me as a child. With nothing but my own imagination to keep me occupied, I used to look up into the skies and watch the moon trail after me, as if to guide me safely home. It was a sight to behold, with its brilliant glow gliding against a blanket of iridescent stars. The dark, endless motorway had no traffic lights in sight to interrupt my loving gaze.

Many moons later, my relationship with earth’s natural satellite shifted. I became the chaser. I would look out for the moon, playfully hidden between the clouds of night or peering through the coral streaks of sunset. I would fill up my calendars with dates and times of eclipses and special appearances of the super pink moon. 

But the moon wasn’t the only celestial object I had my eye on. My lust for more heavenly bodies had me exploring the cosmos even further. Stargazing has since become another form of escapism for the adult me. I start to find solace in the vastness of infinite space.

Despite my growing obsession with astronomy, I’ve only peered through the viewfinder of a telescope on four separate occasions, a striking contrast to the number of times I’ve relied on the SkyView app. You can call me a digital astronomer. Or a backyard astrophile.

Like many rookie astronomers, I rely on apps and Google to eliminate the guesswork and do all the heavy lifting – feeding me bite-sized information of each planet and star, as well as the best times to marvel at Mars, search for Saturn and more. I’ve also recently synced the apps to my calendar for alerts on major celestial events.

I can’t deny the brilliance of one app in particular: the SkyView app. When all fired up and pointed to the aether end, the app activates its augmented reality feature to demystify what’s in front of me. Thanks to the app, I’m also able to customise the size of the stars and planets in the sky, which is perfect for someone who has vision problems like me. 

Once I could make out the constellations inked onto the dark backdrop with my naked eye, I would find myself floating away from the realities of earthly existence, drawn into the wonders of the heavens. A new form of meditation squeezed into my daily routine.

I’ve “ooh”-ed and “ahh”-ed at the sight of Jupiter, Saturn, Venus, Mars and Mercury. Seeing their outlines in real life, taking mental photos, and picturing their colour, texture and even temperature in my mind. I’ve even made up for the lack of Uranus with an inside joke between myself and I. 

Sometimes I think about life on these planets – visualising similar scenes of The Little Prince watering the rose on his asteroid. Funnily enough, that’s exactly how I would describe my relationship with astronomy: a love that’s fuelled by curiosity and comfort.

The cathartic power of sad songs

Written by Cam Khalid
Art by Volc Xia

Calling 2020 a rough year would be an understatement. For someone who works, lives, and breathes continents away from her family, the pandemic has made me feel more alone than ever. Plus, having a history with depression, I have this lingering fear that my mood might switch at any moment, going from bad to worse.

As if that wasn’t bad enough – like many people, I was in constant fear of losing my job, my loved ones, my friends, and my sanity. There was just too much stress and grief to endure in 365 days. Keeping contact with family and friends through video calls does wonders for my mental health, but when time zones become an issue and some things are harder to talk about, I find myself curating Spotify playlists to soothe my nerves.

As Spotify revealed, mental health playlists have seen a 57% increase in streams from 2019. The typical mental health playlist consists of soothing tunes and ambient instrumentals, but mine rarely do. Instead, I find comfort in lyrics centered around melancholia.

I have to give credit to the dozens of sad songs by artists such as Cat Power, The Smiths, and Radiohead that allowed me to reflect and grow, albeit slowly. It has taken me six months and a myriad of replays to fully confront the fact that I have lost a best friend during the pandemic. 

Before, we would check up on each other everyday through texts, phone calls and even in-person. But those days slowly died out during the lockdown. Not only did it keep us socially distanced, but it also fizzled and fractured our friendship. And sadly, neither of us wanted to address the radio silence. I was afraid to confront her and make matters worse. But time eventually made it irreversible.

The reality of it all finally sank in on one Sunday evening when the words of Finneas’ I Lost A Friend hit hard. “I know I’ll be alright / But I’m not tonight / I’ll be lying awake / Countin’ all the mistakes I’ve made.” The realization that I have lost my best friend led me to a forlorn funk soundtracked by a curated playlist of minor key songs.

When I’m at my most vulnerable, even a somber instrumental track would trigger a traumatic memory, causing me to break down and turn on the waterworks. I blame the song’s minor tonality.  However, through the power of a good cry, I find a profound side of my emotional self, allowing me to express, experience and explore some of the most complex amalgams of sad, mad and – eventually – glad. 

Sometimes it takes a heartbreaking event and melancholic music for me to identify the denial (that everything will work out on its own), accept the reality (that sometimes it won’t) and move on (with the better version of myself). Don’t get me wrong – it’s still an upsetting memory but I wouldn’t have been able to move on without the comfort of my melancholy mixtape.

Odd as it may sound, sadness evoked by music also seems pleasing in its own way. As Aristotle put it in Poetics: the dramatization of a tragedy acts as a means of “catharsis” where music or drama that overwhelms an audience with a certain emotion somehow purges it too. Backed by studies from Freie Universität Berlin and University of South Florida, soul-shattering music can increase the level of prolactin, a hormone that combats grief, and release dopamine, a “feel good” hormone.

Struggling with mental health alone can feel very isolating and finding solace in my bedroom with nothing but music on has helped me relieve anxiety, melt stress away, and lift my spirits. It has also helped me reflect on some unresolved emotions. 

Sometimes the story behind a song can connect me with a past experience, where I empathize with the musician and take comfort that someone else is going through the same thing as me. This was the case with Finneas’ I Lost A Friend, among many other songs. And if there’s light at the end of the song’s tunnel, it allows me to vicariously live through that sonic journey – with the hopes it’ll translate to real life.

My Melancholy Mixtape:

  1. Ivy by Frank Ocean
  2. Drew Barrymore by SZA
  3. The Suburbs by Arcade Fire
  4. Piledriver Waltz by Alex Turner
  5. Should Have Known Better by Sufjan Stevens
  6. Eugene by Arlo Parks
  7. Go Home by Julien Baker
  8. Fade Into You by Mazzy Star
  9. Maps by Yeah Yeah Yeahs
  10. Knife by Grizzly Bear
  11. Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want by The Smiths