International Women’s Day

Miriam Shastri at a function held by the German Embassy in 2019 with Datin Paduka Marina Binti Mahathir

A Tribute to my Grandmothers on International Women's Day 2021

On International Women’s day, I am thankful for all the women who came before me and lit the way. Nowadays we can count so many female icons and leaders who are where they are today because of their determination and brilliance, and also thanks to the global sisterhood from previous generations who paved the way. My personal list of heroines would be too long to recount here!

Today I want to thank ‘simple’, everyday female heroes. Those that raise a family, those who excel in their careers, those that fight for our rights as women, but are somehow overlooked. My own family tree inspires me when I think of these ‘simple’, everyday heroes. I think of women such as my grandmothers, Patience Shastri and Maria Katzenmajer. Patience was born among the poorest of the poor. She was an orphan in Andhra Pradesh, India, before she was taken in by a Christian convent.

My German grandmother, Maria, worked on a vineyard and farm in post-World War I Germany. The aftermath of World War I saw a drastic socio-economic change in Europe. From the 1918 armistice to the signing of the peace treaty in 1919, the Allied naval blockade of Germany that started during the war caused around 523,000 civilians to lose their lives. N.P. Howard, a historian from the University of Sheffield, says that a further quarter of a million more died from disease or starvation in the eight-month period following the conflict’s conclusion. This was the time my German grandmother did manual labour on a vineyard, and my mother, the eldest of 5 children, took care of the child-care and the household chores at a young age.

More than 6000km away, my Indian grandmother found herself a part of an arranged marriage with a suitor from Malaysia who would be my grandfather. She was to be a midwife there. During the Japanese occupation and after the Allied surrender at Singapore in 1942, my grandmother saved her family by living in the jungle to avoid being subjected to the Imperial Japanese army’s atrocities. The Japanese Lieutenant-General Tomoyuki Yamashita had ordered any anti-Japanese elements within the region to be eliminated. The preferred method was execution without trial, and my grandmother told me she was afraid the soldiers would rape her daughter if they were found. While working on consulting issues with my clients, I am reminded of the pivotal role a proper legal system plays in creating a sense of equality among groups with lesser legal rights.

We understand now that in today’s society there can be no injustice based on perceived superiority. It was a lesson my grandmothers had to learn the hard way. While hiding in the jungle, my grandmother still continued her work as a midwife in the village. Babies are born in times of war and peace. Her responsibilities did not end due to the occupation. Hearing of her experiences in my childhood instilled a sense of duty and perseverance in me that allowed me to continue my tasks regardless of the situation. Even though they were separated by continents, my German and Indian grandmothers were united in their suffering. The pain felt by mothers who see their children suffer the pains of this world would be unbearable if it were not for their supreme courage and perseverance to change their fate.

During difficult times, I’m reminded of what my grandmothers went through. I remember that they were a lot tougher than they were given credit for. And so am I. Today, I am the founder of my own consulting firm, competing in a male-dominant industry, with challenges and glass ceilings a plenty. But I think I have come a far way and hope that other women and especially my grandmothers up in heaven are proud of what I have achieved. 

Onwards and Upwards, as they say, and to all women out there today, know this: You are amazing, you are valued, you are paving the way for the next generation! Stay strong and be proud!

#dontstopwontstop #choosetochallenge #IWD2021

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