First published on the Royal Commonwealth Society (RCS) website on 8th March 2023.
Leading up to the International Women’s Day 2023, I had the wonderful opportunity to catch up with three amazing women: Associate Fellows of the Royal Commonwealth Society, Christina Dymioti and Valentina Hynes, and a member of the Royal Commonwealth Society Gibraltar Branch, Denise Matthews. I hope you will be inspired by their breadth of experience, passion for community empowerment and success.
Tell us about yourself and your work.
Christina Dymioti (CD): I am the director of Fashion Heritage Network Cyprus, a project I developed through my participation in Royal Commonwealth Society-Clarions Futures Youth Exchange Programme between Cyprus and UK. We work with a growing inter-communal group of young Cypriots, especially fashion designers who aspire to promote Cypriot heritage through sustainable fashion. Our work is showcased through fashion exhibitions, fashion shows, workshops, and participation in various local and international cultural events.
Valentina Hynes (VH): I am the founder and CEO of SVH Inc. CIC – which are acronyms for Strong Vibrant, Happy, and Incorporated. SVH Inc. provides workplace wellbeing solutions for organisations as part of their employee onboarding, employee experience management and transformation process through mental health training and workshops, speaking engagements and away day experiences. As a specialist in wellbeing and happiness at work, I see myself as a connector who helps people build bridges from diversity to inclusion, from poor mental health to happiness, and disengagement to engagement.
Denise Matthews (DM): I come from a fiercely entrepreneurial family. My entrepreneurial journey started at the age of 22, when I launched my first company in PR and promotional work. After taking time out to start a family and living abroad, I returned to Gibraltar in 2016 to set up One Media and Events. I also became an award-winning City Chapter Director for the global organisation, Startup Grind (SG). For over two decades, I have been dedicated in launching successful business events in the local community to foster entrepreneurship, advocate for social responsibility, and leverage networks to achieve exposure for Gibraltar.
How do you promote gender equity in your personal lives and at your workplace?
VH: Being the eldest of four children in an African family, especially amongst the Igbos of Nigeria, gender equity is very much part of the culture. I was brought feeling empowered to not only dream big, but to work hard. This upbringing shaped my unique view of the world. If you can dream it, you can achieve it. If you support the girl child and woman, you empower progress and wealth. I am proud that my organisation is 80% is female-led. I also teach my boys that equity is not about giving equal opportunities to everyone, but meeting people at their level, and providing them the necessary resources to level up.
DM: Being an example for change and challenging gender stereotypes and biases is part of my day-to-day life, personally and professionally. I will find ways to encourage and support women and gender minorities to achieve their goals and ambitions, also by supporting women-owned businesses and organisations. It is a requirement that the events we host are inclusive and accessible to all, regardless of gender or other characteristics, and ensure that our discussions include advocating for diversity in hiring practices, offering flexible work arrangements and are family friendly.
How do you think the Commonwealth can play a role in promoting gender equity?
CD: The Commonwealth is a great platform to raise awareness, advocate for change, and facilitate collaborations with civil society organisations and stakeholders across member countries. As a social entrepreneur, I believe more funding should be provided for young women’s projects. Investing in young women empowers them to take charge of their lives and to become changemakers in their communities. Supporting their projects is a powerful way to address the structural and cultural barriers that prevent them from achieving their full potential.
DM: The Commonwealth is a diverse community of nations with a shared commitment to democracy and human rights. It has the potential to be a powerful force of change and can leverage its unique position to advocate for gender equity on a global scale by ensuring the participation of women from all spheres of life in decision-making processes and campaigning for gender equitable and sustainable international policies.
If you have a magic wand, what would you wish for the next generation of girls and women?
VH: I would remove travel barriers for girls and women, affording them opportunities to experience the world, so they grow exponentially in a multi-dimensional way. When people are exposed to different cultures and societies, they become empowered. Developing and supporting exchange programmes ranging from fashion design, music, tech, literature etc. would empower more women to aspire for more and to pay it forward.
CD: To live in a world where gender equality is the norm, where girls and women have the same access to education, healthcare, and job opportunities as their male counterparts. I wish for girls and women to have a stronger voice in their communities, to be able to participate fully in decision-making processes and have their opinions and ideas taken seriously. Society benefits when women are empowered to lead and contribute to their communities.
DM: Equal access to education, healthcare, safe and supportive environments, equal pay for equal work, representation in leadership positions. Also, women tend to put our needs last, however, you must take good care of yourself first because you will be better at meeting the needs of others with good mental health. Lastly, I wish for strong body image positivity and self-love.
One piece of advice to younger girls and women
Finally, all three advised the importance of believing in oneself, surrounding oneself with positive influences, and to be fearless in taking on challenges. Denise Matthews also advised to see challenges as opportunities to learn and grow; to become an even stronger and more resilient version of oneself. Valentina Hynes advised to not limit one’s growth to one aspect, to try “a little bit of this, a little bit of that, until you find your own purpose”. Christian Dymioti emphasised the importance of keeping pushing forward and never give up, as well as staying true to oneself and values, and never let anyone feel like you’re not capable of greatness.
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