Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 19 January 2020

No guts, no glory: the monthly group uniting Abu Dhabi women

The Gutsy Women Circle is a monthly group that provides support in Abu Dhabi.
A meeting of the Gutsy Women Circle at The Third Place Cafe in Khalidiya. Abu Dhabi. Chérine Kurdi, pictured centre in the white blouse, is the founder of the group. Sarah Dea / The National
A meeting of the Gutsy Women Circle at The Third Place Cafe in Khalidiya. Abu Dhabi. Chérine Kurdi, pictured centre in the white blouse, is the founder of the group. Sarah Dea / The National

Gutsy is defined as showing courage, determination and spirit. I’m not sure I have any of these qualities when I walk into my first Gutsy Women Circle get-­together in Abu Dhabi on a Tuesday evening. It’s a relatively new gathering for women in the capital, and I’m tentative and somewhat scared about the prospect of attending such a meeting.

What will I have to do? Will I have to speak in front of everyone? What if there’s an actual circle? What if I don’t answer the questions right? All of this is going through my mind as I walk into The Third Place Cafe in Khalidiya after work. I feel like I’m back in high school standing at the lectern about to present my poetry assignment to the rest of the class. I’m a few minutes late, and as I feared, everyone is sitting in a circle, and all eyes turn to me. Although I’m greeted warmly, I’m suddenly very self-conscious – I hate being the centre of attention.

But I’m pleased to see the group host Chérine Kurdi smiling back at me. She stands up and gives me a hug. I immediately feel a little more comfortable. As I nervously take a seat, I look around and think, gosh, what am I in for? Is this really for me?

It’s 6pm on a weeknight and about 20 women of different nationalities and ages are gathered here.

“I started Gutsy Women in March,” Kurdi tells me. “The intention was to have smart women share their experiences and stories, inspire and feel inspired in a trusting space where we could have bold discussions.”

These gatherings are the brainchild of the former high-flying businesswoman-turned-­transformation expert. During the next 90 minutes, it’s obvious why she’s the perfect person to host such a meeting of female minds: she’s encouraging and inclusive, poses questions that force each of us to think about and evaluate our lives, and gently prompts interaction.

“The Gutsy Women Circle is a way of bringing back the wisdom ... of gathering women through their wisdom, care and presence,” she adds.

With 80 per cent of the UAE’s population made up of expats, and considering the transient nature of the country, it becomes obvious as the evening goes on that all the women here are looking for connection, meaningful friendships and support.

“This group creates a space where we can remove our masks and talk about what we really want and the fears we face,” says one attendee, Alexandrine Yamine. “I joined to meet like-minded people, which luckily I have. I have been blessed to encounter women who are supporting me through my journey of trying to detox my life.”

The 26-year-old, who was raised in the UAE, admits she’s realised lately she has always felt the need to have a partner in her life, but knows now she needs to love herself first. And above all else, she wants to find people she can be herself around. “I feel really supported [at the meetings], which I lacked in the past. It’s really refreshing,” she says with a smile.

Tonight’s topic is transitions, and after getting a rundown about the rules of these evenings – everyone is right, keep it simple and concise, and remember that what is said here is confidential – Kurdi has us turn to the person next to us and ask them what they love doing most in their lives (outside of work). For me it’s travelling and going out for coffee, but after verbalising these two loves, I stumble and can’t come up with anything else. The women beside me are able to come up with a few more than me, and it’s then I realise I spend most of my time working, and not much time on hobbies or outside interests – reality check number one.

Next, we’re asked to turn to the person on our other side and ask them repeatedly what they desire more of. Kurdi interjects that we’re usually too busy with all our “stuff” and most of us don’t give ourselves and what we want most much thought. This one is hard to answer.

I say for me it’s time, but as soon as I say it, I realise it’s a catch-22, because when things aren’t as hectic, I don’t know what to do with myself and end up feeling all alone in a new country. Confidence, love, happiness, positive ­connections are some of the responses from the other women – I would say those too, and it’s refreshing to know everyone feels the same.

“The biggest reason women come to this group is to have real conversations without being judged or ashamed, to keep moving towards their dreams and goals, to improve their self-confidence, to grow and learn to be inspired and inspire too, to connect and make meaningful friendships, to feel good, to feel supported,” says Kurdi, who spent 10 years working as a marketing professional and brand strategist for multinationals before realising she was “brutally dissatisfied” and needed a new direction.

“I am a transformation expert for women – I do this through various experiences: one-on-one coaching, workshops and retreats,” she says.

For the women I speak to during and after the session, who are new to the UAE or just new to these types of get-­togethers, there’s a sense that more of these sorts of meetings are needed.

“I don’t think there is enough support, taking into account that everyone comes from different countries and backgrounds here, but I have noticed a lot of groups popping up on social media that can only be a good thing,” says one woman, who asks to remain anonymous. Another, who also asks not be named, says she’s been to some of the other meetups but found they weren’t as helpful as this one.

“A lot of these other groups seem to be people looking for partners or hookups, whereas this is more professional – it had focus and wasn’t too embarrassing,” the British woman says. “Most of the people themselves are interesting, so as an expat it makes you feel more like a part of the community.”

Kurdi says in the past six months she’s noticed that most of the women who come to her sessions are looking for more meaning in their lives, “to self-realise who they are independent of their age, family, society, marriage, kids and work”.

She says the nicest part of hosting these types of gatherings is the glowing faces of the women who attend, standing up for themselves and realising they aren’t the only ones facing a particular challenge.

And what makes her the perfect person to host the group?

“I speak from personal experience,” Kurdi says. “I’m not there to preach. When you’re in the Gutsy Women Circle, I will challenge you to be you.”

As the evening draws to a close, we’ve touched on what we love to do, what we desire most, and what we would like more of. But it’s only when I realise the final order of business is telling the group what we have learnt from the evening’s discussions, out loud, in our own time, in an ­impromptu manner, that my palms get sweaty all over again.

The one thing this 90 minutes has taught me is I’m more of an introvert than I even knew, but as I spit out “I need more confidence” in a jittery voice, to my relief, after I blurt the words out, everyone smiles back at me warmly and gives me a clap. But what really leaves me feeling satisfied is a fellow Gutsy Woman who, when it’s her turn to tell the group what’s she’s learnt, says she can’t believe someone as beautiful as me lacks confidence, and that gives her hope.


The Gutsy Women Circle meets once a month. For more information, visit www.meetup.com or www.cherinekurdi.com.

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Updated: August 20, 2015 04:00 AM