x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Mariam Benham on a life spent fighting for every woman

Life Lessons A women's rights activist in places from Iran to Dubai, Mariam Benham shares her philosophy and the tools for every woman to make a difference.

Mariam Behnam on her 90th birthday. Courtesy: Sara Abdulrazak
Mariam Behnam on her 90th birthday. Courtesy: Sara Abdulrazak
Born in Iran in 1921, Mariam Benham is a champion of women's rights. She has served as director-general in Iran's ministry of arts and culture and as a diplomat in Pakistan. Today she is the senior adviser for the Dubai International Women's Club, a revered motivational speaker, the author of four books, including a memoir, and a great-grandmother of four.
1. Grow young, not old. I recently celebrated my 90th birthday, but I don't feel 90. I feel stronger and more alive than ever. Life only gets more meaningful and has more to offer. I was asked to say a few words at a wedding last month as the bride's father wanted me to wish the happy couple well and pray that they grow old together. "What?!" I said. "Grow old together?!" Never. You should remain young together. Remain full of energy and full of youth.
2. Miracles can be achieved by attitude. I've always believed in positive thinking. In this world we have two choices, either we can love it or hate it. I choose the former.
3. Never give up - on anything. If a door closes, another one opens. Many years ago I took my children's passports to be renewed and the embassy official asked, "Where is your husband?" "Why?" I replied indignantly. "Because we don't give passports to women," he responded. At the time I was a lecturer in a university and already dedicated to improving the rights of women. I went straight to the newspapers to complain. The next day I was all over the news. I paved the way for change.
4. Recognise your worth. Many times in our lives we are dropped, crumbled and trod upon. We face failures and frustrations. But you must recognise for yourself your skills and talents - no one else will. Stand up for yourself! I'm passionate about the empowerment of women and I implore every one of you to recognise your powers, to value yourselves and your importance in this world.
5. Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away. Instead of complaining and being drowned in greed, take pleasure and cherish the simple things. You'll be much happier.